Tweed, as you might have guessed, actually originated in Scotland (as well as Ireland) in the 18th century and is predominately associated with these countries. It started by Scottish weavers needing to make a heavier, more dense cloth that was durable, waterproof and warm, as there was quite a demand for it by farmers in order to battle the cold, damp climates of these areas of the world. Sitting down and with intent to create a cloth that was rough, thick, and felted with muted colours, they developed the ’twill’ which is the diagonal line that runs through the fabric, then alas, tweed was born. It’s funny how it got its name though, ‘tweed’ was actually coined when a London cloth merchant miss-read ‘tweel’ in 1826, which is the Scottish version of twill. You wouldn’t have thought that such a popular fabric would be named after a mispronunciation would you?
One of the most famous tweed garment makers is Harris Tweed, they were first hand weaving in the 18th century by crofters in the outer Hebrides. It was then later introduced to British aristocracy in the 1840’s by Lady Dunmore, for the waterproof, insulating, heat trapping properties which made tweed clothing suitable for outdoor activities like fishing and shooting, which is why it was adapted by the British due to the unpredictable weather. Since then, many many more designers and companies have been investing in tweed, and rightly so, as it’s still one of the most popular gentleman’s fabrics to date for its properties. It later became popular in the 19th century Victorian middle classes who wore it for sporting, golf, cycling, tennis, motoring and mountain climbing. It’s far from the sporting clothing that we wear in today’s world. For the traditionalists however, tweed is still the fabric of choice by vintage bicyclists, especially in the modern-day cycling Tweed Run. Tweed truly was the go to fabric for sports and outdoor activities back in the day and became associated with specific events and personalities.
As the wearing of tweed became more and more popular, it entered a new phase during the first half of the nineteenth century as many estates in Scotland were acquired by English noblemen. In 1848, Prince Albert himself purchased the Balmoral estate in Scotland and created a buzz for needing to acquire a Scottish estate by many gentleman of money. If you have heard of the Balmoral Tweed, this is the pattern that Prince Albert himself designed, which is Blue with white sprinkles and crimson colour, but it looks grey from afar, resembling the granite mountains of Aberdeenshire around Balmoral so the wearers would blend into the surroundings. With this, the first Estate Tweed was born, and became all the rage among estate owners to design their own special tweeds for their own land and families. There became a distinct different between the Clan Tartan which is used to identify the members of the same family and where they live, to the Estate Tweed, which was used to identify people who live and work in the same estate, regardless of relation. It became much like a uniform of today, but in a much more classy way. Now you know where the rule that some royal families and aristocracy have their own tweed came from, to go with their own crests. It’s quite fascinating. Thankfully now as time has gone on, anyone can wear any tweed patterns and colours they choose as they’re not strictly prohibited to only the estate owners and family members, so you have free reign.
There are many different tweed patterns to choose from now, in alphabetical order:
Barleycorn - This is typically a coarse weave that produces the effect of barley kernels when you look at the fabric up close. It is a very lively, fun pattern.
Checked - Pretty self explanatory, made up of horizontal and vertical lines that create small squares. It is sometimes reinvented with a larger overcheck in a different colour, but it’s fairly simple.
Houndstooth - Also known as dogtooth, it’s designed to resemble the back teeth of a dog and has amazing camouflage properties.
Overcheck Herringbone - This is an Estate Tweed, consisting of a pattern of herringbone weaving ovrlayed with check in various different colours.
Overcheck Twill - Consisting of a plain twill with a large check design throughout the fabric in a contrasting colour.
Plaids & Tartans - Symbolic of traditional Scottish patterns, it can also be woven into tweed creating tartan and plaid tweed which is used for numerous different clans.
Plain Herringbone - Named after the resemblance to fish bones, Herringbone is created by the direction of the slant alternating in different columns to create a V shape, which is often one of the most popular choices. it’s a very pretty pattern.
Plain Twill - You might be familiar with this one, it’s a simple weave with a diagonal pattern that runs throughout the fabric.
Striped - Pretty self explanatory, striped tweeds contain vertical stripes of various sizes to create their design.
Each of these tweed patterns has their own characteristics and designs, but all are made from the same tweed fabric. It just depends what look you are going for, and since there’s so many, this is why there’s such a selection when it comes to tweed suits. Herringbone jackets are incredibly popular these days, it’s a very classic style, as well as houndstooth overcoats, these are a staple in everyone’s wardrobe year in, year out.