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The Evolution of Tweed

Image © Conaglen Estate

Some styles come and go over time, revived and reimagined after periods of semi-retirement. Tweed, on the other hand, has never so much as taken a holiday, instead transitioning from a heritage and performance fabric to a fashion essential, as revered by celebrities and style icons through the years as it has been by shooting parties and Highland ghillies. As our latest collection, ‘Contemporary Tweed’ hits our stores, we take a look at the incredible evolution of Tweed.

Everything from high street designs to the finest couture can take inspiration from the colours found in nature, but never has a match been so literal as with Tweed. Initially designed as a form of camouflage, Estate Tweeds are created with the surrounding landscape in mind. The traditional green and brown shades of grass and moorlands are a given, but pops of yellow might be required for an area peppered with gorse or purple might be applied in a habitat of Highland heather. We created our first Tweed in 1846 and continue to manufacture Estate Tweeds, typically worn by those living and working on particular estates. Since then Tweed has become as popular in the city as it is in the countryside.

Gordon Castle Estate Tweed modelled by the Ghillies in 1911. Image by Gordon Castle.

Gordon Castle Estate Tweed modelled by the Ghillies in 1911. Image by Gordon Castle.

Johnstons of Elgin advert from our archive showcasing Tweeds

Tweed is a performance fabric, hardwearing and weather-resistant, and its versatility has allowed it to take various forms over the decades. Coco Chanel, eager to create stylish pieces that women could move freely in, transformed Tweed in the 1950s by creating her signature boucle Tweed jacket, with a loose fit and gently cropped sleeves. Since then, Tweed has remained a catwalk regular and a favourite of celebrities from Holly Willoughby to Anna Wintour.

The origins of estate tweeds are peculiarly Scottish, though their use has spread for and beyond our border. A few English estates have developed the concept as have branches of the military. Examples of both are included in this book as they were in the original edition by Edward Stroud Harrison, published in 1968.
- Mr Ian Urquhart, Johnstons of Elgin Chairman, 2001-2019

This season, we explode traditional Tweed designs from our archives, using a combination of nature-inspired colours including olive green, a weathered grass shade and shots of red inspired by the rich berries of a rowan tree. An alternative colour option applies blue, grey and black, tying in with the china blue accessories of this season’s edit. While Tweed is primarily associated with lambswool, our newest designs are made with the highest quality Merino Wool fibres – a thick, air spun yarn that gives the Tweed a textural appearance and accentuates the pattern.

Johnstons of Elgin men's and women's blue & black tweed coats paired with matching trousers on a beige background
Johnstons of Elgin men's and women's red and camel tweed coats paired with matching trousers on a beige background

Hero products that showcase our Contemporary Tweed include our Men's Chesterfield Coat, based on an original Tweed pattern from 1938, and our Women's Trench Coat. The same design utilises a lighter weight fabric in skirts, trousers and jackets. The first rule of styling these unique pieces is that there are no rules – enjoy them as statement garments, pair with coordinating colours or contrast with tartan or checks. Make them yours.

Tweed clothing may have started as a form of camouflage, but in our Contemporary Tweed collection, you'll feel anything but invisible.

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