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Saluting our Heritage Fashion

Tweed has a romantic, longstanding history dating back to 18th century Scotland, says Our Source


A Coco Chanel tweed suit from the 1950s

Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay wore tweed on the first ascent of Mount Everest, testament to it’s effectiveness in harsh weather



The name was coined accidentally in 1826 when a shipment from weaver William Watson & Sons stamped ‘tweel’, the Scottish word for twill, was misread as tweed. An appropriate coincidence this, given that the fabric was worn by gentlemen shooting and fishing along the river Tweed. A symbolic style was born and tweed became a classic Scottish material now well known throughout the world.

Let’s explore the history of tweed and how it came to be one of the most iconic fabrics in the fashion industry, originally for protection against the harsh winters, latterly a sophisticated, high-class material worn by royalty.

It began life as a cottage industry in Hawick, where they used wool from local sheep and the reliable supply of water from the river Teviot. Naturally, wool repels water and its thick, coarse texture proved particularly durable and insulative. Initially tweed was crafted as practical wear for peasants doing outdoor work such as farming, and remote islanders who were faced with harsh and volatile weather.

As it is produced from natural wool each tweed garment is unique — by choosing different breeds of sheep, garment makers can plan a design and pattern that emerges naturally. Applying their skills to blending earthy colours from natural surroundings and bunch dyeing, off set the iconic tweed patterns that we know today.

In the first part of the 19th century, money was becoming an issue for many Highland landowners whose properties interested English noblemen and aristocrats alike. As the market to rent or buy Scottish country estates grew, so did the fashion for camouflage when hunting, shooting, and fishing.

Lord Lovat created the Lovat Mixture as ‘a protective colour designed for use in the hills’. This particular mix, still very popular today in various forms, references his original instructions from 1840 in which 5 colours and white were carded together to make a camouflage yarn ideal for stalking deer on Highland estates.

When Prince Albert purchased Balmoral Castle in 1848 it would have been considered offensive for an English noble to wear the tartan of an existing clan, so he commissioned the production of his own Balmoral tartan in grey and granite tones with hints of blue and red, in commemoration of Highland tradition, which was woven as tweed.

Thus was the first royal Estate Tweed born, used to identify and feed people who lived and worked on the same estate. Subsequently, it became custom for other estate owners to commission their own design of tweeds, which echoed across other wealthy and noble members of society becoming fashionable garb for the upper and middle classes.

In modern times tweed has more closely represented royalty than its ancestral roots whilst establishing an enduring position in the international fashion industry. A broad selection of sophisticated tweed pieces are now sold around the world - most notably Coco Chanel’s couture jacket produced from Linton Tweed, which has become a timeless classic decades after its debut in 1954. A highly desirable piece of clothing that is reinvented each year.

Fortunately, for these more informed times, wool is one of our most sustainable textile fibres, causing minimal damage to the environment due to its biodegradability. As we continue the move to more sustainable fashion, tweed is consistently seen as an ecologically friendly fabric and, consequently, expected to pass the test of time.

There are, of course, sundry varieties of tweed, including Harris Tweed, a complex design in which the weaver has to tie in more than 1400 individual threads by hand.

The tweed itself is supported by the Harris Tweed Act 1993 — which states the genuine article of clothing, the fabled fabric, must be made from pure virgin wool, handwoven at the home of the weaver in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, and then returned to the mill, where it is authenticated by a stamper with the Orb trademark to protect the integrity of the product. (N.B. The Harris Tweed Orb is the oldest British trademark still in use, dating back more than a century.

Currently - Covid 19 notwithstanding - Heriot-Watt University School of Textiles and Design are collaborated with Harris Tweed Hebrides to develop new woven fabric to be used for both interiors and fashion while also introducing new design practices and technological innovations.

Professor Alison Harley, Creative Director at the School of Textiles and Design says, “This project brings together two distinctive and well-established Scottish textile institutions to develop talent, creative thinking and innovative practice.

“Thanks to our reputation in the global textile sector we’ve built up a track record of success in collaborations of this kind, developing creative talent, contributing to textile technology advancements and building the commercial potential of new products, so we’re very much looking forward to this opportunity to work with one of the world’s most iconic textile brands.”

Let’s raise a glass then to Tweed’s long and distinguished story – worn indeed by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay on the first ascent of Mount Everest, which bears testament to how well the material isolates against harsh weather. And too it’s royal history propelling it into luxury fashion as championed by aristocrats and fashionistas.

For it has truly stood the test of time.

Info: Thanks to

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