The Need for Tweed

There are few fabrics out there that we Brits can honestly claim were derived from our own hardy, inspired hands – but the comeback of tweed over recent months represents a quintessentially British weave coming back into popular favour. Gone are the days of connotations of tweed as a rough, itchy and heavy fabric associated purely with aristocratic royals and the upper-class, country-dwelling gentry. Tweed is now reasserting itself as the niche fabric of choice for several high-fashion designers, and is exploding onto the high street, offering us mere mortals the opportunity to create a contemporary, high-brow, old English-inspired look which remains traditional without appearing archaic and old-fashioned.

Originally, tweed was developed for practical reasons by the Scottish, as a fabric which would allow hunters to blend into the Scottish peaks and hills surrounding them without detection. However, tweed became increasingly popular in Great Britain and Ireland during the 1800s, particularly amongst the British Royal Family and the upper echelons of British aristocracy – hence the associations today with the upper classes and gentry. Until recently, tweed had fairly negative connotations and associations with snobby, superior aristocrats who indulge in hunting and clay-pigeon shooting, or stuffy academic professors who spend their lives locked up in libraries… but times are changing!

Designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Burberry are finally recapturing and expressing the potential of tweed and are introducing its use in their most recent collections. As Hilfiger says: ‘With a fabric such as tweed, you can create something contemporary and fresh, while still being grounded in tradition.’ And it isn’t solely the more well-established designers such as Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren (whose collections could be called more classic than cutting-edge) who are supporting the trend. Other younger, and more quirky designers such as Acne and Rag & Bone are also supporting the need for tweed, successfully demonstrating that tweed isn’t only for the more classic, traditional sartorialist – it also works on a more youthful look – adding a twist of British heritage to a more eccentric, contemporary look without smacking of old-school British gentry.

The practical appeal of tweed is three-fold: it is warm, moisture-resistant and durable. Perfect for Autumn/Winter and the reason it is traditionally associated with outdoor pursuits in the British countryside. The way tweed is woven also has a great creative appeal – a variety of different coloured threads are combined in one twill weave – and this gives a subtle yet striking depth of colour to the fabric which other monochrome fabrics find it difficult to achieve. The tweed creation process also allows different patterns to be integrated into the fabric, so often tweed garments will contain checks, herringbone or houndstooth patterns which all add interesting textures and a sense of depth. Nowadays tweed is often blended with other fabrics such as cashmere during production which softens the fabric and makes it less rugged and rough than traditionally thought. The hardiness and durability of tweed also means that tweed garments are built to last – and can remain in perfect condition for years if carefully looked after.

Who Is Pushing The Trend

Billy Reid A/W 2010 Collection - Tweed Items

At New York Fashion Week back in February where designers showcased their collections for A/W 2010, designers such as Billy Reid and Michael Bastian, amongst others, had foreseen the return to form of tweed and featured a lot of tweed tailoring – bespoke top coats, double-breasted tweed suits and unstructured blazers to mention a few. Michael Bastian’s show in particular supported this trend with the models emerging from the shattered window of what looked like an English manor house as they stalked the catwalk in clothing which married the collegiate Ivy League look with a vibe of old school, aristocratic Britishness. Bastian furthers this in his current collaboration with all-American brand, Gant.

Gant is described as a ‘premium lifestyle brand which combines American casualness with European elegance’ and the prevalence of specifically the British influence is evident in the Bastian-Gant collaboration. Gant is most well-known for its associations with American sportswear, most notably their preppy button-down, rugby-style shirts made from sportswear fabrics which are regularly popular amongst college students stateside. However, Bastian’s designs for Gant smarten the image of the brand with the marriage of jock and preppy with a traditional British-inspired twist. Unstructured tweed blazers with soft shoulders teamed with denim, chinos and sports tops create a successfully effective mixture of Bastian’s signature styling – a mixture of the sporty and the tailored.

GANT by Michael Bastian Tweed Looks

Another designer worth mentioning for his penchant for tweed is Oliver Spencer, a self-taught British tailor whose vision is to create ‘a bridge between popular streetwear and traditional tailoring.’ Spencer’s inspiration is rooted in the military and the British tradition of countryside hunting. His brand is quintessentially British with over 50% of the fabrics used for his designs sourced here in Britain and also largely created here in the UK. Never one to stray far from his British roots – Spencer’s creations are grounded in Great Britain’s sartorial heritage – favouring the eccentric British dandy.

Oliver Spencer Tweed Looks for A/W 10

If you don’t have money to burn and aren’t already a member of the tweed-wearing, fox-hunting, clay pigeon-shooting set, then fear not! Thankfully the high street is also stressing the need for tweed this season so budget versions aplenty are available. The Topman Ltd range has already received much buzz on FashionBeans from various other articles and I would just like to echo this again. The Topman Ltd range has a very British equestrian feel to it and let’s be honest, tweed has never looked more at home than on horseback! The range offers a selection of tweedesque blazers, overcoats and two-piece suits – all at affordable prices for those of us aren’t fully-fledged members of the blue-blooded gentry. Also worth checking out are H&M, River island, Zara and Paul Smith, all of whom are backing the tweed trend.

A less common high street brand which displays tweed and traditional Britishness with pride is Aubin and Wills. This is a spin-off brand of the Jack Wills Company and I stumbled across one of their few high street stores in Marylebone, London completely by accident recently, and was thrilled to see a taste of traditional British countryside looks in the heart of the city.

Click the page 2 link below to continue reading more about tweed, including; it’s place within the major trends this season, lookbook inspiration and new season collections…

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