11.2.20

What Is Harris Tweed?

There are a few items in the menswear canon that are more or less household names. Some examples are Nantucket reds, GTH pants, boat shoes, and others. Harris tweed is right up there, too. What is Harris tweed, and what makes it special? We’ll dive into that today.

Defining Tweed

men wearing tweed on bicycles

Photo by Deadly Happy Images.

Before going too far, we need to know what tweed is. It’s simply a rough, woolen fabric with a plain, twill, or herringbone weave. Its roughness and flexibility make it perfect for unpleasant outdoor conditions. It does a great job of keeping you warm and dry when it’s cold and damp.

Tweed’s heritage is distinctly Irish and Scottish. Nowadays in Ireland, County Donegal is responsible for manufacturing most of the country’s tweed (with Donegal being a “thing” in its own right). Harris Tweed, however, comes from Scotland. More on that below.

Harris Tweed & Its Provenance

digital map pf outer hebrides

The Outer Hebrides, where the Isle of Harris is located.

Harris tweed refers to a specific textile that comes from the Isle of  – you guessed it – Harris. It’s encoded into Scottish law, as well. The Harris Tweed Act of 1993 states that Harris tweed is “…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.”

It is the essence of local and artisanal.

We typically see tweeds in houndstooth, herringbones, and windowpanes. Colors for tweed typically range in the grey/blue/brown/olive color families. Anything darker would be too formal for such a casual cloth, and anything lighter would be too summery for such a wintery cloth.

How Tweed Is Worn

Traditionally, the British upper classes wore tweed as clothing for outdoors sportsmen’s activities – fox hunting, shooting, golf, and cycling. Classic items like Norfolk jackets, though we don’t see many today, were tweed. men would pair them with plus-fours back when men wore plus-fours instead of full-length trousers.

man in grey tweed capNowadays, it’s much more common to see tweed sport jackets, odd vests, and caps more than any other item. The material is too scratchy for pants, but could work with a full lining (something we offer in our custom trousers if a client request it). A tweed shirt is more or less a non-starter for the same reason.

We often see tweed as a mixed-media detail in footwear, and we sometimes see it in non-clothing items too. Fender’s Tweed Deluxe guitar amp has a tweed-like covering on it, giving it a retro look.

How To Make Tweed Work In Your Wardrobe

Given that tweed is heavy and casual, you’ll want to pair it with items of similar heft and informality.

Brian Lipstein's Stop in Hong Kong to visit denim production centerAs for bottoms, you can’t go wrong with custom jeans. Corduroys pair exceptionally well with tweed jackets and vests, as do cavalry twill or thick, brushed cotton pants.

A thick, chunky custom sweater works wonders with a tweed jacket. Cable knits or heavily-ribbed cardigans make aesthetic sense with tweeds, and we encourage you to take that route.

chelsea boot with lug sole

Chelsea boot with a casual lug sole.

Footwear-wise, opt for a more casual shoe, ideally something with texture like suede. This will mirror the nubby, hairy tweed and make for a cohesive look. Lug-sole chukkas or boots with Dainite soles are perfect with tweeds.

Conclusion

We’re heading into the colder months, so the time to order your Harris tweed jacket is now. Ready to take the plunge? Call us at 215-310-0219 or email info@henrydavidsen.com to get started.

Ready to schedule a consultation or just have questions? We'd love to help.

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