When you think of classic menswear fabrics, it doesn’t quite get any more classic than tweed. It looks just as good on a lumberjack – classic or urban – as a rugged, outdoorsy coat as it does on a bookish professor as a soft-shouldered blazer, or even on a slick urban professional as a slim well-tailored suit.
So where does tweed fabric come from? And what is tweed, exactly?
Tweed goes back so far that it’s exact origins are little sketchy, especially when it comes to the name itself. My favorite story claims that a Scottish mill contacted a British buyer offering a fabric they described as ‘tweel’ – the Scots term for twill.
Being the pre-text message 1800s, the inquiry came by hand-written letter, and the merchant mistook ‘tweel’ for ‘tweed,’ which was at the time not a fabric, but the name of a river in Scotland. The buyer ran with the term and voila, ‘tweed’ entered the menswear lexicon for good.
From Scotland to the World: Tweed Usage Through History
As for the use of the fabric itself, things get a little clearer. Tweed was originally hand-woven by the peasants and farmers of Scotland and England and worn to fight the cold and damp climates, as it is characteristically warm and resistant to wind and water.
Eventually, tweed was adopted by the Edwardian elite as a sporting fabric (for the same reasons) for high class activities such as hunting, shooting, riding, and eventually early motorsports. It then became common among the aspiring middle class, who associated the fabric with the pursuits of the wealthy.
Over the years, it’s popularity has waxed and waned, but it’s never disappeared and is going as strong as ever in the age of the modern gentleman.
Tweed Production Then & Now
Unlike most menswear fabrics, tweed isn’t actually defined by a specific weave – in fact, it comes in many weaves, most commonly plain, twill, or herringbone. Instead, it’s defined by its rough woolen texture and its traditionally earthy color palette that comes from mixing yarns of brown, blue, grey and natural coloring.
Today, many companies mass-mill the fabric, but the best tweeds are still hand-woven. While it was once used primarily for jackets and coats, it has become especially known as a popular suiting fabric, but is now woven into gloves, ties, hats, boots, briefcases, trousers and more.
That said, in the eyes of this writer, you can’t get better than a rugged tweed sportcoat cut in classic British style, with casual, country-side details like leather buttons or suede elbow patches, and – if you’re lucky – stamped with the Harris Tweed seal of approval.
Stay tuned for some guides for wearing tweed this fall/winter and peruse the Style Guide for some inspiration.
He Spoke Style