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Tweed Fashion Fabrics 1

Fashion History

By Pauline Weston Thomas for



Tweed Fabrics -  Fashion History


Fashion Designer Inspiration

It is often thought that designers lead with fashion ideas.  But designers can be lead and be inspired too.  Their inspiration comes from many sources.  Great designers have an inherent ability to seemingly invent new fashions.  They often look to fashion history to reinvent fashions of the past with an original twist.  They take a sleeve of 200 years ago, but put it with a totally different bodice line in fabrics never used before.

They also observe what's happening in street fashion, TV, music and movies and get inspired by visits to foreign places.  This ferments in their brain all the while so that they constantly move through stages of the design process with one idea leading to another, adjusting a sleeve here a pocket there and firing off a brand new design, some of which the public will love and some they will loathe.

Fashion Fabric Inspiration From Manufacturers

One factor which is often forgotten in all of this, is that whilst the designer often asks a manufacturer to produce a particular material for couture inspiration, the manufacturer is the one who constantly strives to experiment to produce exciting new fashion fabrics.  These new materials often use new cutting edge modern techniques and skills, to create innovative luscious materials with effects that inspire designers to utilise a particular material in a pioneering and interesting way.  In recent years the trend has been to produce lighter weight fabrics in keeping with the modern way of living.

The work of dyers, colourists and woven goods manufacturers should never be underestimated.  What these manufacturers are producing as sample fabrics and colours today are the ones we will see in the shops in 2 years from now  made up as fashion garments.

The new tweeds we are seeing are an example of weaving manufacturers reworking old ideas of tweed with a blend of yarns perhaps not always as traditional a mix of yarns as used before.

Tweed as a Fashion Fabric in the Millennium

These 2004 tweed fashion fabric samples are ends of couture ranges from Linton Tweeds UK, (Link below).  They give you an idea of typical fashion fabric tweeds currently in fashion. These fabrics were sold as end of line lengths for about 20-25 a metre.  Similar materials are available in 2005.

Click thumbnails to see the textural quality and yarn slubs in the samples.  They can also be used as a source of inspiration by those who have design brief projects for story boards at college.  More sample pictures are on the next page on tweeds.

Coco Chanel is credited with bringing tweed to high fashion beyond utilitarian looks in the 1950s and 1960s.  It really is a long time since we have seen tweed in the high street.

Today tweed as a serious fashion fabric began to trickle into the high street shops in 2003.  By spring 2004 we saw more and more tweed jackets in a host of gorgeous pastel tones.  People began to wear tweed jackets with jeans or trousers.  This was a new lighter way of wearing tweed, that did not need matching gloves, coordinating handbag and shoes.

This tweed said fun.

Miss Marple it was not.  Princess Diana's honeymoon suit it was not.  This tweed said Miss Chic.  In Autumn/Winter 2004/5 tweed was Miss Must-Haves most adaptable wardrobe item. 

Most fashions last for about 3 years, so for those who wanted something in tweed, last autumn was the best time to get it, to get maximum wear from their purchase.  Since February 2004 I have bought 5 tweed jackets (Yes I do like shopping for new things). They were often perfect for the rather dull British summer we had last year.  They were even more perfect for the early autumn days with cool mornings and fresher late afternoons.   Now as spring 2005  comes along I am finding them just as useful.  Tweed also looks set to be with us during autumn 2005 as many designers still used it in their recent shows, layering texture against texture, contrasting velvet tweed and chiffon to brilliant effect.

The weight of the tweed itself is often different to that worn 50 years ago. The body simply does not look so bulky in it and for many who have never worn tweed materials it seems refreshingly new.  The new lighter tweed weaves in addition to wool, cashmere and mohair, use interest yarns like chenille, exotic man made lustrous yarns with colour burst knops and gimps, and Lurex strands which all help enliven the fabric texture.

This means that the new tweeds are not just for cold winters, but also that tweed is now an ideal fabric for spring through to autumn and the lighter weights perfect in winter central heating.  Heavier more traditional wool tweeds are still very well suited to the outdoors and ideal as a warm layer when driving without the hampering of a full length coat.  Traditional tweeds like Harris tweeds are also perfect for the equestrian look.

