This article originally appeared on Styleforum in 2015.
Words and pictures by Ian Anderson
I have mixed feelings about tweed. This standard-bearer for autumnal fabrics does not fill me with excitement, like it does for so many on Styleforum; rather, I can’t help but feel a bit put off by the sight of it. I could pretend that this ambivalence stems from the fabric’s rough texture, loud patterns, or stuffy Ivy-style connotations, but that would be a lie. My struggles with tweed comes from the fact that I simply can’t wear it – the weather in San Francisco is just too mild to require something so warm, and that alone fills my sunny autumns with deep pangs of jealousy.
Since I rarely enjoy tweed the traditional way – by wearing it – I find myself getting my fix in any way I can. I pore over vintage photographs, run my hands over the old tweeds in thrift stores, and watch documentaries on the history of the textile. These substitutes may not replace the real thing, but they are less sweaty than wearing tweed in the sun. Moreover, they’ve given me a lot of time to think about how I would wear tweed if I had the opportunity.
As many members of this forum will know, tweed is a woolen textile known for its hearty texture, earthen color palate, and British heritage. The fabric’s warmth, texture, and rich patterns and colors make it ideal for the cooler months. Tweed can be found in many forms – suits, hats, luggage, and more – but the quintessential item is the sportcoat. From fox hunting in Ireland to the Fall semester curriculum at Ivy League institutions, this item has become the go-to garment for tweed novices and experts alike.
Tweed jackets can come in a variety of forms, but I feel that the best ones are those that stay true to their classic iteration. Flap pockets, soft shoulders, center vents, leather buttons, and so forth are all design details that suit the fabric well. As for colors and patterns, the options are extremely vast. There are classics like herringbones, twills, and donegal tweeds, as well as checks, plaids, and tartans. All of these can generally be found in an assortment of dusty browns, mossy greens, and other earthen colors. Tweed can be as bold or as muted as you’d like, so take the time to find a fabric that suits you.
Wearing a tweed jacket is not difficult – assuming the weather is cooperating – as long as it is paired with other pieces that play well alongside its heft. The safest bet is to wear tweed with other hearty or textured fabrics. For instance, a tweed sportcoat will pair wonderfully with flannel, moleskin, and even denim (although purists may disagree). With regards to footwear, the same thoughts apply – leave the chiseled oxfords in the closet, and instead reach for suede bluchers, wingtip boots, cordovan longwings, or even a Norwegian split toe if you’re feeling adventurous.
When looking for an off-the rack tweed jacket, the best options are typically from the trad-leaning retailers – stores like J. Press, Brooks Brothers, Southwick, O’Connell’s, Polo Ralph Lauren, and even J. Crew typically have a few pieces to choose from every Fall season. Even so, the incredible durability of tweed and the steadfast nature of its style makes it a fantastic candidate for thrift shopping. Any solid secondhand store will likely have a hearty selection of vintage tweeds worth looking at.
If you have interest in going the custom or bespoke route, there are many British mills that produce exceptional tweeds in cut lengths. Harris Tweed from the Outer Hebrides may be the gold standard, but there are many more options available. For instance, Molloy & Sons is a small two-man operation out of Donegal, Ireland that specializes in the tweed named after the region. Other British mills like Holland & Sherry, Moon Mills, and more will always carry a robust selection. Lastly, cloth merchants like Harrison’s (which owns W. Bill, Porter & Harding, and more) will have a variety of tweeds available.
Looking ahead, I anticipate that this autumn will be as bleak as the ones before it – full of sunshine and temperatures in the low seventies. For those of you preparing to enter a season of crisp morning air and crunchy fallen leaves, don’t waste a moment of it. Hold your tweeds close and use them often. Wear them with frayed oxford cloth shirts, flannel and denim, and your favorite pair of country boots. Whether you’re planning on hunting red grouse, teaching an undergraduate course on Shakespeare, or just keeping the fall chill at bay, your tweed jacket will be an ideal companion.