White + Warren Essential Cashmere Crewneck Review: The Softest, Best Cashmere Sweater

White + Warren Essential Cashmere Crewneck Review: The Softest, Best Cashmere Sweater

A cashmere sweater is a stylish, luxurious knitwear staple that belongs in every wardrobe. Made from natural, breathable fibers, typically extracted from the underbelly of the cashmere goat, cashmere is considered the highest-quality yarn in the knitwear family. A well-made cashmere sweater is super soft on the skin, comfortable, sustainable and can last a lifetime. I tested cashmere crew neck sweaters as part of a larger review and named the White + Warren Essential Cashmere Crewneck as the overall winner. Here, I share more on my testing process and why this beautiful sweater earned the top recommendation.

The White + Warren Essential Cashmere Crewneck is made with 100% traceable Mongolian cashmere and is a classic, elegant crew neck with a flattering straight fit. The New York–based, female-founded brand is cashmere-focused (as opposed to a general fashion brand) and has been around since 1997. White + Warren was established with a vision to make cashmere an everyday affordable luxury, and to that end, their yarn is sourced directly from Mongolian herders—removing the middleman to bring the price down without compromising on quality. The brand itself and this particular sweater came recommended by fashion stylists and knitwear designers I spoke to as part of my tested review. This sweater ticked all the boxes for the quality of its fibers, its fully fashioned marks (meaning it was hand sewn together, a more intensive process that results in a longer-lasting product) and its overall look and feel. It’s incredibly soft to the touch, looked and felt beautiful on and retained its stretch and shape with barely any signs of wear or pilling after 14 days of rigorous testing.

Sizes: XS to L | Colors: Deep Navy, Misty Grey Heather, Sandstone Heather, Silver Lilac Heather, Blue Mist Heather, Moss Green | Materials: 100% cashmere | Source: Inner Mongolia

Best for:

  • Those who love a classic crew neck with a fine tight knit
  • A straight fit and soft-to-the-touch texture

Skip if:

  • You prefer more of an oversized look or loose knit
  • You need extended sizing

Versatile, High-Quality Design

When it comes to the marriage of style, comfort and softness, White + Warren’s Essential Cashmere Crewneck not only looked beautiful on, it felt that way against my skin. The classic slim-fit style is flattering and true to size without being too tight or too roomy, and its medium weight makes it a great staple for fall and winter. I tested the Sandstone Heather, a versatile blush-toned neutral (it comes in 12 shades, including solid and heathered colors) that would go with a lot of foundational pieces in your wardrobe. This crew has an elevated look that can be dressed up or down: I wore it with leather pants and boots and a long navy wool coat, and then tested it with jeans and dressy sneakers. I also paired it with a long skirt and over a maxi dress. Evidence of its quality can be seen in the finely ribbed trim on the band and cuffs and the fully fashioned marks at the neckline, under the arms and at the band.

Putting It Through The Paces

When I held the Essential Cashmere Crewneck up to the sunlight and also under bright light, I couldn’t see through the stitches or detect any uneven patches. Overall, the sweater has a nice tight knit and good tension—it’s spun from two-ply cashmere and has a fine micron count of 15 to16—so it snapped back into shape quickly when I stretched it and retained its shape after I wore it for an entire day. I also rubbed the sweater repeatedly in the same spots—under the arms, on the chest and at the neckline, and never detected any residue between my fingers (which can indicate lower-quality cashmere) or signs of pilling. As part of my testing, I wore the sweater while going about my day: I played with my dog, Faith, and lay on my yoga mat performing planks to ensure the sweater could withstand friction, and to simulate the effects of normal wear and tear over time. Again, there wasn’t any evidence of pilling or thinning at the elbows, though there were subtle signs of a little fluff and transfer of fibers, which were minor—definitely less than 2mm.

A Classic Created To Last

White + Warren is a member of Textile Exchange, which works to accelerate sustainable practices in the textile supply chain. The brand sources the highest-quality yarns, traceable to the source, and their factory works with the Sustainable Fibre Alliance to ensure a low environmental impact and protect herders and animal welfare. Perhaps the best testament to the quality of this sweater was the fact that I laundered it twice during the testing period, and it came out looking in pretty much the same perfect condition as when I first unwrapped it. I hand washed it in cold water using a cashmere and wool shampoo, as recommended by knitwear experts. I then rolled it up into a towel to press out any water and let it air-dry flat, and the shape still looks as good as new. This is a sweater that was thoughtfully designed to last, and, in my opinion, that makes it worth the $320 investment.

