A Vintage Harris Tweed Jacket And The Possibility Of Moors



You might, one morning when the kitchen has turned cold, ask yourself, “What is tweed, anyway?” This has been known to happen. I realized the other day that I didn’t know the answer. So I looked it up. Tweed means, simply,

“a rough, unfinished woolen fabric, of a soft, open, flexible texture resembling cheviot* or homespun, but more closely woven. It is made in either plain or twill weave and may have a check, twill, or herringbone pattern. Subdued, interesting color effects (heather mixtures) are obtained by twisting together differently colored woolen strands into a two- or three-ply yarn.”

Tweed is a favorite of sturdy gals everywhere. Tweed is for walking across a marsh, a moor, or any land where neither stone nor tree will break the wind. It’s for wearing with flushed cheeks. Something strong and warm on your feet. To be completely honest, for wearing with a turtleneck, because for all the poetry and warmth, tweed is itchy.

I know. They really ought to tell everyone this stuff. Would prevent unnecessary discomfort.

Harris Tweed is tweed fabric, woven on the Isle of Harris, or if we are feeling expansive, another of the islands in the Outer Hebrides. It’s cold and windy and damp, apparently, in the Outer Hebrides. Requiring woven jackets to keep the peace. The fabric colors were originally created by dyes made of lichen, the source of the characteristic smell of early Harris Tweed clothing. Ever since 1993, in order to qualify as Harris, tweed has to display this symbol.

In the 1930’s, this was not so. You could go to Lord and Taylor and buy a Harris Tweed jacket. As did my grandmother. Here is the evidence. No orb. Just a shiny, yellow, woven, label.


This jacket is the for the Sturdy Gal, not the Grande Dame, nor the Arty/Intellectual Cousin Twice Removed. It’s not structured enough for the Grande Dame, and it’s too structured for the Arty Cousin. Although she likes the part about the Outer Hebrides and wonders if there are any tribes indigenous to the area looking to house a woman who knows how to throw pots.

Me, I have worn this off and on over the last 35 years, depending on the tide. Depending on the spiritual peat smoke in the air. In college, during my preppy phase, with navy sailor pants, a striped sweater, and shoes I have long since forgotten. In Manhattan, in the 1980s, with a burnt orange turtleneck and high-waisted pants. I never put it on during the years of small children. Their skin was too soft. Back in corporate life, I would wear it with a black cashmere turtleneck, Armani pants, and Ferragamo slingbacks. Patent leather toes. Monochrome to put to rest any possible doubts raised by a lichen-colored jacket. Now with jeans. Long sleeves, because no memory or sentiment is worth the wear and tear of itchy tweed next to one’s skin. The Sturdy Gal agrees with me. She has reason.

The Sturdy Gal laughs off sorrow. But will not endure unnecessary itchiness. She takes good enough care of her clothes that her granddaughter might wear them, 80 years later. She goes on walks, alone sometimes. Always buttoned up.

Here’s the thing. Sturdy is an intent, as much as a trait. Like smiling. They say if you make yourself smile you will feel happy. March enthusiastically and with determination across a few moors and I will be surprised if you don’t turn up sturdy when you’re done.


Have a wonderful weekend.

*Don’t you love it when someone explains something you didn’t know by comparing it to something you know even less? Cheviot is apparently a twill made from wool of, yes, Cheviot sheep. Twill is apparently fabric woven so that parallel diagonal ribs appear. It’s certainly not as though this is all self-evident.

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20 Comments

  • 10/02/09
    6:44 am

    Reply

    Summer is a Verb said...

    Does an attraction to Chanel tweed pigeonhole me into the sturdy gal category? If so, I'll wear the badge with honor…XXOO

  • 10/02/09
    7:36 am

    Reply

    Beth Dunn said...

    LOL–that happens to me all the time and then I feel dumb. Which I may be. Love all tweed and laugh every season when they say it is "in". It never went out for moi xoxo

  • 10/02/09
    7:59 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Coco Chanel was a Sturdy Gal in Grande Dame clothing, don't you think? Probably Karl Lagerfeld is too. We are all about the "and" model of identity. I agree, archetypes have to remain archetypes and avoid evolving into pigeonholes.

  • 10/02/09
    8:13 am

    Reply

    Duchesse said...

    A vibrant tweed- in both its palette and by way of memories. So many Harris tweeds are dull lichen shades without the spark that blues and peach adds to yours. I enjoy sweeping tweed skirts, and also miss a Donegal tweed suit I owned.

  • 10/02/09
    8:21 am

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    Sher said...

