As the nights grow darker, my usual Autumn treat to myself is a cashmere jumper. Every year however, prices seem to climb higher so I decided to set myself the task of looking into my little indulgence as carefully as possible. When I was in London last week, I had a couple of hours to spare between meetings which gave me the perfect opportunity to compare as many stores as possible so that I could write a cashmere review.
Anyone who knows central London will be able to follow my route. I started at Marks & Spencer’s Pantheon store and then went to: Uniqlo; Mango; Zara; Gap; Top Shop (no cashmere); John Lewis. Crossing to Regent Street, I moved on to &OtherStories; Banana Republic; Cos and J Crew. It’s the kind of competitor analysis exercise that I used to do a lot when I was working in retail so I’m good at staying focussed. I was looking for the best ‘feel’ but affordability was important too.
The stores that I immediately discarded were Mango and Zara. Their cashmere didn’t feel as though it would be long lasting – in my opinion fast fashion and cashmere simply isn’t a good fit. J Crew was too expensive, M&S didn’t feel as luxurious as it has in previous years and the selection of colours wasn’t very appealing. The John Lewis range seemed to consist of a lot of close fitted styles which isn’t what I was looking for and some were already pilling on the hangers, without having been worn. In the end, the brand that got my vote was Uniqlo. They had a great range of colours, the cashmere was soft but still had sufficient weight, it came in the simple styles I was looking for and it was, by far, the most affordable (even more so in the US where there is a promotion on).
The drawback with Uniqlo is that they stipulate dry cleaning on their care labels which is why I have previously discounted them but we’ll come onto that later with an experiment. I was also concerned about just how they manage to be so much cheaper than other retailers, imagining herds of sad, bald Uniqlo goats shivering somewhere in China. While I was researching this post though, I came across this piece from NY Magazine which set my mind at rest.
Cashmere review: the polo neck
I have deliberately kept these photos simple so that you can focus on the jumpers. This polo neck was my first choice (before I go on, for our American friends I know it’s confusing – you would call this a turtle neck. To us a turtle neck is a high neck with a single layer i.e. without a fold, I hope that helps).
Cashmere polo necks always look ultra luxurious but you need to bear in mind that cashmere has 3 times the insulating factor of other wools so you can soon start to overheat.
I like the Uniqlo neckline because it is loose but it doesn’t flop completely and turn into a cowl neck which I can never get to sit right. I was torn between the deep cherry red, the mink and this blush pink. Unfortunately the colours on the website are far less vibrant than they are in real life, the red is actually, as I say, cherry and the mink is a very flattering pinky brown. This blush is the one I went for in the end because it is on trend for this season and it will work well layered with my grey and camel Winter neutrals.
Cashmere polo neck (US link)
If you are happy to wear a tighter fitting polo neck, there are some gorgeous bright colours in the new UniqloU range (launches 13th October in the US).
Cashmere review: the polo neck alternative
A cashmere jumper is a big purchase and when I got home, I started to wonder if I would have been better going for a crew neck jumper with a scarf which gives you the option of the polo neck effect but also the ability to layer.
This is a great alternative for anyone who wants the luxury look but struggles with regulating their body temperature. The shades aren’t quite the exact match I was hoping for (the disadvantage of ordering online) but they work because they are tonal. I have since realised that Uniqlo number each of their colours when you hover over the swatch online which is really helpful if you want to match things up.
When I first saw it, the scarf looked a bit narrow but when I tried it, it worked well because it has a stiffness to it. I found I prefer wearing it to the oversized gauzy cashmere stole that I originally had in mind. With those you can often end up feeling as though you’re wearing a huge Elizabethan ruff.
Cashmere review: the classic V-neck
Of the cashmere jumpers that I already have, the one that gets the most wear is a simple, silver grey V-neck. At this time of year, I wear it on its own and when it gets colder, I vary the shirt or blouse that I wear underneath for simple Saturday outfits that feel luxurious. However finding a V-neck that is just right is a bit of a Goldilocks affair.
For a great chic casual look, you need: sufficient body length; a cut that is loose but not too sloppy and the right depth of ‘V’at the neck.
