My Harris Tweed Suit Under A Microscope – Style, Fabric, History And More
If you read my previous post about how me and my mom made a Harris Tweed suit you might find this post interesting as well. Namely, I will share the thoughts and ideas we had when designing the suit as well as historical facts about tweed, three-piece suit and Clan MacLeod which is connected to this particular suit. But before you jump in, a word of warning, this is a long post even though I tried my best to keep everything compact and as short as possible. Therefore, I hope that dispite of my lenghty words and enthusiasm about history you will enjoy it.
Hold fast while you read!
TABLE OF CONTENTS
STYLE AND IDEA
My Harris Tweed suit takes inspiration more from the early days of morning coats and hunting attire of the late 1800s rather than from phenomenons of the 20th century. The general idea was to create a greatly traditional three-piece suit that would fit into the highland atmosphere and Scottish moorlands. (However, the final suit looks like something Bilbo Baggins would have worn, which might I add, I am over the moon about!) That is why, we chose a checked scottish hunting tartan with blues, browns and greens as the main colours and added some equestrian inspired touches with gold metal horse head buttons. Furthermore, it was important that the fabric was authentic Harris Tweed which we ended up ordering from Scotland.
Funily enough, and without being aware of the history of tweed as popular cycling-wear (which I will talk about below), while making this suit me and my mom joked about me cycling to school wearing my tweeds and turning heads as the crazy woman cycling in a suit. . . I live in Finland where tweed is not the norm as it might be in Britain. Perhaps I should have born a Scot!
WHAT IS HARRIS TWEED – HISTORY OF THE TRADITIONAL AND RADICAL
Tweed, originally "tweel", is a rough woven wool fabric from Scotland and Ireland with warm, hard-wearing, thick, waterproof, breathable and stiff qualities. Handwoven with different colored threads tweed fabric is typically patterned in variety of shades and its heritage is an integral part of the culture of Scotland. Harris Tweed, however, is a type of tweed exclusively made in the westcoast of Scotland, in the outer Hebrides, which is the only place where Harris Tweed can be made. What's more, Harris Tweed name has been protected by Act of Parliament and The Harris Tweed Orb Mark is the oldest brittish certification of its kind.
Oridinally tweed was worn by peasant farmers before its popularity among gentry and nobility who favored tweed for suiting and outdoor activities. When Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle in 1848 and designed Balmoral "estate tweed" tweed fabric became popular also in Brittish upper classes. And so began the tradition for other highland estates to create their own "estate tweeds" that would help differentiate themselves on hunting, fishing and riding expeditions. Tweed offered a style of rural masculinity and elegant practicality which appealed to the Victorian gentleman.
Besides from traditional outdoorsy activities, towards the end of the 19th century, tweed was desired also for cycling-wear, especially by the "new women" in demand for education, equality and indipendence. Tweed was perfectly sophisticated yet rebeliously masculin fabric for women at the time challenging traditional gender lines as well as socio-political athmosphere of the late Victorian period.
In the early decades of the 20th century tweed had gone back to its conservative roots. However, during the second world war tweed gained again its place as a negotiator between traditional gender roles when women held the home front in tweed suits and, yet again, cycled to work.
Radical changes came with the youth culture of 1960s when tweed was utilised for mini-skirts, swing jackets and abstractly patterned suits. Gone were the days of tweed's respectable professionalisim. Now tweed represented fashioably dressed and politally aware youths. In fact, as far as 1980s tweed was part of these radical new movements and political conversation. For examble, Vivienne Westwood reimagened tweed tailoring by mixing historical references with punk attitude. Althought, tweed lost its popularity towards the end of 20th century it was still responsible for many fashion houses becoming recognizable for their classic tweed pieces. For brands such as Chanel (Chanel suit), Ralph Laurent (new england chic) and Vivienne Westwood (punk tailoring) tweed became an important part of their image and style.
In the 21st century, tweed is seen as a luxury, high quality material with complex history intertwined with fashion, politics and gender. Tweed is, at the same time, traditional and radical as well as high fashion and old-fashinably academic.
Clan MacLeod is a Scottish clan assosiated with the Isle Of Skye. The clan has two main branches MacLeod of Harris and MacLeod of Lewis which both descent from Olaf the Black, a viking, sea-king, who controlled the Isle of Skye and areas of the Hebrides during the 13th century. MacLeod motto is "Hold fast" and their crest represents a bullhead with flags.
West Scotland was attacked by Vikings and Norsmen coming from Norway in late 8th century. On their way to Shetland the Northern isles of Scotland (the Outer Hebrides) were used as a base by these intruders. By the 12th century, however, descendants of Vikings, Norsmen and Celts, also known as Kings of Man, ruled the Hebrides.
Leod was too a son of Viking ancestor Olaf the Black, King of Man and Northern Isles. Therefore, Leod was regarded as a powerful cheifman and managed to expand his territories through most of Skye, Lewis, Harris and parts of mainland during confusions following Norway's hand over of Hebrides to the King of Scotland in the 13th century. Furthermore, much of the area of Skye came under Leod's rule through his marrige to the heiress of Norse family who owned large areas of Skye including Dunvegan Castle.
