Reminiscent of the countryside and cold British weather, tweed is one of our favourite suit fabrics. However, “tweed” is an often vague term that seems to be thrown around a lot.
So what does it mean? How do you define tweed and how would you go about wearing it properly? Can this elegant wool twill be worn in every situation or does it come with some caveats?
In this guide, you will discover tweed and why we love it as a versatile fabric for when out and about. You’ll also learn when it’s best worn and why it might not be the most suitable cloth for the office.
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In the canon of menswear fabrics, tweed is one of the most quintessential.
It’s been used and made for well over a century in a wide variety of garments and imbues its wearer with a simple, casual elegance.
This page is part of our fabric series and deals with tweed specifically.
One if our favourite fabrics. Tweed is great against harsh weather and a stylish statement when outdoors!
What Is Tweed?
Tweed is a woolen fabric, typically spun in a plain weave, twill, or herringbone. It’s hairy and somewhat rough to the touch.
Tweed is also an integral part of the sartorial tradition of the British Isles, particularly England and Ireland. The fabric has been used at length for country clothing in these nations, as the material makes for excellent outerwear.
It’s durable, moisture-resistant, and hard-wearing, meaning that it’s more than capable of standing up to the harsh British cold and rain when the wearer is outdoors, typically hunting or riding.
Spun in a wide variety of colors, it has become one of the most common menswear fabrics for sport coats and outerwear.
History Of Tweed
Tweed fabric has been spun for nearly two hundred years. The word “tweed” actually comes from the Scots term tweel, meaning “twill,” as it was originally woven in a twill pattern as opposed to a plain one. Its origin story is actually quite amusing:
Around 1831, a merchant from London received a letter from the firm Wm. Watson & Sons, Dangerfield Mills, based out of Hawick, a town in Scotland.
The letter he received was regarding some “tweels,” but the merchant misinterpreted the writing to say “tweeds.” As the River Tweed runs through the Scottish Borders textile area, he thought nothing of this.
The goods were eventually advertised as “tweed” and the name stuck.
Historically, tweed garments were made as country clothing for the landed gentry in Britain. Tweed suits and overcoats were worn at their country estates while outside shooting, riding, or hunting. The Edwardian middle class became enamoured with the style, ad it caught on from there.
Norfolk jackets -the prototypical sports coat style– were made of tweed, as were the plus-fours that were paired with them. The fabric has never really seen a dip in popularity; in fact, it tends to be so hard-wearing that it gets passed down through generations, with grandsons often wearing their grandfathers’ old jackets.
Different Types Of Tweed
Tweed is a sort of “umbrella” fabric, with various different styles under that umbrella. You can jump to the most popular styles by clicking these links:
Harris tweed is a tweed cloth that’s handwoven specifically by islanders living in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It is woven in their homes of pure virgin wool that is dyed and spun on those same islands.
These criteria, in addition to others relating to quality and to protect the Harris Tweed name, are spelled out in the Harris Tweed Act of 1993.
As a matter of fact, there’s an organization called the Harris Tweed Authority that was created as a result of the 1993 Act of Parliament. It replaced the Harris Tweed Association that was set up in 1909, and its primary role is to promote and maintain the authenticity and reputation of the Harris Tweed cloth.
Tweed cloth was traditionally typified by flecks of color, which were achieved by using vegetable dyes.
Donegal Tweed comes from County Donegal, Ireland. It can be woven in any manner, but it’s best known for a plain weave with dots of color throughout. These dots can be on plain backgrounds, herringbones, checks, or various other patterns and textures.
An extremely common pattern found throughout menswear, herringbone is right at home on a tweed garment. A herringbone tweed sport coat is, in fact, one of the most ubiquitous items in all of men’s clothing.
Another incredibly easy-to-find material, houndstooth tweed is made in a stunning array of garments. To learn more about it, see our houndstooth pattern guide.
How To Wear Tweed
Thankfully, tweed is an incredibly simple material to flex into your wardrobe in a number of ways. In our estimation, the top tweed garments you’ll find are:
About as British countryside as it gets, a tweed suit is a beautiful thing to own. If you live in a part of the world that experiences harsh weather to the tune of rain and cold, it’s a great idea to have a tweed suit, particularly if you have some thick rubber-soled brogues with which to pair it.
Do note that it’s unlikely that a tweed suit will fit into your average business professional dress code because it lacks the dressiness of a classic worsted. If you’re curious about suits that you can wear to work, click the preceding link or see our page on the men’s capsule wardrobe.
Odd Jackets & Sport Coats
Below: A Tweed sport coat in a plaid pattern.
The tweed sports coat is without a doubt the most common way for men to wear tweed. Typically seen in earth tones and greys, these coats pair wonderfully with denim, corduroys, or wool trousers. Typically found in houndstooth, herringbone, or plain weaves, the tweed sport coat is a must-have for any man who lives in a place where the temperature dips for at least a few months a year.
If tweed sport coats take first place for tweed popularity in modern times, the tweed overcoat comes in a close second.
The nature of the overcoat is to keep the wearer warm, and there aren’t many natural materials that excel at that job more than tweed does.
If you don’t own a tweed overcoat, there’s no time like the present to buy one.
Lastly, tweed waistcoats (vests) enjoy some popularity among menswear enthusiasts.
If you own a tweed three-piece suit, repurposing the vest as an odd item is a smart move, but plenty of brands also sell tweed vests as one-off pieces.
Pair these with the same things yo’d pair a tweed sport jacket with: denim, corduroy, or wool trousers.
Though they’re quite rare, even shoes can utilize tweed to set themselves apart from regular, workaday footwear. This is a detail best left to fall and winter shoes, much like the J.Fitzpatrick boots pictured below:
What Next? Other Fabrics & Patterns
We hope you’ve learned enough about tweed to be confident in buying and wearing it! It’s a wonderful, highly functional fabric that every man could use in his wardrobe.