From harris to hipster: the story of tweed

The woollen fabric that adorns the chair in your room at Hotel Indigo Edinburgh – Princes Street has a long and tangled history, and it never seems to stop weaving new chapters.

Tweed was first created on the Outer Hebrides, when sheep farmers spun fleeces from their herds into wool and wove it into a durable fabric they called Clò Mór (‘the big cloth’) to protect themselves from bitter Scottish winters.


It was so effective, that by the end of the 18th century, they were exporting it to the Scottish mainland. Harris tweed is still made using the same techniques on the north-westerly archipelago to this day – and is the only fabric in the UK to be protected by an Act of Parliament.


In 1842, Queen Victoria visited Scotland for the first time, accompanied by husband Prince Albert. They were so captivated by the Scottish Highlands that they promised to return and in 1848 began leasing Balmoral as a country retreat. In 1852 Prince Albert purchased the property as a gift for his wife.

Not being Scottish, the royals weren’t entitled to wear tartan, so they created their own tweeds as a uniform for their hunting and fishing staff. The Southern aristocracy soon followed suit and ‘estate tweeds’ were born, but the old adage ‘never wear brown in town’ ensured they remained strictly country attire.

Fast-forward a hundred years, and throw in a makeover from Coco Chanel in the shape of her Linton Tweed suits, and tweed evolved once again into quite the material about town. Now more lightweight and comfortable, it was all the rage in mid-twentieth century Britain.

Another 60 years on, Benedict Cumberbatch’s TV portrayal of Sherlock Holmes has reignited the British love of tweed once again. Holmes wears a Belstaff ‘Milford’ coat specified by BAFTA-winning costume designer Ray Holman, made from Irish wool tweed bonded with a micro-porous film to make it waterproof.

And then, of course, there’s that hat. The Museum of London has recreated a Sherlock-style deerstalker that you can buy at Liberty, at Christy’s and from their own online shop. Talking into account the latest trends in menswear, “the Museum of London was very specific in its desire to develop a deerstalker hat and a tweed that Sherlock Holmes might have worn were he alive today – combining a classic profile with a contemporary edge,” Steve Clark, MD of Christy’s Hats, said in an interview for the Radio Times.


And if you’re in any doubt about just how popular tweed has become, just come along to London’s annual Tweed Run. “The Tweed Run is a fabulously quirky event where participants don their finest tweeds and brogues and cycle through London, stopping along the way to take tea, have a picnic, and ending with an old fashioned knees-up in the afternoon,” says the event’s founder.

Three hundred cyclists turned out for the first Tween Run in 2009 and the event has since grown into a global phenomenon, which has captured the imaginations of the fashion and cycling worlds alike. Between the new Sherlock and events like the Tweed Run, tweed has been reinvented for the modern age, making it a hipster must-have.

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