Guides and Insights

How to wear Tweeds - classic tweed styles

How to wear Tweeds - classic tweed styles
By Nick Fiddes

Tweed comes from a long British sartorial tradition, which has now achieved democratic popularity worldwide. The fabric conveys a low-key sophistication. If you doubt this, consider how costume designers use it in the movies. Before a word of dialogue is spoken, tweed introduces a character as cultured, elegant, upper class, intellectual, or perhaps a little unworldly. These signals are subtle, but universally shared.

In these articles about understanding tweed we explore how tweed is produced, defined and used, and how its contemporary symbolism developed. The whole series covers the history of tweed, then types or sources of tweed; then tweed patterns; then tweed materials; and finally wearing tweed.

Now it's time to look at how tweed is worn, by women and men, and indeed children. Tweed is suitable for almost any type of garment (except underwear!) And there's no lack of all-time classic designs that remain in vogue season after season. But we'll also suggest some more unusual or imaginative ways to include tweed in an outfit to striking effect, covering:

  • Jackets for men
  • Ladies Skirts
  • Jackets for women
  • Capes & ponchos
  • Suits
  • Waistcoats or vests
  • Dresses
  • Kilts
  • Countrywear
  • Outerwear
  • Trousers
  • Hats & caps
  • Ties & menswear accessories
  • Hand bags & travel accessories
  • Shoes
  • For your pet
  • Furniture and interiors

Each product category has its own considerations. So now let's see how each of us can put this richly expressive language to use, to suit our own personal style.

Tweed jackets for men - blazers, sports jackets, or even business

Brook Taverner tweed jacket

The most common use of tweed by men today is in a sports jacket or blazer, particularly as weekend or leisure wear. This is almost certainly single-breasted, as double-breasted will look too thick. And soft shoulders look more modern. A well-tailored gentleman's tweed jacket displays an effortless flair. Houndstooth, herringbone, or plain weaves work best in natural shades. Windowpanes and checks are more shouty, especially bigger checks.

The tweed sport coat is a wardrobe essential for anyone living where there's a cold winter or, like Scotland, a cool summer! As a rule of thumb, tweed is suitable for any time you might don a warmer jacket. In the UK, that's most of the year. A tweed jacket can be dressed up or down, from fairly formal to definitely casual. For variation, your capsule might include, say, a blue blazer, an earthy harris tweed in green or brown, and perhaps a grey cashmere jacket. These would cover most bases.

The textural variation of a tweed jacket pairs wonderfully with anything from wool trousers - perhaps Calvary twill - to corduroy (best in wide wale), moleskin, waxed cotton, or even denim jeans. A heavier fabric best offsets the weigh of tweed. And vice versa, these weightier trousers almost demand a stout tweed jacket. But chinos can also work with a lighter tweed.

Underneath it, a crewneck sweater works well, especially in cashmere. Or a tattersall or thicker patterned flannel look better for being more in line with the country heritage. Even pastel at a push. Just don't go with white. These are probably worn open at the neck, but if you want a tie, choose wool, cashmere, or madder silk in a paisley or geometric design. Again pocket square shouldn't be white but rather complement your outfit in some natural shade. On your feet should be brown (not black) brogues, lace-up boots or jodhpurs, and derby's. Avoid anything formal like oxfords.

If you're new to tweed, you may be surprised to learn that like denim it's a fabric that looks its best when it's no longer new. This perhaps derives from the upper class habit of using things until they wear out, where old furniture for example carries far more cachet than new. So don't destroy it, but do mistreat tweed a little and break yours in. You'll then discover to your delight that it's also now much more comfortable.

Tweed skirts

tweed skirt

For any woman wishing a look of instant sophistication, you can't go wrong with a tweed skirt. And with Scotweb CLAN's remarkably affordable bespoke garments in any fabric, we offer perhaps the largest tweed skirt range on earth.

You can order a tweed skirt in any shape, length, or design just as for a tartan skirt. It can be any length, from a long hostess skirt, to above or a midi skirt below the knee for casual or workwear, right up to mini length. Your skirt can be straight, a slim-fit pencil cut, or A-line. And it can be plain sided, or kilted with pleats to the rear, or even pleated all round. And it can be panelled or not, with a zipper to the side or rear. Just like with plaids, we make tweed skirts to almost any specification.

With skirts, the range of tweed fabrics has fewer sartorial constraints than for example, with menswear jackets. Look for a tweed you love that is suited to where you want to wear it. Outdoor events, special occasions, or professional wear mainly indoors each suggest both the kind of pattern and weight of fabric to go for. But by and large women benefit from almost limitless flexibility of choice.

