Posted by Adam York

Tweed is a fabric that we all know about, we all see it everywhere, and we all just take it for granted, but where did it come from? There’s numerous articles online about the history of tweed itself as a fabric, but not about the history of the tweed suit, so here at House of Cavani, we wanted to take you on a historical journey through the ages of the tweed suit, which coincidently is one of our best sellers. In order to do this though, we first need to look at where tweed itself came from.

 The History Of Tweed 

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.

Now you know the history of the fabric itself and how it became popular among the adventurous type who loved sporting, and the British royalty, it started to become an object of status, which it still is today. When you think of tweed suits, you often think of clay pigeon or country attire for walks around estates, or perhaps a smart college professor, as we’ve established. It’s no longer used as casual wear or workers wear, and is simply a status symbol, with the added plus points of the durability. So what about the history of tweed suits? 

The History Of The Tweed Suit

  • In 1924, Coco Chanel herself redesigned the classic tweed suit in order to be suitable for women, creating a tweed jacket and skirt combination which looked chic and expensive, to go alongside the tweed dresses. If you’re familiar with the Chanel fashion house, tweed jackets and skirts are still very much a huge part of the collection and are worn by the more mature, lady of status, as much as they are now made fashionable by the younger generation.
  • In 1939, three piece suits for the wartime cycling girl became popular thanks to Aquascutum, allowing girls to ride to work in trousers and then change into a skirt due to the versatility of this combination. It was a very popular fabric around the war as it was incredibly durable and long lasting, perfect for the wartime situation.
  • In the 1960’s, abstract patterns and contrasting colours were implemented on tweed in order to make cooler, more fashionable tweed suits and jackets for everyone to wear, bringing it to a more fashionable point of view. Much like the retro prints on all the clothing back then, tweed definitely wasn’t left out when it got this makeover. 
  • In 1987, English fashion designer Vivienne Westwood re-invented tweed and its traditions by introducing a punk inspired ‘Harris Tweed’ collection to her line. Seeing tweed in all its glory again on the catwalk definitely made it sought after for a while.
  • 1990’s - Due to the casual way that clothing went in the late 80’s and 90’s with baggy jeans and sportswear, tweed quickly fell out of fashion and was mostly seen on academics and associated with conservative, old fashioned looks again, as it originated. It was no longer the popular choice of clothing.
  • Fast forward to today, when the hit show Peaky Blinders came on our TV Screens a few years ago, it helped bring tweed into the foreground of fashion. The Birmingham based 1920’s era show follows men wearing tweed suits and flat caps, making it a popular look that many current men of today have sought after. We are now seeing the current younger generation wearing tweed suits when they attend functions, and because it looks smart, some even favour tweed suits over the standard style as they want that Peaky Blinders look from the 1920’s. You also have Doctor Who, Sherlock Homes, and Miss Marple to thank for its resurgence as well, as everyone wants that smart, sophisticated tweed suit style to escape from the athleisure and casual denim wear that’s oh so popular right now. That’s where we’re currently at with tweed suits now, they’re in style and considered both a symbol of status among the upper classes as much as they are a fashion forward item, you wouldn’t think you’d see both combined would you?

So, if you want to be fashion forward and make a statement in your suit, definitely opt for a tweed suit and stand out from the crowd as an innovative dresser. Our most popular suits here at House of Cavani are the Albert Grey and Albert Brown, two suits from our core collection, so you can’t go wrong with them. They’ve been seen on celebrities and models, and soon to be you too! It’s a three piece suit featuring a Cavani pin and printed lining in our distinctive tweed style herringbone check. We also have our famous Shelby tweed suit and the Tommy tweed suit, named after the Peaky Blinders men themselves. The perfect option for that classic, yet distinctive tweed look you want. Did you know that tweed suits had such a vast history?

Shop our Tweed Suit Collection by clicking here

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