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~ Cashmere Sweaters ~

History

Until the 1920s, knitted sweaters were utilitarian or athletic items, not fashion statements.  This all changed with Patou and Chanel in the 20s, and with Schiaparelli in the 30s.  By 1933, Pringle in Scotland was making fashionable sweaters of cashmere, and they introduced the twin set shortly thereafter.

However, it took Hollywood to make the sweater a star.  In 1937 Lana Turner appeared in They Won’t Forget wearing a tight sweater.  The Sweater Girl was born!

This 1960s Hadley Cashmere Souffle sweater has gold braid trim and gold beads.

Beaded evening sweaters were made in many color combinations, but black and white was very popular.

In 1940, American designer Clare Potter included decorated evening sweaters in her collection. A year later, Mainbocher took British-made cashmere cardigans and decorated them for evening wear. Sometimes they were made as part of a dress ensemble, with the lining of the sweater matching the dress. They were decorated with beads, sequins, metal studs and fabric trim. This started a trend for decorated sweaters that continued into the 1960s.

I am showing further developments of the sweater cardigan because good ideas, like good friends, I don't think should be cast aside.  Mainbocher, 1943 in Harper's Bazaar

The evening sweater was an important part of the 1950s wardrobe.  These sweaters were decorated in various ways: sequins, embroidery, appliqué, lace, beads, rhinestones and huge fur collars.  A sweater would often exhibit a combination of these decorations.  Many were lined in sheer, light-weight silk, sometimes with a layer of lace between the sweater and the silk.

Cashmere also became very popular for day. Many women had a twin set or two.  A twin set was a pullover, often sleeveless or with short sleeves, and a matching cardigan.  Sometimes the two pieces contrasted with coordinating trim. The sweaters often had jewel necklines to complement the string of pearls that many women wore with them.

From the 1940s and into the 1950s, teenage girls would wear their (or their mothers’) cardigans backward, buttoned up the back.  College girls of the period bought twin sets as an important part of their college wardrobes.

Hong Kong also produced beautiful lambswool and angora blends, such as this 1950s example by Sweater Pagoda.  Photo courtesy of pastperfectvintage.com.

Pringle ad aimed at the ‘College Girl’, in September, 1951 Vogue.

Cashmere sweaters were knit not only in lovely solid colors, they were also knit in intarsia designs. Intarsia is a knitting process that results in a sort of inlay of design.  Argyles were popular, as were flowers, butterflies and other designs from mature. There were often pretty details such as collars, matching mother-of-pearl buttons and contrasting satin trim.

Most 1950s sweaters had three-quarter, or bracelet, length sleeves. This sleeve length remained popular into the early 60s. Later in the decade, sleeves lengthened to cover the wrist.

 

What to Look For

There is much to choose from in the world of vintage cashmere.  Many collectors focus in on the fancy evening cardigans.  Look for beautiful beading in stunning color combinations such as black on red, pastels on white and copper on tan.  There are lovely embroidered and appliquéd sweaters with flowers, fruits, insects and oriental motifs.  Many of these embroidered sweaters have matching or contrasting satin edge bindings.

 

If you wear fur, there are cardigans with big fur collars that snap on and off for cleaning. These cashmere-fur sweaters are commonly found in contrasting colors, such as a black sweater with a white collar.  Sometimes they are dyed to match, often in great colors such as deep green or royal blue.

If these sweaters seem too fancy for your taste, there are plenty of more basic options. Solid color cardigans, jewel neck and collared pullovers, and turtlenecks can be found in practically any hue.  If you like patterns, you might look for intarsia designs.

This sweater from the fifties has intarsia knit bows.

 

There have been hundreds of manufacturers of cashmere during the past six decades.  “Made in Scotland” on the label is usually a sign of quality, as the Scottish mills such as Pringle, Ballentyne, Braemar and Lyle Scott produced (and in some cases, continue to produce) top-quality sweaters.  Supposedly, the water in Scotland in which the cashmere fiber is washed makes the fibers softer.

 

This Italian sweater from the 1960s shows the influence of Emilio Pucci.

 

The two biggest American labels were Dalton and Hadley.  It is fairly common to find Dalton sweaters that are two-tone; usually the sweater is a beautiful color with white or contracting trim.  They also made intarsia designs, often in three colors. Scalloped edges were another pretty detail used by Dalton; they also made beautiful appliquéd sweaters.

Hadley manufactured cashmere and camelhair sweaters for many major department stores.  They had one line called “Cashmere Souffle” that was 6- or 8-ply, compared to the usual 2- or 3-ply yarns used in most sweaters.

Rich green Cardigan made in Scotland by Braemar.

Cardigans made in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s often had satin-trimmed edges and beautiful embroidery.

Many sweaters, especially the highly decorated ones, were made in Hong Kong.  In the late 1950s and into the 1960s, Hong Kong not only produced beautifully decorated cashmere, but also high quality lambswool/angora blends that are almost as soft as cashmere.  Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference if the tags are missing.

 

 

Detail of a licensed Schiaparelli sweater from the 1950s.

A very special find would be a cashmere sweater that was designed by one of the great designers of the period. Halston became known for his work in cashmere in the 1970s, but you should also look for the big names of the 1950s.  Schiaparelli licensed a line of evening sweaters in the 1950s and 1960s.  Some were cashmere with rhinestones or beads, but the same designs were also made in Orlon.  Bonnie Cashin designed cashmere sweaters and skirts for Ballentyne, and later, for her own company, The Knittery.  Tina Leser did lines for Dalton and Pringle.

Many collectors look for sweaters by master decorators. Helen Bond Carruthers, Pat Baldwin and Edith Salzman are some of the best known and most highly collected.  Carruthers took the embroidery from old worn piano shawls from the 1920s and embroidered and lacy bits from antique Belgian linens, and attached the decorations like applique to the sweaters. Very often the entire sweater would be covered with decoration. She also often altered these sweaters, shortening both the sleeves and the torso. These sweaters are considered to be the ultimate in decorated cashmere. So look for the large label - it will be in the waist!

This Helen Bond Carruthers sweater features hand appliqued antique Chinese embroidered motifs. Photo courtesy of pastperfectvintage.com.

Carruthers sweater decorated with Belgian embroidery.

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