A good rule of thumb when creating an outfit is to go for contrast. A light weight top such as delicate silk, or else a sumptuous cashmere, will both nicely balance tweed's robustness. Then to accessorise tweed's traditionally muted colours, consider adding brighter touches such as a neck scarf or colourful statement shoes to make the fabric pop.

Tweed jackets for women - beyond Chanel

Mention a ladies' tweed jacket, and first to come to mind will be Chanel. It's testament to the influence of her timeless creation for all seasons that this remains true so many decades after its creation. Short and close-fitting, the classic Chanel jacket adds Parisian chic to any look, foolproof anywhere from the office to casual and even cocktail, looking fabulous over a simple dress, skirt or silk blouse; paired with casual trousers, jeans or even shorts; and so on.

But of course countless alternative styles exist, which with hundreds of available tweed fabrics means your own look is limited only by your imagination. A tweed blazer will fit effortlessly into your existing wardrobe, pairing beautifully with a cashmere jumper and jeans for example.

Your chosen jacket's cut should depend on your own body shape, and where you intend to wear it. Do you want elegant and slim, or functional and robust? Consider going custom-made to ensure a perfect fit. A well-cut coat-length herringbone jacket looks fabulous over dresses and skirts.

For many years mills have seen demand for brighter colours steadily rising, which is driven mostly by the women's market. Traditional countryside camouflage colours make less sense in the city. This gives a wide spectrum from browns and greens for conservative occasions, to the blues and greys of heather for a lighter treatment, all the way to pinks, yellows and pastels for more of a statement. Most tweed fabrics are made in naturals shades, which combine well with bright colours, from reds, oranges, yellows and pinks to greens and blues. For your tweed to look its best, you may be best to play it safe and match it with solid colours as strong patterns might jar.

Tweed capes & wraps

Consider for a moment a tweed cape, which both men and women wear. Its ultimate expression is using a heavy Harris Tweed. A life-long investment, this is a solid and serious winter warmer that is surprisingly practical providing excellent movement combined with protection. The tweed cape's reputation as Sherlock Holmes' trademark accessory also means this is a garment that for men and women as a fashion garment can be played with for years to confound expectations and delight with surprise.But lighter weight tweed wraps are also popular, cut in any of the many related styles such as ponchos or serapes. Anywhere tartan can go, tweed is a stylish alternative.

Tweed suits

Unless you are confident in your personal style, tweed is probably not ideal for conventional men's white collar business suits or for formal evening events, thanks to its rural associations. A subtle tartan suit would be a better choice for a touch of Scottish flair. But something like a navy tweed jacket paired with light coloured worsted trousers and can work in the office too. And for women it's much easier. Any tweed suit can be strikingly sophisticated in the professional workplace, particularly in a lighter weight fabric.

But where tweed excels is for casual suits, for either (or any) gender. About as British countryside as it gets, a tweed suit is a not just a wardrobe essential but a thing that will bring regular joy. And if where you live ever suffers inclement weather, you'll regularly be glad you own a tweed suit, as its traditional hardy virtues count for just as much in this format. On the other hand, if you'll be wearing your suit mainly indoors, it's wise to avoid the heavier materials or risk over-heating.

One tip if you're considering a tweed suit, is to invest in a three-piece. For minimal extra expense, this provides not just one but at least five outfit bases, depending on the occasion or your mood, particularly in a plainer pattern. Worn together they present as dressy elegance. Without the vest, you've a standard two piece suit in a striking style for less formal events. Then the waistcoat can be worn on its own, with matching trousers or a contrasting pair, perhaps over a check or tattersall shirt. Plus you've the jacket that will work for many semi-formal occasions. And of course your tweed trousers can match with anything from a smart shirt and tie to a wooly jumper. It's an immensely flexible ensemble, that never dates.

Tweed waistcoats or vests

tweed waistcoat

If you want to avoid an overly tweedy look, or if a full Harris Tweed jacket or suit is beyond your budget, you can still make an impact. One approach is to wear a man's tweed waistcoat (or a woman's waistcoat) either on its own over a shirt, or under a non-tweed suit. For example, an earthy tweed vest under a more sophisticated navy jacket will make a tremendous impact.

Unless this is under a suit, on your legs you'd contrast your tweed waistcoat just as you might a tweed sports jacket. Think heavier wool, cords, or denim for example.

A major variant is the gilet, which is made for both ladies and gentlemen. Probably quilted, this classic piece of country wear is highly practical allowing a tremendous freedom to the arms. Yet as a body warmer it keeps the wearer snug in even the most bracing of breezes.