In 1280 as Leod died his lands were divided according to Scandinavian tradition at the time between his two sons which created the two distinctive branches of MacLeods. Elder, Siol Tormod, was given a bigger part of Skye, Harris and Glen Elg, while the younger, Siol Torquil, got the lands of Lewis and Assynt.
MACLEOD HUNTING TARTAN
Tartan is a pattern of different coloured stripes runing in both horizontal and vertical directions on the cloth creating a checkered pattern. Nowadays, tartans are often connected to clans, families, regions, districts and even businesses as well as belong to a traditional Scottish dress.
Hunting tartans are darker and earthy colored sport fabrics which were used especially if a clan had a brightly coloured clan tartan. Natural coloring made hunting tartans more suitable for hunting and camoflaging into the environment.
Did you know that even though, tartans are often assosiated with Scottish clans the idea of a spesific clan or regional tartan became popular only in the 19th century when king George IV visited Edinbourgh and asked clan chiefs to wear their "clan tartans". Due to this and many other events, by the end of the 19th century tartans had become representative. However, throughout history tartans were dyed using local vegetation on specific geographical areas and were worn by the people of the specific region.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE THREE-PIECE SUIT
Suit is an ensemble made from the same fabric and usually includes a jacket and trousers or a skirt. Sometimes a waistcoat is also added.
In the late 1600s, a brittish king, Charles II, inroduced the three-piece suit (a jacket, waistcoat and pants) in order to promote brittish wool trade and force nobility to abandon French fashion. Soon this new style was also adopted in the court of Luis XIV in France. During that time the suit was often elaborately decorated and consisted of a long coat with wide sleeves, a long vest with sleeves and below the knee breeches. However, later the vest became shorter and sleevless.
In the 1800s dandy Beau Brummel updated the three-piece suit into more clean, serious and rational style compared to its predecessors. The vest was now to be white and from a different fabric than the rest of the suit while the jacket had to be of dark color with tails. By the end of the century more relaxed suits such as the morning coat (1800s equivalent to modern three-piece suit) were introduced leaving tailcoats for formal occasions. Also breeches were replaced with long tailored trousers.
The classic three-piece suit remained much the same in the early 20th century and became increasingly more popular for its casual style compared to tailcoats. In the 1920s, even a movie star, Marlene Dietrich, wore a men's tuxedo in a film Morocco and rose to fame thanks to her character's unconventional style. However, during the later half of the 20th century waistcoat disapears from the suit making way to the casual lounge suit with a jacket and trounsers.
In the 1950s a slim cut three-piece suit (the new Edwardian) with velvet collars becomes the uniform of Tebby boys while also starting the first youth culture trend.
Yves Sain Laurent designes "Le Smoking tuxedo" especially for female body in 1966. The line between men's and women's wear starts to blur as men's suits become increasingly colorful and patterned.
The 1970s disco era embraces the three-piece suit in bold and colorful style and soon it became a dance floor regular. Key charecteristics of the 70s suit were strong lapels, wide belts and trousers wider towards their hem. Over all, the suit was figure hugging on the torso area.
The 1980s was all about a powerful suit silhouette achieved with strong shoulder bads, wide lapels, double breasted buttons and a slightly oversized figure. This style was enjoyed by both working women and men. However, instead of wearing a vest women prefered to pare blouses with their trousers and jacket combinations.
Suits become less popular in the 1990s due to more casual fashion being acceptable even in working environments.
Nowadays, suit is embraced by all parts of society and can be found in all shapes and sizes with variety of fabrics and decorations as well as nods to various historical periods. All in all, the consept of suit continues its development in the hands of time and fashion.
Nick Fibbes. The History Of Tweed. Clan by Scotweb. clan.com
Clan by Scotweb. Clan McLeod. clan.com
Cambrigde Dictionary. Suit. dictionary.cambrigde.org
Collins. Suit. collinsdictionary.com
MasterClass Staff 2021. What is Tweed? A Complete Guide to the History of Tweed, Plus 8 Different Types of Tweed. masterclass.com
Mike Maceacheran 2021. How Tweed Became A symbol of Scottish culture. National Geagraphic. nationalgeographic.com
Harris Tweed Hebrides. harristweedhebrides.com
Maude Bass-Krueger 2020. History of the Three Piece Suit: How King Charles II Kick-Started a Trend That's Lasted Over Three Centuries. Vogue Magazine. vogue.sg
The Scottish Tartans Museum and Heritage Center, Inc. What Is Tartan? scottishtartansmuseum.org
Ben Johnson. The History of Tartan. Historic UK. historic-uk.com
Justine de Young 2021. 1670-1679. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Harper Franklin 2020. 1800-1809. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Harper Franklin 2020. 1850-1859. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Harper Franklin 2020. 1870-1879. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Karina Reddy 2020. 1900-1909. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Karina Reddy 2020. 1920-1929. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Karina Reddy 2020. 1950-1959. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Karina Reddy 2020. 1960-1969. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Karina Reddy 2020. 1970-1979. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Karina Reddy 2020. 1980-1989. Fashion History Timeline. fashionhistory.fitnyc.edu
Madeleine Seys 2014. The Story Of. . , Tweed. The Conversation. theconversation.com
Would you wear a three-piece suit while cycling?
Were you familiar with Clan MacLeod already?
Are you a suit wearer or do you opt for more casual attire?
Thank you so much for reading!