I love sweaters. I love buying them, I love making them, I love wearing them. Since they're a staple of my winter wardrobe, I spend a lot of time shopping for them and handling them, and I've noticed an annoying trend. Namely, as the price (and quality) of cashmere has plummeted, stores have stopped making nice wool or merino cardigans.
The motivation, I'm sure, if economic. A good wool sweater probably costs as much as crappy cashmere, and customers will probably prefer the cashmere for its softness and connotations of luxury and wealth. Unfortunately, cheap cashmere pills like mad, loses shape easily, and is so thin that it isn't particularly warm. Most retailers have opted to sell lousy, cheap cashmere and I've had a hard time this season finding merino or plain 100% wool cardigans for women.
I bought CodeMonkey some lovely lambswool v-necks from Boden. They have held up well over the last few months, and they have sufficient length in the body and sleeves that when he bends forward, his dress shirt doesn't billow out of his pants. His Lands' End cashmere v-necks are about 2 inches shorter (were they trying to save on materials costs?) and they constantly ride up. I anticipate the wool ones will last longer than the cheapo cashmere, which I wouldn't buy again.
In the mean time, the only pace I've found to buy nice, simple wool cardigans is Brooks Brothers. I picked up one in red and one in black when they were 40% off last week. The fabric is significantly more substantial (and again, they are nicely longer in the body and sleeves) than cashmere cardigans I've tried on at other retails. The knit is dense, the fabric is reasonably heavy, and the spin on the yarn seems fairly tight. I'd rather have a good wool than crappy cashmere any day, and I'm sick of it being hard to find the kind of high quality garments I'd like to wear. Their color selection is lousy, though.
Incidentally, here are reviews of the cashmere retailers I've tried:
Lands' End: I have a darling cashmere purple argyle cardigan, but all their solid colored cardigans have been car too boxy on me, even when I went down to an XS. They are cropped length, which is fine if you're going for that look. Their cashmere long-sleeve t-shirts seem to be better cut and longer in the body and arms. Again, pilly. CodeMonkey owns two cashmere v-necks from them and they also run short and pilly. Don't buy unless it's last year's clearance plus a 40% off and free shipping coupon. I have never paid more than $80 for one of their sweaters and I usually pay under $50. Not sure I'd buy again.
Macy's: I bought one of their Charter Club cardigans this year. Color was nice, body length was nice. They used buttons that poorly matched the sweater color, so I returned it. It did seem a bit thin during the try-on.
Talbots: I have two of this season's cashmere cardigans from them. They run thin, though I'm find of the large color-coordinated buttons. They run a bit big, and I took a small in them. The fabric is thin, but pill-resistant. I did keep the sweaters, but I got them at $80/each, shipped during Black Friday and wouldn't buy them otherwise.
J. Crew: I stopped in here because on the website they had some really cute colors. The garments were pilling on the shelf (bad sign), but I grabbed something to try on anyway and was even more disappointed. The Medium was the size of a tent on me, and given that I measure 37-29-40, I don't think I should be in the market for an XS garment. The sweaters were very thin, and lighter colors appeared translucent, which was disappointing, given the cost. Left without buying anything.
Boden: I have this season's cashmere hoody. This is easily the nicest cashmere in my closet. It's thicker, plusher and much more pill resistant. It does feel a bit less soft in the hand, but I've worn the sweater probably 10 times and it hasn't pilled appreciably, so it's worth the tradeoff. It is also the most expensive sweater I own. I believe I paid about $130 after a 30% discount. I'd buy more of their pieces next year, though. I tried their long-sleeve cashmere crewnecks, and the cut about the shoulders was strangely unflattering, so they went back. The fabric on those was thinner than the hoody, but still seemed nice.
Everlane: I stopped by their pop-up shop last weekend and groped the cashmere. It has that same "plush but not super soft" feel that Boden's cashmere has, so it seemed promising. The fabric seemed nicely heavy, and nothing was too sheer. I have the cashmere stole on order, but it's so incredibly "I can't believe I spent that much" expensive is may go back if I am not head over heels in love with it in every respect. I didn't try any of the cashmere sweaters on, though it's concerning that they seem to favor the sort of loose, vaguely masculine, boxy cut that looks so terribly unflattering on me. I would consider a sweater order in the future.
I'm curious to try both Brora and Pure Collection, though they're costly. I've heard excellent things about their quality.