Tweed dresses

Tweed fabrics also look gorgeous made into dresses for women or children's pinafores. If you can't find the design you'd like online, you can always order cut lengths of fabric by the yard or metre, and commission a local dressmaker to produce a garment to your own sizes and pattern.

Sometimes your fabric itself dictates the look. A heavy rustic tweed will look better in some styles, while a lighter fabric perhaps demands a more subtle treatment. It's all about the design.

Tweed kilts

tweed kilt outfit

As the world's leading specialist in Scottish apparel, we can't discuss tweed clothing without an honourable mention of tweed kilt outfits. After classic tartans, this is one of our most popular alternative fabrics for a contemporary kilted look.

Just as with plaids, there are countless ways to wear tweed as a kilt, or with a kilt. The most conventional, of course, is to pair a tweed jacket with a tartan kilt in the classic daywear or outdoor look favoured by everyone from Prince Charles downwards.

But today it's becoming more and more common to see tweed kilts, in almost any colour or pattern. These can be worn on their own with a plain shirt and perhaps matching tie, or a sweater or almost anything you might imagine.

Or you can go the whole hog and get a full kilt outfit made in any tweed of your choice. This would typically be modelled on a more casual Argyll-style jacket rather than the formal Prince Charlie, due to tweed's rustic assocations. But when it comes to style, anything goes.

Tweed countrywear

This is where it all started. Tweed's origins lie in its production as a robust, warm, weatherproof fabric protecting farmers, shepherds, and hunters from the Scottish elements. So it's fitting that to this day tweed remains the fabric of choice amongst these working or sporting communities, as well as for those city sets who takes style cues from them.

True country tweed garments are hard-wearing and long-lasting. A good range of practical garments are made for the farming community, which are an excellent choice for anyone wishing an authentic garment at a very affordable price. These jackets are typically cut to be both practical and good looking, so they're suitable for serious equestrians as well as for hunting, hacking and casual horse riders.

A much wider choice of both ready-made and bespoke garments take this tradition of field coats as its starting point, but place more emphasis on seasonal or perennial style. These typically retain tweed's virtues of durability and practicality, and should be more than capable of standing up to cold and rain. But their designers pay great attention to details like collars, buttons and other closures, adopting elements like slanted pockets in reference to hacking jackets, even if destined never to be worn on a horse. The Norfolk jacket is perhaps the epitome of this look.

Tweed's popularity in this context persists because the material is so practical. It's the original performance fabric - windproof, water-repellant, and breathable. Modern mountaineers no longer wear tweed as their forebears did, as modern synthetics perform better in extreme conditions. But for comfort and prestige in most outdoor environments, there's little to beat tweed to this day.

Tweed outerwear

tweed overcoat

Originally made to fight wet Scottish summers and colder winters, tweed has become a fabric of choice for many designers of coats and other outerwear, for men and for women. In a medium to heavy weight tweed material, few garments keep the wearer warmer than a tweed overcoat or trenchcoat, perfect for cold days in town or for activities like hiking or strolling. In its ultimate manifestation, a really heavy tweed cloth as an Ulster or Guards coat gives you a truly substantial overcoat with real presence.

Cuts range from cropped and fitted to long and loose. Evoking country heritage means that tweed coats are mostly tailored as single-breasted, probably with notched lapels and centre vents in a nod to riding jackets.

But it's the weight and pattern of tweed that will determine a coat's look as much as its silhouette. As a rule of thumb, the tweed's weight will also define its texture, which determines whether the tweed will be smart or casual. A rougher heavy fabric will integrate less easily into a business setting, while a lighter softer tweed may look more professional, whether in plain or twill weave.

This might be crafted in mono-colour, houndstooth, herringbone or almost any pattern, though larger patterns are more difficult to include well. The classic tweed palette is dominated by earthy tones, but for city wear brighter colours can work just as well. But even if you're going for a vibrant look, tweeds will always look best in natural shades.Tweed trousers

As tweed is typically a heavier fabric than most, it always makes a statement when worn as trousers (or pants to our American friends). Much the same rules apply as for jackets in terms of design; more orthodox patterns like Herringbones and plains are easier to wear without looking ostentatious than larger checks or windowpanes. And darker natural tones combine with more options than brighter shades.

Above your trousers, a jacket should probably be of equal weight. And a shirt works best in country tones rather than white. But it's certainly possible to offset the tweed's weightiness with something thinner and brighter by contrast.

A conventional trouser cut is only one choice of many variations. For country wear, the best known variant is Plus Fours, which is essentially a pair of baggy trousers or tweed breeks, hemmed about four inches up from the ankle to allow for big socks. Other variants are Plus Threes and Plus Twos.