Allegedly, chic women overcome these issues by buying mens’ cashmere for added body length but whenever I look into this, the necklines on men’s knitwear appear too high. As I was planning on writing about Uniqlo anyway, I decided to contact our new Midlifechic friends there to see if they would be willing to send me two jumpers to compare for this exercise. Luckily they thought it would be interesting and sent me a large women’s and a small men’s to play around with. This is the result:
As you can see, this hits the balance on the neckline. If you never wear anything underneath then a deeper V looks great, but if you want to add a shirt, anything lower than this can make it difficult to get the shirt to sit properly. I like the slightly feminine cut too.
As suspected, the neckline on this is cut for a man who would almost definitely wear it with a shirt and possibly a tie. It is less flattering for a woman and the cut is more boxy plus I only gained 1cm in length.
My verdict – I would opt for the large or possibly the extra large size in the ladies’ cut.
Is Uniqlo cashmere washable or not?
As I mentioned at the beginning, the reason I haven’t bought Uniqlo cashmere before is because of the instructions to dry clean. After further research, I noticed that when they were also voted best cashmere brand by the Daily Mail online, a jumper had been washed successfully but the feature didn’t give details. So, I then asked Uniqlo if they would mind if I experimented by washing the jumpers they had sent me.
I washed the first jumper inside out on its own, on an ultra-delicate 20 degree cycle followed by a 600 rpm spin, using Woolite washing liquid and no fabric conditioner. This is the result:
Men’s cashmere jumper before machine washing
Men’s cashmere jumper after machine washing
As you can see, the wool is still soft and the body of the jumper has only shrunk fractionally. The main difference is in the ribbed neckline, waistband and cuffs which have shrunk more noticeably. So, you could get away with machine washing but you would need to take account of this by sizing up to accommodate the shrinkage. I would also use a cold setting and cancel the spin on the machine.
Next I wanted to find out if gentle hand washing would make any difference so I experimented with the ladies’ grey v-neck in barely warm water, again using Woolite.
Ladies’ cashmere jumper before handwashing
Cashmere jumper after handwashing
Bear in mind that the jumper was still damp when I took this photo but when it was completely dry, there was no change to the texture of the cashmere, it was still soft and luxurious and it didn’t need ironing. There was some very slight shrinkage but the effect on the waistband, neckline and cuffs was far less dramatic.
For this to be a thorough cashmere review, I would now need to compare the results to a machine washable cashmere jumper. However, I don’t take any chances with expensive knitwear and hand wash all of my cashmere anyway (I must say, I never thought I’d be doing a post on washing clothes, I feel very 1950s)!
Given that Uniqlo cashmere is about 30% cheaper than almost every other piece of high street cashmere I looked at, there is no doubt in my mind that it is a great buy. It feels good to wear, washes well enough and, in my opinion, offers the best selection of colours on the high street. Oh – and horses are drawn to it too, as you can tell from my latest photo bomber. Mr MC is starting to despair at the amount of animal input we’ve had in the photo sessions recently. I am easily distracted and it destroys his carefully planned shots. This mare just kept nuzzling up to my jumper (shame she wasn’t a goat).
Looking at the Australian site I quickly clicked away from the new Summer clothes selection – you lucky people, I guess you have no need for cashmere. However here’s the link for Uniqlo Canada cashmere.
After not posting on Tuesday so that I could catch up with my work, I can tell that things are going to start spinning out of control very quickly again. Tonight we’re going to the preview screening of the BBC documentary that the middle son has been taking part in. It’s about teenagers and their reluctance to read and I feel quite nervous knowing that of all my sons, he is indeed the one that is reluctant to read. Luckily we’re then going straight out for dinner with friends who know him very well and who will undoubtedly be highly entertained by the whole thing, whatever the result!
Next week I am spending a day with a colour expert learning about how to use colour to your best advantage – more about that soon. I will also be whizzing down to London again for retail meetings about Spring / Summer 2017. Don’t worry, I won’t be inflicting that on you for at least 6 months yet.
I’ll be back on Tuesday when I’ll be doing another post with my friends at the Over40Collective, showing just how differently women over 40 can interpret the looks on offer from a single brand. Let me know your thoughts about Uniqlo cashmere, cashmere in general and of course laundry tips if you have any to share. Until then, have a brilliant weekend everyone.