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Cashmere socks? That one has all the earmarks of the ultimate statement of conspicuous consumption. Take the finest of fabrics and squander it on the most pedestrian piece of clothing. Sounds like one of those items that throw out pragmatism in favor of lavish bragging rights. "Look at me!" it screams. "I'm wearing cashmere where you can't even see it."

Cashmere socks start to make sense, however, when you think that that ultraexpensive cloth made from the hair on the underbelly of goats grazed in the mountains of Inner Mongolia produces up to three times the heat insulation of other natural fibers. Not only do said goats endure brutal winters, but scorching summers as well. The combination makes for a fabric that is soft and fine with exceptional wicking and breathability. It also doesn't hurt that the foot is chock-full of sensitive nerve endings uniquely qualified to appreciate the silken quality of this fine wool. In a highly technical sporting situation with an emphasis on feeling your pedal extremities -- say speed skating or mountain climbing -- they lend instant warmth in a sock thin enough to afford foot feel. In the office, they just feel great.

Before you convince your accountant that this is the epitome of practicality, consider that at Turnbull & Asser, the English bastion of stylish and impeccable excess, a pair of 100 percent cashmere socks goes for as much as $145 (the price nose-dives to $85 when you blend them with nylon.) At those prices, New York City store manager Simon Hobbs does refer to the colorful hose pictured as the "ultimate status symbol for the man who has everything." He recommends punctilious care -- hand washing, failing that dry cleaning -- to his customers, some of whom buy them by the dozen. (We've found, however, that the blended kind can stand up to machine washing, though no manufacturer will ever recommend it.) Of course, you can always go less expensive, but at the risk of getting that cheap Chinese cashmere or (gasp) a really fine micron wool fobbed off as cashmere. But that's a problem for your tootsies and your pocketbook to reconcile.

For more information visit www.cashmeresocks.com or www.turnbullandasser.com.

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