A Sparkling Vintage Life

Tweed suit, from a 1952 issue of Vogue

Tweed suit, from a 1952 issue of Vogue

Tweed–that rough, woolen fabric so strongly associated with fall– reminds me of academia, the patched elbows and ever-present pipe of a stereotypical professor straight out of Central Casting. Tweed also reminds me of offices, of dressmaker suits and hair scraped into a bun, and heels clicking on hard floors, of clocks and calendars and the clacking of typewriters. These vintage images don’t jibe with my own experiences. Even in my long-ago day, professors were wearing some variation of khaki and polo shirt, or bohemian broomstick skirt and bangles, or, in one memorable case, biker denim and leather. When I last worked in an office, employees wore head-to-toe T. J. Maxx, office floors were carpeted to mute noise, and the clacking of typewriters had faded away in the glow of computer screens. No, these tweedy images in my head hearken back to some earlier time–that misty time I never knew yet yearn for in a curious way.

Tweed brings to mind hunting parties and strolls along the heath wearing sturdy leather brogues–scenes not from my own world, but my imaginary tweed downton abbeyone, fueled by countless BBC dramas. This is the tweed of the British Isles, of shooting parties in cold, damp weather out in the rugged country. It’s the fabric of Sherlock Holmes and the men of Downton Abbey (and the ladies, too, from time to time). A 1998 Smithsonian article described it thusly: “Whether woven in herringbone, houndstooth glen check or tartan, flecked, mingled or striped, the traditional rough feel and subtle coloring of Harris Tweed — and the fact that it is, by definition, handwoven in Harris and the other islands of the Outer Hebrides — have made it, to quote one designer, one of the world’s most ‘noble fabrics.'”

Tweed reminds me of fall, of pumpkins and mist and bonfires and piles of flame-hued leaves. It’s a warm fabric suitable for crisp fall days, but not a cozy one. It’s the sturdy jacket, not the soft sweater underneath. It speaks of ruggedness, protection and strength, which may be why it’s strongly associated with menswear.

To add some vintage flair to your fall, reach for tweed. Some families hand sturdy tweed garments down from generation to generation. Even if you’re not part of the landed gentry, tweed is widely available in shops, and you might find some excellent specimens in thrift stores and on the Internet.

What do you think about tweed? Does it hold good memories for you, not-so-good ones, or no memories at all?