Cashmere: One of the Luxuries of the World (What a gentleman should own of cashmere and know about cashmere)

A Black Cashmere Turtleneck Sweater

Cashmere is best appreciated when worn directly against the skin. And it is for that reason that turtleneck sweaters made of cashmere are especially luxurious. The concept of a garment with an extended neckline dates back to the Middle Ages when knights would wear undershirts of chainmail with extended necklines—sometimes extending into a hood or skullcap—in order to protect their necks from the edges of their metal armor (and, of course, their bodies from enemy blades that might manage to breach their armor). Unlike cardigan, crew neck, and V-neck sweaters, for example, which are typically worn over shirts, turtleneck sweaters are most often worn over the bare torso, caressing a gentleman’s chest, back, arms, and neck. (A simple T-shirt is sometimes worn under a turtleneck in order to provide an additional layer of warmth and/or to protect the precious sweater from perspiration and deodorant stains; but whenever possible, a gentleman should relish in the luxury of cashmere, letting nothing come between him and his sweater. Mineral rock/crystal deodorants offer residue-free odor protection, but perspiration wetness may still be an issue with such products).

Though referred to by common usage as “wool,” cashmere is technically a hair—the fine undercoat or “underdown” harvested from the Cashmere goat, the subspecies Capra aegagrus hircus. Cashmere is collected in the late winter/early spring months when the goats moult—naturally shed their winter coats. The optimum time for harvesting the cashmere typically occurs within a two-week window, each animal having its unique harvest optimum. A doe in kid, for example, because of hormonal conditions, typically moults earlier than normal so as to have shed her coat prior to kidding. An observant harvester will recognize a goat’s precious cashmere undercoat peeking through or pushing upward the animal’s outer guard-coat as the optimum harvest time. In the moulting process, the cashmere detaches from the animal several days before the outer coat of guard hair.

The cashmere undercoat is harvested by hand. A short, sturdy, rake-like comb, about four inches wide, with teeth measuring about three-quarter-inch in length, is used to comb through the goat’s fleece, resulting in tufts of the soft undercoat being lifted from the animal’s skin. (The objective is to harvest the the precious undercoat just before the goat begins shedding its protective outer coat since separating the cashmere from the longer goat hair is time-consuming, painstaking, and expensive. Some manufacturers shear, rather than comb, their goats and must thereafter clip away the undercoat from the long, coarse outer hair). An experienced harvester can glean the cashmere of one goat in about twenty minutes. The average yield of pure cashmere per goat—after animal grease, coarse hairs, and foreign material such as dirt and grass have been removed from the fleece—is approximately one-third pound. The collected cashmere fiber is then washed, and any guard hair is removed. The cashmere is then dyed and converted into yarn, textiles, and garments. China is the world’s largest producer of raw cashmere, and Italy is the world’s most esteemed producer of cashmere goods.

Cashmere has been been manufactured in Nepal and Kashmir (the modern spelling for ancient Cashmere) for thousands of years, written references to cashmere shawls dating as far back as the 3rd century B.C.E. But the founder of the cashmere wool industry is widely believed to be Zain-ul-Abidin (recognized by UNESCO in 2014 for his contributions to the culture of Kashmir), the 15th -century ruler of Kashmir. Other sources credit Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who journeyed to Kashmir in the 14th century with 700 craftsmen from across Persia. Arriving in Ladakh, the homeland of the cashmere goat, he noticed the extraordinarily soft wool of the goats and had a pair of socks made for the king of Kashmir, Sultan Kutabdin. Both men shortly thereafter, it is said, embarked upon a joint venture of producing shawls made of cashmere.

Cashmere is not only luxurious, it is expensive. So a gentleman who can only afford to indulge in one cashmere sweater should invest in a black turtleneck: He can wear it in all seasons of the year except summer; he can wear it frequently without negative notice; and a black turtleneck sweater complements everything from white linen trousers to blue jeans to gray flannel slacks.

A cashmere sweater is best cared for by gently hand-washing it in cold water with a mild detergent after allowing it to soak in cold water for at least one hour. After a thorough rinsing in cold water, the sweater should be squeeze-dried in a towel, then allowed to air-dry flat on the floor atop a dry towel. When completely dry, the sweater should be folded and stored on a shelf.

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