Introduction to the World of the Tweed Suit

Tweed, that most quintessential of British fabrics has come far from its rustic beginnings.

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While almost everyone’s heard of tweed, few know the fascinating story of how it catapulted from farmer’s workwear to the attire of the British upper classes.

In celebration of this fantastic material and its recent resurgence, we present to you our short introduction to tweed. Read on to discover more. 

tweed vest

What is Tweed

The story of tweed starts in Scotland and Ireland during the 18th century. Farmers here needed a material to wear that was better suited to their tough lifestyles. The cold, damp climate of this part of the world presented challenges that the common materials of the day simply weren’t well suited to.

They needed something both strong and warm. Dense wool was woven to form clothes with a diagonal line called a ‘twill’ running through the fabric, giving the clothes an impressive strength and warmth.

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The material was a success, and the ‘tweel’ as the Scottish called it, soon morphed into ‘tweed’, when in 1826 an English merchant misread the word. His mistake soon entered common usage and ‘tweed’ became the accepted name of this hardy fabric.

Tweed soon left the farmyard and entered the estates of the rich. During the 1840s, the British aristocracy began to opt for tweed as the clothing of choice for outdoor pursuits such as fishing, shooting, golf, cycling, tennis, and mountain climbing.

tweed suit jacket

Queen Victoria’s husband Albert bestowed the royal blessing on tweed when he created his own pattern of tweed to match his newly purchased Scottish estate: Balmoral. This began a craze among the nobility for ‘Estate Tweed’: unique tweeds associated with each Scottish estate’s owners and staff.

It remained a sporting fabric until 1924 when Coco Chanel created a line of sophisticated tweed suits for women. These classic tweed suits have remained popular to this day, the jacket and skirt combination still a common style for successful, mature women all over the world.

man with tweed suit

In the Second World War, women’s tweed suits became popular for wartime cycling girls. Tweed’s long-lasting durability was helpful for working wartime women who required material that was both strong and easy to cycle in.

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The next evolution in tweed occurred in the 60s when the trend for contrasting and abstract patterns created a ‘cooler’ sort of tweed. Twenty years later, in the 80s, Vivienne Westwood would create a punk-inspired line of tweed that became an iconic fashion of the day. 

peaky blinder tweed outfit

Tweed has recently enjoyed a resurgence in popularity after falling out of fashion during the 90s and noughties. This has been much to do with popular TV successes like Peaky Blinders and Downton Abbey. It seems the story of tweed is far from over, and we’re looking forward to seeing where it will go next. 

The Tweed Jacket

The tweed jacket is the essential cool-weather companion and essential for the tweed suit ensemble. It keeps the wearer warm, it’s water-resistant, and it breathes an air of effortless style and class. Often called a ‘sport coat’ due to its popularity for sports like hunting and cycling, the jacket will serve you well on formal occasions, too. It’s a versatile piece that complements a range of styles and situations.

tweed jacket sleeve

Brown Tweed Suit

Brown is a typical color for tweed. That’s because tweed has often reflected the browns, greens, and grays typical of the Scottish and Irish countryside, offering the wearer a level of camouflage that would’ve been useful for hunting. In the modern era, tailors have experienced a surge in demand for less traditional colors, but if you want a classic, refined look, a brown tweed suit is the way to go.

Types of Tweed

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There is a range of different types of tweed, commonly distinguished by the type of wool they’re made from, the technique used, or the geographic location they’re from. Here are 8 of the most popular types of tweed for the tweed suit.

Harris Tweed

Harris Tweed comes from the Outer Hebrides and has legal protection according to the Harris Tweed Act of 1993. This denotes that Harris Tweed may only be called so if it is made in the Outer Hebrides, an archipelago off the Northern coast of Scotland. According to the law, Harris tweed must be “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”

Donegal Tweed

This type of tweed gets its name from the Irish county where it originates – Donegal. It’s easy to recognize from its rainbow-colored specks of yarn on a knobby surface. It’s one of the world’s most popular tweeds.

Saxony Tweed

This tweed originates from Saxony, Germany, and is made from the merino sheep wool. The nature of this sheep means that the tweed is very soft and smooth.

Tweed fabric herringbone texture
Herringbone tweed

Herringbone Tweed

The pattern of Herringbone creates a pattern of Vs on the service of the fabric. It’s a broken twill with a pattern that’s said to resemble fish scales, hence the name.

Shetland Tweed

As the name suggests, this tweed comes from the Shetland Islands. It’s made using a type of wool that creates a light, delicate, casual tweed. 

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Barleycorn Tweed

This tweed has an interesting pattern that resembles barleycorn kernels on the surface of the fabric. This pattern is dynamic yet bumpy to the touch.

Cheviot Tweed
Cheviot Tweed

Cheviot Tweed

Cheviot’s name comes from the Cheviot sheep found in the Cheviot Hills in the Scottish Borders region. This is one of the heaviest types of tweed.

Overcheck Twill

The pattern of overcheck is plain with large checks in contrasting colors. A tweed suit made form this material will make you stand out with absolute style and sophistication if worn correctly.

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