My Expertise

I am a fashion journalist with over 20 years of experience. I’m the former fashion features director of Harper’s Bazaar and have contributed to Vogue, Grazia, the Guardian Life & Style, CNN and Forbes. Throughout my career, I’ve profiled leading fashion designers, including Michael Kors, Stella McCartney and Diane von Furstenberg, and I have interviewed textile experts and clothing manufacturers to learn more about their production processes. As a fashion reporter, I have reviewed hundreds of collections by emerging and established fashion designers and sat in the front rows during fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris.

How Does It Compare?

White + Warren’s Essential Cashmere Crewneck stood out from the other cashmere sweaters I tested for its classic, timeless fit and style, and how luxuriously soft it looks and feels. Compared to the other contenders, it showed no signs of fluffing or pilling after 14 days of rigorous testing. The Essential Cashmere Crewneck also holds its shape beautifully when stretched, with wear and after laundering. The quality of the cashmere was evident in the tight weave, finely ribbed trims and the fully fashioned marks, as well as in my own touch and light tests. It was the most flattering of all the sweaters I wore.

How I Tested The Best Cashmere Sweaters

As a starting point for my larger tested cashmere sweater review, I interviewed industry experts to learn more about the attributes that go into a high-quality cashmere sweater. I spoke with knitwear designers Michelle Diamond and Lisa Joseph; Jeffrey Silberman, a retired textile professor from the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York; and Deirdre Bushnell, co-owner of Still River Fiber Mill in Connecticut. After extensive market research, I narrowed down a list of 25 contenders to five and tested only 100% cashmere crew neck sweaters. In choosing the winners, I considered the price, the origins of the raw material, the length and grade of the cashmere, the reputation of the mill where the yarn was spun and the brand’s commitment to sustainability. I then subjected each to rigorous testing over a 14-day period. These tests included a light test, touch test, stretch test, wear test and laundering.

In the industry, high-quality natural cashmere fibers should be long and fine, measuring at least 1.25 inches long and no more than 18.5 microns in diameter. Consumers can’t really determine the cashmere’s quality at first glance, but put simply, if long, silky cashmere fibers were used, a sweater will retain its shape over time and be less likely to pill or form holes. Here are ways you can test the quality, as I did: First, I held each sweater up under sharp sunlight to check for thin or uneven patches—you shouldn’t be able to see through a cashmere sweater if it’s made from long, high-quality fibers. Next, scrutinize the sweater at eye level: It’s okay to see a small amount of fluffiness (1 to 2mm), but any more is a telltale sign that shorter fibers were used, and it will pill faster. I also examined each sweater inside out, looking to see if it had fully fashioned marks—small rows of marks near the shoulder seams, which means it was hand sewn for extra reinforcement rather than being done by machine.

High-quality cashmere should feel soft and luxurious to the touch, so I rubbed the sleeves, neck and middle part of the body of each sweater between my thumb and fingers and against my face. In addition to its softness, I was looking to see if there were any signs of filmy residue left on my fingers, as this could indicate a chemical softening treatment was used, which may degrade the quality of the fiber and cause the sweater to wear out faster. I gently and repeatedly stretched each sweater to see if it sprang back into shape. I then wore each cashmere sweater for 4 to 8 hours a day, looking to see if it retained its structure or showed signs of thinning. I also paid attention to whether the sweater felt itchy or scratchy on my bare skin and arms, or when worn with just a t-shirt underneath. To mimic the wear and tear that accumulates over time, I put the sweaters through simple friction tests: I wore each under a tightly fitted coat that caused rubbing at the neck, arms and body when taking it on and off. I also leaned on my elbows and arms in a plank position on my living room floor and on my yoga mat to put stress on these areas. I cuddled with Faith, my 5-year-old, 15-pound cavapoo who (gladly) jumped on me, and then I checked for signs of pilling, snags or holes afterward. Finally, I cleaned each sweater after two wears according to the care label instructions, either washing by hand or using either gentle machine washing or dry cleaning, to see if it looked as good as new afterward.

