Why there's no substitute for tweed

Apr 01, 2013

Sherlock HolmesAs a self respecting Brit and part-time Londoner I feel slightly hurt that American T.V has stolen Sherlock Holmes.  After a sit down and a think, I figured out why (being unemployed I have a lot of time to sit down and ponder this sort of stuff).

Taking London’s most cherished literacy creation off his home turf and plopping him in New York seems a poor fit. The back end of London and Baker Street are essential to that character. As recognisable as all that deductive reasoning, disguises and cocaine. But after giving the new programme a good twenty minutes of my evening I didn’t notice a single thread of tweed. This overstepped a certain line and I'm sure Conan Doyle would be right behind me. You can make these obscene adjustments if you want, but overlooking the tweed getup? Bad form. 

The stark realization came to me that it is my responsibility to remind the world there's no substitute for tweed and why it still stands out as the quality fabric in any man's range. People just can't afford to forget.

The original name for tweed was actually twill. Legend has it the fabric got its name by accident. About 1830, as the story goes, a London merchant received an order of handmade tweed from Hawick, Scotland. The merchant misread the handwriting, assumed the fabric took its name from the Scottish river Tweed, and sold all subsequent goods under that name. That’s history and you are now a richer tweed wearer for learning it.

Since then tweed became associated with upper-middle class outdoorsy types. Norfolk tweed shooting jackets and plus-fours knee length trousers became a tell tale Edwardian sign that you were wealthy enough to enjoy such gentlemanly pursuits. Tweed became the uniform for hunters, shooters, golfers and early motorists. 

Sadly the tweed wearing sporting tradition petered out post-war. The fabric seemed to move on, being worn exclusively by university history lecturers and the occasional librarian and it wasn’t ready to achieve bona fide vintage status. But the tweed dark ages relented in the 60's and nowadays tweed is surfing the wave of revival it deserves. Traditionally crafted tweed still heralds from Scotland. Harris Tweed is still hand woven by islanders of the Isle of Harris, Lewis, Uist and Barra in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland using local wool. 

Donegal Tweed is the Irish equivalent. It’s been manufactured in Donegal County, Ireland for centuries from the sheep’s wool in the surrounding valleys. 

There are a few basic patterns for the aspiring tweed wearer. 

Herringbone: probably the most common knit of tweed with a distinct broken zigzag pattern. 

Houndstooth: abstract four-pointed shapes, traditionally black and white.

Prince of Wales Check: originally commissioned by Edward VII own range. It’s instantly recognisable as vintage tweed and used a lot for kilts.

Gamekeepers Tweed: mustardy coloured tweed with green and brown check. Preferably worn with matching hat and pipe.

You don’t have to be a university professor to take tweed seriously. We owe a lot to people who champion the cause of its revival and armed with this knowledge you can confidently use tweed to your advantage. So get out there and wear some.

James Fredrick Gray

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