In 2004/5 tweed texture is set against other texture such as a ruffle trim of pleated chiffon along the edge of jacket revers or selvedge fringing inserted between seam edges of the revers, hemline and cuffs.   Worn with velvet, plain flannel trousers or jeans the contrast of other materials gives major attention to the jacket.   Whether the textile is a knobbly poodle loop weave, Irish speckle tweeds, a blended or windowpane check, a puppy check, a dogstooth, houndstooth, or a herringbone tweed all will be making a statement.

By mid decade 2005 tweed jackets will have been such a strong story that it will in ten years time have its place in fashion history drawings for the noughties.

Tweed Origins

Tweed has been woven and finished in the UK for centuries.  It has a long history of being one of the finest fabric materials in the world. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth century several manufacturers and their designers have made British tweed very special, employing innovative creative skills that elevated British tweed into an art form.  The three names that immediately spring to mind when asked about this are Harris Tweed, Bernat Klein and Linton Tweeds all produced in the UK.

Tweed was originally used for country wear, and cloaks in former centuries.  In the 1890s British tweed became popular when made into the 'tailor made' garments for women.  These consisted of a jacket and long skirt.  It was all the rage amid a new workforce of office working women.  It was functional, warm, hardwearing and could be worn with a tailored shirt blouse which was in complete contrast to the froufrou of the period 1890-1910.  It said and meant business.  A variation of this was the jacket with knickerbockers and worn for cycling.

Chanel's Tweed Suits

By the 1920s Coco Chanel was simplifying dress with her innovative forward looking ideas on female clothes.  She borrowed items normally worn by men and translated them into pared down stylish female fashion.  She made simple jersey suits and also tweed suits.  However her real influence was in the 1950s and 1960s when she translated tweed into a high fashion suit that looked modern and contrasted with the fuller dress designs and over structured suits by Dior.  She actively competed against Dior to get her message of more relaxed clothes across to the public. They may not look very relaxed to the people of today, but they were a breakthrough in their time.

Chanel's suits were simply gorgeous.  She used a range of tweeds and fine textured wool boucle and poodle fabrics.  The collarless jackets became so associated with her name that we now refer to the style as a Chanel jacket.  Inside her jackets were lined with contrast silk which was the same silk she usually used for the blouse that teamed with it.  The insides were weighted with gold chain and the buttons all stamped on the back with the Chanel symbol.  Edges were trimmed with braids, velvet or ribbon. They were elegant and chic and women have continued to wear variations of them ever since.

Such tweed suits were widely copied and translated by the shop Wallis.  As a young teenager I recall lusting after a Wallis fine tweed black, braid edged suit in Chanel style which was chain weighted inside the jacket.  It was lined inside with emerald green and had a matching Miss Moneypenny emerald  blouse.  In the sixties clothes by Wallis were the epitome of high style with many designs being made from Paris original patterns that the brand bought the right to use.

Linton Tweeds

The house of Chanel has long used tweeds and other crepes from Linton Tweeds.  The market though stagnated for Lintons in the late sixties.  But in 1969 they forged ahead to change and revamp their product, to include lighter weight material, a better range of dyes and use of wonderful new textural out of the ordinary exotic yarns that enliven design. This has proved very successful particularly in Japan.  Ready to wear at once improved the use of materials once restricted to couture use. They have an international market supplying couture houses as well as Max Mara, Jigsaw, Wallis, Aquascutum, Burberry and others.

The samples above were kindly sent to me from Linton Tweeds Please note that by the time you read this, the samples are unlikely to be available as fabric lengths. But they will have alternative materials and often show at nationwide UK Creative Exhibitions. 

For more pictures of Linton Tweeds I have made another small page. Click here.

Linton Tweeds has a fabric shop at Shaddon Mill, in Shaddongate, Carlisle, England plus refreshment facilities. For more information check out their website which details the clothes shop, the coffee shop and how you can get the most out of your visit.

In the next page I look at the role of Harris tweed. 

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About looks at women's costume and fashion history and analyses the mood of an era.  Changes in technology, leisure, work, cultural and moral values. Homelife and politics also contribute to lifestyle trends, which in turn influence the clothes we wear.  These are the changes that make any era of society special in relation to the study of the costume of a period.Fashion History can take no responsibility for any information on the site which may cause you error, loss or costs incurred from use of the information and links either directly or indirectly.  This site is owned, designed, written and developed by author: Pauline Thomas and Guy Thomas. This site is designed to be viewed in 1024 X 768 or higher.

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