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The Epoch Times
The Epoch Times
17 Feb 2024

NextImg:How to Buy a Sweater That’ll Actually Last

Is there anything cozier than a good sweater during the cold months? Whether it keeps you warm and comfortable on your outdoor adventures, or as you enjoy a cup of coffee while watching the snow fall outside, everyone deserves to have a sweater they love.

But not all knitwear is equal. While traditionally, sweaters used to be made entirely from wool or cotton, in the 21st century, synthetic fibers such as polyester and acrylic have become more common, dominating the mass market. These have made sweaters more affordable and easier to wash—but cheaper quality and less durable, too.

So to help you find your perfect match—that won’t fall apart by the end of the season—let’s find out the most important factors to consider when assessing the quality of a sweater.

The Fibers

“If I [made] a hierarchy, I would go with the fiber type first,” said Imran Islam, assistant professor of textile development and marketing at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York. A rule of thumb when buying a good sweater is to opt for natural fibers, such as wool, cashmere, or cotton.

Saffron King, head fashion stylist at women’s clothing boutique Blue Bungalow, agrees.

“They are not only durable but also age well,” she said. “Avoid high synthetic blends, as they tend to lose shape and pill.”

Opt for sweaters with natural fibers. Though they take more effort to wash and maintain, they’ll last for a long time. (mama_mia/Shutterstock, Freepik)


Wool is, by far, the most common and traditional fiber used in knitted garments. Nature has provided some animals with an insulating, water-repellent, and often anti-microbial coat—all qualities that are transferred to a wool sweater.

Merino wool is one of the most recommended by experts. It comes from the Merino sheep, a breed that grows long and fine fibers and has been sheared since at least the 12th century. A sweater made of Merino wool will not only be soft, but also have many other qualities that make it a perfect match for those who enjoy the great outdoors—or have to deal with a packed subway commute.

For example, not only it is water-resistant and hygroscopic, meaning that it absorbs and retains the water in the core of the fiber while keeping the surface dry, Mr. Islam explained, but it is also fire-resistant—that is, in case of contact with a fire spark or a cigarette butt, not an actual fire. It also comes with natural UV protection and is anti-microbial, meaning that you can wear it for many days in a row and it won’t smell, although letting it air out in between wearings is recommended.

Not all wools are as soft as Merino. Some cheaper alternatives are made with shorter and thicker fibers, which can cause the typical scratchy or tingling sensation.

Not all wools are created equal. The softest comes from merino sheep. (John Carnemolla/Shutterstock, Lukas/Pexels)


Cashmere is another popular choice when shopping for a good-quality sweater. In this case, the fiber comes from Cashmere goats, so it’s not technically wool, but hair. Its popularity stems from its softness, and although it won’t be as durable as Merino wool, it is much warmer and lighter.

Leah Wise, founder of CrashGal Couture, recommends Free People, J Crew, and Everlane for a good selection of cashmere sweaters that people can buy for life.

Of course, a 100 percent cashmere sweater is a luxury item and you will have to pay accordingly. That’s one of the reasons why a blend of cashmere and wool is a popular choice.

“I would recommend getting sweaters that have the cashmere and wool blend, but cashmere is the more dominant natural fiber, because it is soft and it does keep you warm,” style coach Liz Wendler says. “It looks luxurious, it’s comfortable. I don’t feel too hot. I don’t feel too itchy because the cashmere is keeping the wool soft.”

Cashmere comes from Cashmere goats and are the softest, most luxurious fiber. (New Africa/Shutterstock)
Cashmere comes from Cashmere goats and are the softest, most luxurious fiber. (New Africa/Shutterstock)


The cotton plant. (Freepik)

The third main alternative among natural fibers for sweaters is cotton. This can be a cheaper, easier-to-maintain choice, although cotton is not made to retain heat as animal fibers do. Cotton is thus an excellent option for warmer weather, especially when you have little chance of getting wet, since cotton isn’t water-resistant like wool.

Cotton is a breathable material more well-suited for warm weather. (YANNA2560/Shutterstock)
Cotton is a breathable material more well-suited for warm weather. (YANNA2560/Shutterstock)

Synthetic Fibers

Then there are synthetic fibers, such as polyester and acrylic, which you should stay away from if you want a cozy, durable sweater. Essentially plastic, “it gives you a certain strength and insulation property, but it also adds an extra level of problems,” Mr. Islam said.

For instance, synthetic fibers tend to stretch and pill more than their natural counterparts. They are also hydrophobic, meaning that “they are extremely dry, they generate static electricity, and at some point, you will feel a little bit of discomfort because they have poor moisture management,” Mr. Islam added. For the wearer, that means synthetic fibers will leave you sweatier and smellier.