    I think of tweed as a riding jacket for the hunt. A true hunter pace, not a red show jacket kind ;) Though I did switch it out with a black Melton wool from time to time.

  • 10/02/09
    10:20 am

    Reply

    the Provident Woman said...

    I never knew exactly what tweed was either. Now I know.

  • 10/02/09
    10:25 am

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    miss cavendish said...

    My grandfather only wore Harris tweed–usually by Daks.

  • 10/02/09
    1:23 pm

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    Red Lipstick Style said...

    Love this post, it truly transported me to a bygone time! And I've learned something (even more than about tweed, which is good to know, by the way). My mother will not wear sweaters to this day. I believe now I know why; what she had worn as a young girl had been TWEED! She came from a 'sturdy family' who would have never, ever bought any sort of girly cashmere for her. I too fancy myself a sturdy girl (via a hiking trail) and now must find some tweed.

  • 10/02/09
    1:36 pm

    Reply

    Maureen@IslandRoar said...

    I think you're right; it's all about intent. I have gotten so much "sturdier" as I age because I've decided I am (my mother almost had me convinced till I was 30 that I was "fragile").
    I've always had a thing for tweed. I have a tweed suit that was my mother's that I wore in my 20's and still sometimes wear the jacket. Love the heather-mixed yarns. Interesting, as always.

  • 10/02/09
    2:15 pm

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    Couture Carrie said...

    What a gorgeous vintage piece, darling!

    xoxox,
    CC

  • 10/02/09
    4:03 pm

    Reply

    materfamilias said...

    Lovely! You've had decades of wearing something your grandmother bought in the 1930's — I'm truly envious. I've started wearing a Harris Tweed jacket that my husband bought in the 1980s, hasn't worn for the last five years or so, but can't quite throw out. He's tall, but slim, my guy, and the jacket's either a 40 or a 42-taken-in, so it's perfect for the Boyfriend Jacket look. And, thank goodness, it has a decent lining to make that scratchiness manageable. We'll have to save it and pass it along to a grandchild, and hope s/he loves it as much as you do yours!

  • 10/02/09
    6:09 pm

    Reply

    see you there! said...

    Haven't worn tweed in years but I recall how scratchy it was. Mine was probably not Harris and I recall liking it better in theory than in fact.

    Darla

  • 10/02/09
    6:14 pm

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    Sharon said...

    I was thinking that perhaps Katherine Hepburn is a Sturdy Gal archetype? What do you all think?

  • 10/03/09
    4:28 am

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    Some Like it Vintage said...

    I adore tweed! My tweed outfits have evolved over the years as well, pairing tweed with all sorts of odds and ends…but the tweed piece is always central. What a fabulous blog, glad to have found you!

  • 10/03/09
    6:27 am

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    Lindy said...

    Tweeds remind me of Queen Elizabeth II, who I suppose is the ultimate High WASP. I think she is a sturdy gal.

  • 10/03/09
    7:56 am

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    Someone said...

    Love the classic tweed. I have no idea where my orange 'n olive Harris Tweed riding jacket went…but recently while perusing the possibility of another pair of boots, there were some very cool steampunky moortrompin' ones done in tweed with suede trim. I bought some others that would be easier for me to wear with what I have, but those tweedy ones were pretty cool.

  • 10/03/09
    7:59 am

    Reply

    LPC said...

    Tweed seems to be an evocative material. I agree that Katherine Hepburn is a Sturdy Gal. I mean, African Queen? May all tweed, and those of us in tweed as the need strikes, live long and prosper.

  • 10/04/09
    10:27 am

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    Little Bow Prep said...

    I'm a fan :)

  • 10/05/09
    8:55 am

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    vintage simple said...

    I love these posts you write, dear L… And I love that you still have (and wear) a well-tailored coat that belonged to your grandmother… (My head is still dancing with all the labels, unsure that Sturdy, Great Dame and Arty are exclusive of one another… But I'm just going to let that sit for a while and think about it some more…)
    -maria

  • 10/10/09
    10:45 pm

    Reply

    Anonymous said...

    I had a older male friend back in the 70's who taught me about Harris Tweed so I've known about it for a while. One of the special things about HT is that they have distinctive leather buttons. Last week in Venice, Italy, I found a mid-length coat in various shades of grey, blue and even green and yellow in a used clothing store. It fits me perfectly and even had the label with the serial number. Now that I am home I looked up information about Harris Tweed and found your blog. I love this coat beyond reason. Plus, it's last life was in Venice and now it lives in San Francisco. Thanks for your site and for the links to the weavers' work.

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