Why Is Cashmere Considered The Highest-Quality Yarn?

Cashmere yarn is extracted from the soft underbelly of the goat, so it’s incredibly soft and luxurious. “Cashmere goats” are those selectively bred to produce it, and the best cashmere comes from Inner Mongolia, Scotland, Italy and northern India (the Kashmir region). It’s also a natural sustainable fiber and highly versatile—it can be spun into super fine or thick yarns to create light or heavyweight sweaters. Long, fine fibers are considered the highest quality, as they weave together better to create a sweater that will last longer and be less likely to pill or get holes, according to Joseph. Cashmere is also graded on quality. Grade A is the highest, which stipulates the cashmere fiber should be less than 14 to 15.5 microns in diameter. Grade B is no more than 19 microns, and Grade C is no more than 30 microns. You should also pay attention to the ply. Single-ply indicates one fiber is spun into a yarn, while two-ply yarn means two were twisted together. “This makes for a stronger, more durable and longer-lasting garment,” explains Silberman. In its raw form, cashmere fibers range from white (the most sought-after) to red, brown and black. Cashmere does take color well, says Joseph, and many cashmere brands are experimenting with natural dye processes, but just like hair, dyeing or overdyeing cashmere can damage the fiber and make it stiff and brittle. It pays to do your research on the brands and their sweaters to see if they mention the origins of the fiber, the mill where it was spun, the grade, the ply and their sustainability commitment. Look to see if they source traceable yarns, embrace responsible ways of dyeing with natural pigment, use less water in their production processes, work with recycled cashmere or have solar-powered factories.

How Can I Check The Quality Of A Cashmere Sweater?

There are telltale signs of poor-quality cashmere. If you’re in the store, chances are other customers have been trying it on, so look for signs of fluffiness, pilling and holes, particularly at high-friction points like under the arms, at the elbow or on the sides, where it has rubbed against other clothing or a handbag. Also check to see if it appears to be stretched out. “Good cashmere sweaters should retain their shape. Stretch it gently and it should go straight back into shape,” says Diamond. You can also hold it up to the light to see if the knit looks transparent or if there are any thin patches, which is not a good sign.

How Much Should I Spend On A Cashmere Sweater?

The cost of cashmere sweaters varies wildly. You can spend anywhere from $50 to upward of $1,000. The price, however, is usually an indicator of quality. That said, many brands are now working directly with farmers, cutting out the middleman to bring down the prices. If you’re looking for a classic wardrobe basic, a cashmere crew neck sweater is a great staple piece that can be dressed up or down. “You can find a quality sweater for around $200,” says Diamond. If you plan to spend less than that, bear in mind that it may not last forever. The best advice is to do your research and make sure it’s 100% cashmere, and to check the grade and the origins of the fiber—the best cashmere comes from Inner Mongolia, Italy, northern India and Scotland. If budget isn’t an issue and you are looking for an investment piece from a respected cashmere-focused brand like White + Warren, Frances Austen, Jenni Kayne or at the higher-end Loro Piana or Pringle of Scotland, you can spend anywhere from $300 to $1,000 and beyond and feel confident that, if you treat it with care, it should last.

What’s The Best Way To Care For A Cashmere Sweater?

Cashmere is a natural and delicate fiber and needs to be handled with care, according to Joseph. Heat can deteriorate, damage and stretch the fibers, so never put it in the dryer. Although some cashmere pieces can be machine washed in cold water, it’s always better to hand wash (again in cold water) or dry clean. You should launder a sweater after a few gentle wears, or sooner if you have been sweating. “Moths go toward the sweat on the fiber, not the fiber itself. I dry clean 95% of my sweaters and then store them in an airtight container with cedar. I also put cedar chips in every drawer,” says Joseph. Diamond prefers to hand wash her cashmere sweaters in cold water with a wool and cashmere shampoo scented with cedar to repel sweater moths. She then lays her sweater on a towel, rolls it up like a burrito and gently presses on the towel to get the excess water out, before laying it flat to let it air-dry and spring back into shape.

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