Or if you want to go the whole way, there's no reason you shouldn't wear tweed shorts, in anything from a long basketball cut, upwards. The only proviso is that these wouldn't be ideal for going into water!

Bear in mind that trousers generally wear out faster than jackets, with all the sitting and stretching. Tweed is robust, but its typically loose or even spongey weave can make it vulnerable to abrasion with regular use. So you might wish to consider a pair of tweed trousers more for occasional statement wear rather than daily wear. But having said that, if you're willing to go all the way to thornproof fabrics below the waist, it's not going to wear through any time soon.

Tweed hats & caps

Sherlock Holmes tweed deerstalker

One of the most famous hats of all time must be Sherlock Holmes' tweed deerstalker. This image in fact comes to us not from the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (an Edinburgh doctor) but from book illustrators and then film and TV actors like Benedict Cumberbatch in a tradition begun by Basil Rathbone, who wore a brown check deerstalker over a brown Prince of Wales tweed cape.

But in Scotland, at least, by far the most popular tweed hat is the tweed flat cap popularly known as a 'bunnet'. To this day an older man's uniform wear in most Scottish cities, this hat can also look stunning when co-opted as women's wear.

Beyond this there is an almost limitless range of styles for tweed hats, some of which emphasise their country heritage with the addition of accessories like feathers, or some having their own traditions such as the classic American newsboy cap. These are popular both in fashion and as regulation wear or a dashing style piece for countless sports and pastimes from fly fishing, to bicycling, to vintage car driving, to golf.

Tweed ties & menswear accessories

We must of course also mention tweed ties, in all their variations of length, breadth, and style. A tweed tie instantly projects a quiet class, its rural associations conveying confident sophistication. This can go over a plain or country shirt, or under almost any jacket.

Tweed gloves again both look impressive and are wonderfully comforting. Other menswear accessories that can look superb in tweed include braces (or suspenders in the US), cummerbunds, and pocket squares or handkerchiefs for popping into a breast pocket. We can even make you cufflinks in your favourite tweed, or tweed earrings if you prefer.

Tweed hand bags & travel accessories

harris tweed holdall bag

Tweed is not limited apparel of course. Tweed handbags are hugely popular as a women's accessory that instantly evokes sophisticated class. Sometimes these can also come with matching wallets or purses. And for the ultimate in coordination, we can even produce a bag in the same fabric to match your tweed jacket or outfit.

And today an entire industry has developed producing accessories for electronics in tweed, the traditional rustic fabric beautifully offsetting these advanced instruments' modernity. Such items range from tweed mobile phone cases for iPhones or Android devices, to cover iPads or any other tablet, right up to tweed laptop bags in a range of sizes. You can even buy a tweed umbrella.

More traditional, and still very exclusive, is the use of tweed for larger bags. It makes a superbly practical but stylish material for Kensington bags, overnight bags, rucksacks or haversacks, duffel bags, briefcases, travel luggage, and of course gun cases, golf bags, or fishing rod bags.

Tweed shoes

And just to emphasise that you really can clad yourself in tweed from head to foot, we come to the example of tweed boots or shoes. For example we offer brogues with tartan or tweed inserts using any fabric from our vast range, all hand-made in Scotland.

Tweed for your pet

Another great use of tweed which you might not have considered is for dog coats, harnesses, and dog collars and leads, where it's both functionally warm and windproof but also looks fantastic. Or we can make you a dog bed in various shapes and almost any size, whether for a Scottie or a Great Dane.

Tweed furniture and interiors

Of course wearing it in garments are only one way to use tweed fabrics. But tweed is also eminently suited to use as an upholstery fabric around the house.

In my own home, for example, our living room is very effectively insulated from wintery draughts from the windows by long heavy curtains in a deep blue tweed. As double protection against the Scottish climate we've lined these drapes for extra warmth, but tweed is such a thick material that this is hardly necessary. And we've also seen roller blinds, roman blinds and venetian blinds, each of which brings its own character to a room. Even tweed used as wallpaper.

But tweed really comes into its own in furniture, where its robustness makes it a favourite for any piece evoking a heritage feel. Tweed makes an excellent sofa, armchair, dining chair, or ottoman or footstool on its own. But it can also look stunning combined with other materials, for example in a tweed and leather piece. Another option is to introduce a tweed blanket, rug or throw or tweed cushions to go with tartan or any other fabric, for a classic combination.

What next?

In this buyer's guide to tweeds we explore how tweed is produced, defined and used, and how its symbolism developed historically. So please read on. Our series covers

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