One of the most gratifying things about reviewing menswear is that the ‘finger on the pulse’, ‘trend alert’, ‘this year’s MUST have’ nonsense that womenswear requires is unnecessary. Reviewing menswear is not about ‘IT’ bags or ‘HOT heels’; it is, broadly speaking, about style and individual taste. Whereas women tend to be led, men tend to choose. Men might wear a fashion ‘thing’ of the moment because their “mate had it and looked pretty cool”, but they won’t prostrate themselves at the altar of fashion for the sake of it.
However, there was a recent trend report which caught my eye. It pointed to the increase in sales of Harris Tweed, the famous Scottish fabric most associated with the country dress of British aristocrats. Business is currently booming for the Isle of Harris which sold 630 metres of tweed fabric this year – a massive 40% increase on last year’s sales. And according to the report, demand is even building beyond British borders from Germany to Japan.
Why the demand?
The report made the tired and predictable stab at the origins and traditional uses of Harris Tweed; the word “staid” was mentioned, and there were some naïve undertones of criticism of its “associations with the landed gentry” as if this has been anything but a boon to the economics of demand. The real point is, people are connecting with their environment more and are looking to traditions in a time of great uncertainty. Harris Tweed is a high quality fabric that is made in Scotland using traditional methods.
What are they making?
Apparently, there’s been a great demand for tweed suits. Now, we all know someone with a tweed jacket. A tweed jacket is expected and is a certain staple of any self-respecting modern gentleman’s wardrobe but a suit? A whole suit? A three-piece? I can’t remember the last time I saw a gentleman below seventy in a tweed suit. To many, they are the uniform of the House of Lords, although it seems they might now be worn by members of that House as a proverbial ‘middle-finger’ to Government by the hereditary peers who disapprove of the recent measures to remove fellow Lairds, Dukes and Earls from the crimson benches.
Whatever the reason, tweed suits are being seen more and more in town. The strict town/country rules are fading quickly, despite the admirable efforts of traditionalists to uphold them.
What kind of tweed?
Tweed is woven in many kinds of colours and patterns but there are, essentially, three common ‘types.’ The first type is a plain coloured weave, often herringbone, in various tones of rust and green. The second common type is a plain weave with a coloured window-check pattern again in various tones of rust and green; my own tweed jacket is pale green with a sky blue window-check. The third common type is a houndstooth tweed, which sometimes has an overcheck but often does not, and has always been known to me as ‘teacher’s tweed’ due to the fact that it was commonly worn by school teachers. This is generally a light brown/dark brown houndstooth combination.
There is no ‘definitive’ tweed although the plain coloured herringbone option is far more subtle and less outré than a loud window-check. For those that want something in between the dull plain weave and the terrifying window-check, the herringbone is probably the ideal compromise.