Over the last couple of years, The Wall Street Journal's style section has managed to overcome the dual shackles of an extremely rough start and the publication's neanderthal political bias to become a surprisingly useful resource. Last week they posted a nicely done primer on cashmere, including some useful background on the industry and the state of the market.

At its best, cashmere is extremely soft and highly durable, retains its shape well, and has almost magical properties of insulation (lightly in the spring, heavily in the winter). At its worst it's no better than B-grade wool in any of these respects. The WSJ article attempts to inform us a bit on what to look for when trying to separate the wheat from the chaff, arriving largely at a variant on you-get-what-you-pay-for, "established brands have the edge." That's probably a pretty good starting point, but the truth is, we're constantly amazed. Lands' End claims that their cashmere crew is "the world's finest -- 100% white cashmere fleece from Inner Mongolia". We ordered one. It felt like sandpaper and went baggy after a couple of wearings. On the other hand, Chinese-made sweaters from obscure brands found at the late Syms have been softer than bunnies and survived assaults by pissed-off cats. Go figure.

Our bottom line is that brand might be a good indicator of quality, that price rarely is, and that your own experience through trial and error will be more valuable than either. Left: from the article, Pringle of Scotland's factory, 1950, Keystone/Getty Images. Right: one of our favourite cashmere sweaters, Uniqlo's $99 turtleneck.

Also See