A Brief History of Tweed
A while back I wrote about cashmere—the softest, lightest, most luxurious wool on the planet. Now, I present you with cashmere’s polar opposite cousin: tweed. Tweed is delicate cashmere’s far removed, gruff-Scottish kin, with its coarse texture and substantial weight. But like cashmere, tweed is guaranteed to keep you warm on a cold Wisconsin day.
Tweed is unfinished wool, most often woven in a twill (diagonal) pattern. There are several types of tweed as well—Cheviot and Shetland are named after the type of sheep, and Donegal and Saxony are named after the fabric’s geographic origin. (There are many other names in between, but these are the most common).
Tweed is believed to have originated in Scotland and Ireland, where farmers wore it to battle the cold, damp chill that is notorious in those parts of the world. They found that the coarse, unfinished wool was resistant to water and wind, and exceptionally warm. Tweed remains an unofficial emblem of British fashion today.
In the 19th and 20th centuries in Britain, it went from the working man’s fabric to a symbol of wealth and leisure, as many aristocrats found that tweed was ideal for sport—hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities. It kept them warm and in some cases, provided excellent camouflage.
Then for various reasons, tweed slowly faded out of the limelight, though didn’t vanish completely.
Today, it is staging a full-fledged comeback.
It is not the scratchy, potato sack-esque fabric many people believe it to be. Rather, it is a sturdy, practical fabric that creates a look of American prep and European sophistication.
Ways to wear tweed
Tweed is decidedly casual—though, there are some pretty good looking tweed suits out there—so it is perfect for the weekend, or perhaps a casual Friday at the office. For instance, paired with dark-washed jeans, a dress shirt and a light sweater, a tweed blazer makes for perfect casual dinner attire.
Also, tweed isn't just for clothing. It makes superb luggage (think a weekend duffle bag) and there are even some great tweed-accented shoes out there, if that's something you'd add to your fashion repertoire.