Pashmina is an indispensable women’s fashion accessory. Cashmere is another word that is either used interchangeably or with different but related meanings. The purpose of this blog post is to develop an academic understanding of the two terms. There are three aspects to understanding the meanings of the two words. Firstly, the raw material i.e. wool, secondly the quality and origin of the wool and thirdly the end product i.e. the scarf or shawl or wrap or stole that may be called a garment in its wider meanings.
Dictionary.com restricts the meaning of the word, “pashmina” to the fabric or a garment made from "pashm". Pashm is the fine woolly under the hair of the goats raised in Northern India. It gives wider meaning to the word “cashmere” to mean pashm or wool or fabric or a yarn or a garment made from the wool obtained from the hair of the Kashmir goat.
Cambridge dictionary gives two specific meanings to the two words independent of each other. The word “cashmere" implies the raw material and the word “pashmina” implies the end product. It defines cashmere as a very soft, expensive wool material that is made from the hair of goats from Kashmir. Pashmina has been defined as a long piece of soft material such as wool that is worn by a woman around her shoulders. Some pashminas are made from the wool from a particular type of goat. The dictionary does not state the origin of the goat.
Collins Dictionary has given wider meanings of raw material as well as that of the end product to both words i.e. "pashmina" and "cashmere". It too doesn’t indicate the origin of the raw material while defining pashmina but it does specify that cashmere is fine soft wool that is obtained from the goats of Kashmir area. Collins states cashmere to be a variant spelling of Kashmir.
As expected, Wikipedia covers the meanings of the two words in greater detail. It restricts the meaning of the word "cashmere" to the raw material i.e. raw unspun wool of domesticated Changthangi goats or the fiber obtained from cashmere goats. These goats are reared in high plateaux Ladakh in Jammu and Kashmir. Wikipedia states "pashmina" to be a fine variant of spun cashmere as well as to the fine material or to the variant of the end product i.e. Kashmir shawl. Cold temperature prevalent in the area is the primary factor of fine grade pashmina or cashmere wool from the hair of the goats.
Talking about the quality, Wikipedia states that generic cashmere and pashmina come from the same goat and it differentiates between the two in terms of the thickness of the two; generic cashmere ranges from 12 to 21 microns (a micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter) in diameter and pashmina ranges from 12 to 16 microns. Surprisingly, there is an overlap (from 12 to 16 microns) of the thickness ranges of the two. It means that in this range of overlap the fiber obtained can be called both cashmere and pashmina.With the passage of time and usage, the meanings of the words keep changing. Whereas it is well known that pashmina raw material and the end products are also produced in Nepal, the northern side of the Himalayan range, it is strange that the production of the raw material and the end product has been academically restricted to Kashmir in North India by the dictionaries and production of these in Nepal is mentioned nowhere. As of now, the word "cashmere" is commonly known as the raw material, spun or unspun fine wool, obtained from the hair of the high altitude mountain goats either side of the Himalayan range and the word "pashmina" is understood to mean the end product i.e. scarf or shawl or wrap or stole made from the fine wool of cashmere. Hence we find both the word/terms, “pashmina” alone and the phrases “pashmina shawl” or scarf or shawl or wrap or stole. The differentiation of cashmere and pashmina in terms of thickness has overlap over the two ranges. However, the soft fine fiber produced in Kashmir and known as cashmere (the variant of Kashmir) is of better quality than that of the pashmina fiber produced elsewhere. Cashmere pashmina shawl is the phrase used for the pashmina product i.e. shawl etc. made from the soft cashmere wool of Kashmir goats. Thus, any shawl which owes its warmth to thickness and more weight is neither a real pashmina nor a real cashmere.