I was flicking through an extremely large volume on vintage fashions when I visited my parents at the old homestead for Easter, and though my flicking was casual and intended for pleasure alone, I began to appraise the pages as though a student; I started to notice patterns and similarities. Between the Edwardian ladies with their bicycles and straw hats and the late Victorian country gentlemen with their shotguns and deerstalkers, there were few similarities. In nearly all respects, they represented the very ’Mars & Venus’ stereotype that defines and separates the sexes; the gruff, brawny hunters and the delicate ladies of fashion. However, fabric seemed to be an area they could agree on. One fabric at least. For there was, in those days, a great preponderance of tweed in clothing.
Tweed now has neither the status nor the broad appeal it once boasted. Like other British institutions; the Lyons Popular Tea Room, the music hall or the pier, it has faded into that sepia world of yesterday. It seems to have been pushed into premature retirement to appear alongside shortbread biscuits, raspberry jam and Earl Grey tea in English Heritage gift shops.
A great shame this is, for tweed is one of the most practical and sensible fabrics ever made. Moisture resistant and extremely warm, for those wishing to spend time outdoors without Gore-tex, tweed is a wonderful material. And, though very much a country fabric, in these days of leisure clothing, tweed is seen as an equally smart alternative to finished wool fabrics in a metropolitan context. A good friend of mine frequently adds his Harris tweed jacket to his casual shirt and trouser ensembles to great effect.
If tweed has any status, it is that of a material favoured by the aristocracy. This is hardly surprising, considering the aristocracy are frequently those in possession of large estates, on which outdoor activities take place. A snobbery has been attached to the wearing of tweed in recent years; an inverted strain. Anyone wearing tweed is likely to be seen as a ’tweedy’ person; an assertion which does the fabric a disservice. Characters of all kinds have worn, and will continue to wear, tweed. Taking the decision to ignore the extraordinary negative stereotyping and add this most majestic material to the wardrobe requires an open mind and a little consideration of purpose.
The tweed suit
If you are planning to go the whole hog and look into the purchase of a complete tweed suit, you are to be saluted. I rarely see tweed, worn in such volume, on one person. It is magnificent, but would require a good deal of research. Harris Tweed is perhaps the most famous tweed available, although there are those that consider the loss of the old methods of hand spinning and natural dying to be detrimental to the quality of the fabric and the brand. If you prefer your whisky with an ‘e’, you might consider that Donegal tweed, Ireland’s answer to Harris, is the fabric of choice. Donegal tweed is hand woven and naturally dyed from the flora surrounding the sheep on the hills of Donegal, Ulster; moss, berries and fuchsia providing some of the colours. I always think it would be sensible to go for a three-piece suit.
The tweed jacket
Tweed jackets are an excellent odd jacket to be worn casually. They are perfect for a weekend away from the city, although having said that, they never look out of place as daywear in the metropolis. Choosing a tweed style depends largely on personality. I myself, being of a somewhat unrestrained and egotistical nature, might choose a rather brightly checked tweed, although friends of mine with a taste for something a little more subtle, might choose a quiet tone-on-tone check or a simple brown herringbone. If you are selecting a check, I think it advisable to keep to Breanish or Harris as the light weight Border tweeds are particularly fuddy-duddy; redolent of school teachers and retirees.