Like any high-value item, ponchos come in a wide range of qualities and types.
Ponchos range from the ultra-high quality handmade Nepalese wool ponchos to the lower quality manufactured ponchos that are made from regular fabric, canvas, or cotton. When you are looking for a poncho to complete your wardrobe, pay special attention to the following key indicators that your poncho is a high quality. High quality ponchos may be a bit more expensive initially, but they will last for decades.
Determining the quality of a poncho is easy if you are able to hold the poncho in your hands – especially if you can compare it to other ponchos at a market or clothing shop. Buying ponchos online, however, allows you to save a great deal of money – but it makes it difficult to ensure that you are getting top-of-the-line merchandise that is represented correctly by the sellers. These tips should help you get the most for your money – buying a poncho that will be comfortable and long-lasting.
The vast majority of ponchos are wool, as wool is the traditional material associated with the design. Wool stays warm even when it gets wet, it repels the wind, and it indicates that the poncho was handmade rather than mass-produced in a factory. Wool ponchos are always more desirable than their canvas and cotton/synthetic lookalikes, since the wool ponchos will last much longer. If you are looking for a ‘disposable’ poncho to use once or twice, canvas might be fine, but for anything that you expect to last – wool is the only choice.
Even among wool ponchos, there is still a huge gradient in material quality. Basically, wool ponchos can be divided into quality segments by the ‘density’ that the wool is woven into. The closer together the individual “loops” of wool are, the better the poncho is. Dense wool ponchos take much longer to make by hand, and they last for far longer – and are less susceptible to fraying over time. Think of this factor like ‘thread-count’ in your sheets. The higher the thread-count in a pair of cotton sheets, the more cotton went into their production, and the more comfortable the sheets are.
Handmade ponchos usually have vibrant colors that are linked to the rich cultural heritage of the groups that make the ponchos. Normally, handmade ponchos use different organic and synthetic dyes that have an extremely long lifespan under normal wear and tear – but you should be on the lookout for cheaper ponchos that use less-permanent colors that might come out during a wash. Since ponchos were originally designed to be worn in the sun for long periods of time, they should resist fading even when they are worn for extended periods of time in harsh conditions.
Some dyes are more prone than others to fading – and you’ll see this when you go to browse poncho designs. You might notice that most southwestern poncho designs use ‘earthy’ tones of oranges, browns, and reds – and that’s because blue dye is much more expensive and it usually fades after being exposed to the sun for long periods of time.
If you are in a hurry, or you want to judge the quality of a poncho without taking it out of its packaging (for example, in a costume store) you can almost always make an initial assessment by weighing the poncho in your arms. Heavier ponchos are usually a higher quality, since the materials used to make high quality ponchos (wool) are far heavier than the materials that are used to make ponchos in factories.
The best ponchos in the world are handmade by the artisans that come from long traditions of poncho making. While you can buy mass-produced ponchos from export countries like China and Thailand, these ponchos are just imitations compared to the high quality ponchos that you can buy directly from the people of Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Nepal, and other Central American countries. Handmade ponchos are usually made from high-grade materials, and they show signs of great care taken during their construction.
Of course, with all the advances in manufacturing that have been made in the textile industry, how does one tell if their poncho is handmade or not? Normally you could rely on the labels of your poncho, but in this era of unscrupulous retailers – the labels aren’t always the best source of information. The best way to tell if something has been handmade is to look for small sewing defects, such as minor errors in the pattern, that suggest the poncho was created by hand. These errors give your poncho a much more “organic” appearance, and they add character and a backstory to your poncho that would be lacking in its manufactured counterpart.
Last, but not least, the cost of a poncho can be an indicator of its relative quality. If you buy your poncho directly from the source, or from a discount retailer with access to fresh imports, you can get a great deal on any type of poncho – but handmade and high-quality ponchos will still be more expensive than the mass produced knockoffs. Don’t make your poncho decision solely based on cost. Saving a couple dollars by purchasing a cheap poncho will come back to bite you later, when your inferior poncho starts to deteriorate and fade after the first wear. Handmade wool ponchos can last forever with the right care, and you might be passing your poncho down to another generation of poncho wearers someday.
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