Herringbone Tweed: Chevron for the Shoulder Season

Grey herringbone tweed jacket
Image is my own / All rights reserved

We’re technically just a week or two away from the start of spring in the UK, and yet news headlines over the last few weeks have been filled with reports of record-breaking snowstorms around the world. Certainly, as I sit down to write this, it is as icy here in Edinburgh as it has been at any point in December through February. I practically ice-skated my way to work this morning when all I can think about by this point in the season are camp collars and short shorts

The one consolation of this brand of shoulder season blues is the chance to wear your favourite winter duds one last time before spring finally hits. For me this winter — and every winter of my adult life — herringbone tweed has been one of the great joys of the year’s colder months. It is that rare winter fabric that is hardy enough to have you covered when conditions take a turn for the worse all without looking dull, gloomy, or soullessly synthetic. I wear it with relish week after week and never tire of its weather-resistant heft and debonaire appearance.

As a pattern, herringbone, named for its resemblance to the backbone of a fish, dates to antiquity when it was used by the Romans in roadbuilding, the Egyptians in jewellery making, and, since at least as far back as 800 to 500 BCE, in textile design across the globe.

In the latter case, herringbone, sometimes called herringbone twill or chevron weave, is a variation of a regular twill weave. While common twill consists of single diagonal ridges running parallel to one another for the length of the fabric, herringbone ads an alternating twill weave to create a visually pleasing V-shaped zig-zag pattern across the fabric’s surface. 

The Prince of Wales wearing herringbone tweed
Image credit: The Library of Congress / No known copyright restrictions

According to Ann Martin and Caroline Young in their book Tartan + Tweed:

‘The herringbone design was popular in the Outer Hebrides as a twill technique and is one of the most common patterns for Harris Tweed products. It can be manufactured in a wide range of colours, but the most popular is in shades of grey and black. The herringbone design can be given an overcheck to create an estate tweed, or with bird’s-eye, coloured flecks throughout. It has been a popular design for men’s suits and overcoats since the nineteenth century, in heavy or lightweight fabric, depending on how the item will be worn, and the darker tones of the herringbone made it more suitable for city living than checked designs.’

In the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, herringbone tweed has made its way into all corners of the clothing spectrum. During the Second World War, it became a practical fabric for use in women’s suits since it was easy to adopt from old men’s tailoring and proved hardwearing enough for wartime purposes. Across the Atlantic, it has long been a pillar of Ivy League styling both in its early incarnations by the likes of Brooks Brothers and J. Press and in its revival by Ralph Lauren and company from the latter half of the twentieth century onward. Ditto the #menswear and hipster revivals of the early 2000s and leading up to the last few seasons where a trend for heavy chevron weaves has proven a particularly popular choice for overcoats. 

Man wearing a herringbone tweed coat
Image credit: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Regardless of trends, however, a good herringbone jacket is always a solid styling choice and surprisingly versatile in its application. Just look at the silver screen, where it has been worn by everyone from Mr. Bean and Benjamin Braddock to Indiana Jones and Dirty Harry. In fact, add hats and coats into the mix via the Peaky Blinders crew and Idris Alba in Luther and herringbone tweed begins to look every bit as action-ready as a lycra body suit. 

The very first sport coat I bought after I moved to Scotland was a grey Harris Tweed herringbone number from Walker Slater here in Edinburgh. Not long after, I returned to buy a sage balmacaan coat made from the same material. I’ve also had a couple of other herringbone jackets bought from thrift stores over the years that I have since parted with. Then there’s the one garment I’d run in to save if my house were burning down in the form of an estate herringbone tweed jacket I inherited from my dad — the sole remnant of his considerable tailoring wardrobe. This latter garment might be what accounts for my deep love of herringbone weaves, but even so there seems to me something universally appealing in its reliable heft, its mesmerising symmetry, and its astonishing versatility. I can only really wear it in autumn, winter, and early spring, but weather conditions aside, I might happily adopt it as a second skin year-round. 

Man wearing a herringbone tweed jacket
Image is my own / All rights reserved

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