When you say the word ‘tweed’ to most people, somewhere in the middle of their mental Venn diagram pops up associations such as Scotland, outdoors, rugged, and countryside – not the terms you might reserve for sartorial menswear. But over recent years, tweed has been the subject of rediscovery, in part thanks to some incredible cloths being produced by some of the best Scottish woollen mills.
The tweed many remember – coarse, itchy, stiff – is not the tweed being produced today, the likes of which handle like buttery-soft merino wool. As such it has gained renewed global recognition, especially with stylish Anglophiles in Italy and Japan. On shores closer to home, certain Savile Row tailors will readily carve you up a bespoke tweed suit for the price of a small family car, otherwise your options are quite limited – that is, if you don’t know where to look.
We’ve discovered a Scottish tailoring brand that has been quietly producing some of the best sartorial tweed garments the world over. Growing largely by word of mouth, which is probably why they may have slipped under your radar, Walker Slater was founded in 1989 in the Scottish Highlands before calling Edinburgh’s Old Town home. Ever since then, the company has not deviated from its mission to champion the heritage and sustainability of tweed.
The History of Tweed
One cannot talk about tweed without talking about Scotland. The histories of both are inextricably woven, reflecting the country’s craftsmanship, landscape, and industrial evolution.
Tweed’s story begins in the Scottish Highlands and islands, where local communities would hand-weave woollen cloth. The term “tweed” originally referred to “tweel”, a Scots term for the twilled weave pattern used in the fabric’s construction.
A story, which may or may not be apocryphal, has the name coming about almost by chance in about 1830, when a London merchant received a letter from a Hawick firm, Wm. Watson & Sons of Dangerfield Mills, about some tweels. The London merchant misinterpreted the handwriting, understanding it to be a trade name taken from the River Tweed that flows through the Scottish Borders textile area.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, tweed was primarily a product of rural craftsmanship. Skilled weavers, often working from their homes or small weaving sheds, created tweed fabric on handlooms, using yarn sourced from local sheep. The colours and patterns of the cloth often represented the natural hues of the landscape.
As the industrial revolution swung round, the mechanisation of looms completely changed the industry, turning tweed into a commercially produced fabric. Usurped by merino wool, tweed has since taken a back seat, becoming a cloth produced in smaller, more refined quantities.
For tailoring connoisseurs, it represents a fabric rich in history, but perhaps more importantly one that is incredibly versatile and perfect for a bold modern wardrobe.
Types of Tweed
For 30 years, Walker Slater has been specialising in tweed tailoring so it only figures that the brand would use only the finest yarns it can get its hands on. Tweed comes in many different flavours, and Walker Slater does a fine business in all of them.
The most notable types of tweed are as follows:
Harris Tweed is arguably the most renowned type of tweed. Its origin dates back to the Isle of Harris and the nearby islands in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The production of Harris Tweed is strictly regulated by the Harris Tweed Authority, ensuring that every inch of the fabric is handwoven by local artisans using traditional methods. In fact, in 1933 an Act of Parliament was passed to protect its authenticity and quality standards from counterfeiting.
This tweed is recognised for its rich dense texture, durability, and distinct patterns, often inspired by the natural landscapes of the region.
Woven in the Shetland Islands, this style of tweed is best known for its softness and warmth, thanks to the yarn of the Shetland sheep, which is finer in texture compared to other breeds. The sheep are thought to have evolved from north European sheep that were brought to the UK by the Vikings.
It is typically regarded as having a softer handle than Harris Tweed, while the coarser fibres of the topcoat are particularly good at holding brighter, bolder dyes.
Borders Tweed, as the name suggests, originates from the Scottish Borders region. It is characterised by its variety of designs, ranging from traditional checks and plaids to more contemporary patterns. Borders Tweed is prized for its versatility, making it suitable for both casual and formal attire.
The lighter varieties can be quite fine and soft, while the heavyweight yarns are often used for sporting attire, able to withstand the rigours of the field.
While Scotland produces the vast majority of tweed, it doesn’t have complete and utter hegemony. Donegal in Ireland also manufactures a unique tweed cloth, recognised for its colourful flecks called ‘neps’ or ‘slubs’, which are great when woven into rugged herringbone or plaid fabrics.
The Essential Tweed Garments
Harris Tweed Herringbone Jacket
If you’re going to own a tweed garment then make it a Harris Tweed jacket. Walker Slater’s beautiful signature Edward jacket block has been crafted in a stunning herringbone tweed fabric that comes in six different colour options.
Half canvassed and with a structured shoulder, the jacket makes for a stunning suit in the charcoal, green, and brown tones, while the navy, slate and plum versions of the jacket can just as easily be assimilated into your separates rotation.
Lambswool Windowpane Suit
The classic navy merino business suit deserves all the plaudits it gets, but it’s good to break up its hegemony from time to time. If you don’t want to deviate away from navy, then Walker Slater’s Lambswool Tweed Windowpane suit is a very refined alternative.
Crafted from young wool that is soft, fine, and light, these fibres are spun into a compact and smooth handle with a distinct texture. The subtle orange and red windowpane check is masterful and opens up a panoply of great accessories options.
Cashmere/Wool Herringbone Jacket
At the top of Walker Slater’s sartorial tree is its cashmere wool tweed, a superfine lightweight cloth that lends itself beautifully to the brand’s signature Edward jacket silhouette.
While it’s available in seven different colours, we especially love the pine tone, which comes with matching trousers, making for an impossibly elegant suit.
Borders Tweed Jacket
Borders tweed, when crafted from fine lightweight wool represents some of the very best tweed fabrics on the market. Walker Slater has used a stunning worsted Borders tweed with a blend of fine merino wool in the creation of its mustard windowpane check Edward jacket.
The mustard tone lends itself well to smart countryside dressing, but that would be to unfairly pigeonhole this jacket. It could just as easily be worn in the city with a pair of cream chinos and chocolate brown suede Chelsea boots.
Belted Watson Coat
So far, we’ve shone a light on the suiting virtues of fine tweed, but this versatile fabric is of course adept at taking the shape of great coats, too. Every stylish gent should own a wool coat, but there are few bigger statements than Walker Slater’s Harris tweed herringbone Watson coat.
This Balmacaan style features a short, face-framing Prussian collar, and raglan sleeves. The cut is loose to allow for a full suit to be comfortably worn underneath. It also comes belted to give you a more flattering silhouette and comes in two colours: a super-rich navy, and a chic sage tone.
Shetland Tweed Nathan Coat
When you need warmth and protection from a wool coat without trading in softness, Shetland tweed should be your first thought. That’s why Walker Slater has used it to great effect in crafting their Nathan coat, inspired by the slender frock coats of the early part of last century.
With all the svelte elegance of a town coat but with the fine fit of a jacket, this single-breasted gem of a coat is a timeless menswear rendition, woven in this instance in a beautiful navy blue cloth with a light touch of cobalt and red strewn through the weave.
Grey Tweed Waistcoat
Given that many professionals are still required to dress formally for the office, the winter months bring into play charcoal suits, from classic worsted wool styles to textural flannel options. One way to make the charcoal suit something all your own is with the addition of a grey tweed waistcoat, which injects an element of texture into the look.
Walker Slater has produced several tactile styles that can be worn with any number of charcoal suits. We love their Shetland tweed multicheck grey waistcoat, as well as the cashmere wool herringbone tweed in light grey. They are both beautifully offset against a crisp white shirt and will help to give your charcoal suit extra depth.
A paid partnership with Walker Slater – words and opinion Ape’s own.