Tweed.

Tweed with pink stripe

Tweed often gets rediscovered by fashion in the fall, but lately it seems to actually be transcending the seasons, probably because it’s at the crossroads of so many of the current nostalgias: the neo-Victorian/Edwardian craze, the 1940s fashion trend, steampunk, the Golden Compass, and a dozen other cultural fixations. Maybe it answers to our longing for a (seemingly) simpler, more civil time? Or for something else? There must be a reason, because it’s absolutely everywhere.

Apparently tweed got its name by accident. It was originally known as “tweel” (Scots for “twill”) which is a diagonal rather than plain pattern weave (denim is also a twill). According to Wikipedia, around 1830 a London merchant received a letter from a textiles firm in the Scottish Borders about some tweels. “The London merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade-name taken from the name of the River Tweed which flows through the Scottish Borders textile areas. Subsequently the goods were advertised as Tweed, [and] the name has remained so ever since.”

Tweed, Fall/Winter 2008 from here:

Tweeds, Fall/Winter 2008

Tweed bag by Ouno Design

Tweed was actually first brought into fashion as women’s wear between 1890 and 1910 as fitted jackets over a long skirt. It was practical and also suggested a less froufrou look, and in fact it has been associated with powerful women or feminism in more than one era. Below, Lauren Bacall in 1944 in her first film, To Have and Have Not. Tweed suits in the 1940s coincided with the new independence and self-sufficiency of women in Europe and North America while men were off in the war.

Lauren Bacall in tweed in To Have and Have Not

More on the past and present of tweed:

Coco Chanel was the first to bring tweed into the world of haute couture. She introduced it in the 1920s but is most famous for her distinctive tweed Chanel jacket of the 1950s and 60s. These were not the menswear chic of Lauren Bacall, but of something softer. Gina Lollobrigida and friends in Chanel tweed, Fall/Winter Vogue 1964:

Gina Lollobrigida et al in Chanel tweeds, Fall 1964

and Chanel Fall/Winter 2008:

Chanel Fall/Winter 2008

And in popular culture, there’s Daniel Craig in tweed as Lord Asriel in The Golden Compass.

Golden Compass, Lyra and Asriel in tweed

Also see a festival of tweed in the “steampunk” style here or in the NYT.

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