Many sweaters nowadays, including from high-end, four-digit-price brands, may include a high percentage of synthetic fibers, so make sure to read the label carefully before buying.

The Handcrafting

What your sweater is made of is a critical aspect when buying one, but how the sweater was made is also important. Mr. Islam added the construction of the sweater and the thickness of the yarn as other key points to consider.

“It is all connected,” he said. “These are the ultimate testament to the quality of a sweater.”

Ms. King, of Blue Bungalow, recommends closely inspecting the seams and edges.

“Quality sweaters should have secure, neat seams with no fraying. Fully fashioned marks are a good sign, indicating the sweater was knitted into shape, not cut and sewn,” she said. “Fully fashioned” knitted garments have a neater finish, and are considered to be of higher quality than “cut and sew” pieces.

The yarn size is a good indication of how well-crafted your sweater is. (Surene Palvie/Pexels)
The yarn size is a good indication of how well-crafted your sweater is. (Surene Palvie/Pexels)

Another factor is the yarn size. A thicker yarn will hold its shape better and add coziness. For example, a sweater might be “100 percent cashmere,” but if the yarn is too thin, it won’t have the same feeling to it as thicker individual fibers.

However, a thinner yarn can be acceptable when the weaving is tight, as it will make the sweater more durable. Try sticking your forearm into the sleeve when shopping to check how tight the weaving is—how much of your arm is visible through the holes in the knit—and how comfortable it feels to the skin in terms of itchiness, Ms. Wise suggested.

“Heavier, tighter knits usually mean better quality,” said Ms. King. “However, the weight should match the purpose—lighter for layering, heavier for standalone use.”

The Proper Care

We’ve covered the main points for choosing a good-quality sweater. But once you find “the one,” you’ll need to do your part and take good care of it.

Maintaining your sweaters includes storing them properly. (Freepik)
Maintaining your sweaters includes storing them properly. (Freepik)

Washing and Drying

Usually, the sweater will come with a label with washing instructions, so follow them carefully. Many will say “dry clean,” which is not the same as “dry clean only” –the former is a suggestion, and the latter is an order.

If “dry clean” is a suggestion, you can hand wash it. As a general rule, don’t ever put a sweater made of 100 percent natural animal fibers in the washing machine, or that could be the end of it.

Follow the washing instructions on your sweater carefully. (Anakumka/Shutterstock)
Follow the washing instructions on your sweater carefully. (Anakumka/Shutterstock)

Even if hand washing your sweater, you still need to be gentle. Washing it inside-out can prevent extra wear and tear and pills. Use a detergent meant for delicates, or even better, try a detergent for wool. Absolutely don’t use bleach or the fancy detergents with enzymes, which will break down the fibers.

Cold water is better, although some sweaters can endure warm or cool temperatures—again, check the label. Soak the sweater for about 30 minutes and gently knead or swirl it in the water; don’t rub or squeeze it, as that would stretch the fibers.

Avoid the dryer, especially the high heat settings, to avoid shrinking your sweater. The best way to dry your sweater is to put it in between two towels and squeeze the water out that way, rather than squeezing it away with your hands. Then, make it lay down flat on a dry towel to finish drying it. A mesh rack can be very helpful to speed up the air-drying process.

Once your sweater is dry, Ms. Wendler recommends not hanging it, or it will deform or get lumps on the shoulders. The best way to store sweaters is to fold them in a drawer. Be mindful of moths, as they love eating the natural fibers of sweaters. A piece of cedar wood in the drawer can keep the moths away, Ms. Wendler said.

Fold your sweaters into a neat pile so that they don't deform. (Kateryna Hliznitsova/Unsplash)
Fold your sweaters into a neat pile so that they don't deform. (Kateryna Hliznitsova/Unsplash)


Another issue you have to pay attention to is pilling. High-quality sweaters don’t pill as much, but you should remain vigilant. It’s a good idea to invest in a depilling tool, and some brands recommend allowing your sweater to air for at least 24 hours between wearings to let moisture dissipate and prevent pilling. This should prolong the life of your knitwear.
A fabric shaver is a great tool for removing the pilling material. (New Africa/Shutterstock)
Be sure to take care of your sweater when it starts to pill. (Miyuki Satake/Shutterstock)
Be sure to take care of your sweater when it starts to pill. (Miyuki Satake/Shutterstock)

Off-Season Storage

Once the warmer weather arrives and you need to store your sweaters until the next cold season, it’s a good idea to give them a wash. This can prevent the brewing of unpleasant odors over the summer, which will attract moths and cause the smell to be more difficult to get rid of when you want to use your sweater again.

Place your sweater in a plastic or fabric container or bag. Don’t forget to add the cedar wood or some other moth-repellent, and that’s it! Your favorite sweater will be waiting for you in perfect condition until you need it again.