Generations of us custodians of Trouser Towers have worn Harris Tweed. I remember my grandfather’s threadbare Harris Tweed jacket, elbow patched and leather cuffed. Purchased not long after the First World War, and was still going strong in the 1970s.
the jacket for all occasions for the man for all seasons
My father’s tweed jacket was a muted brown, with a flamboyant dash of red silk paisley at pocket. His pockets were generally full of rich-smelling pipes and tobacco, mixed with the smell of Trumper’s Bay Rum hair dressing on his collar.
When my pater came in for luncheon, his jacket damp from a pheasant shoot, with bullshots on his breath, he was a cacophony of Proustian smell-synapses which defined, for me, the noble smell of manhood.
The Harris Tweed Jacket was born
Woollen cloth itself had been dyed and spun for a millennium by crofters in the outer Hebrides. It was Lady Catherine Herbert, who commissioned a particularly fine checked design by two weavers known as The Paisley Sisters and had it made into jackets for her ghillies and gamekeepers. Hardwearing and water resistant, the clothing was well-suited to life on the estate and Lady Catherine did everything she could to promote her local cloth as a fashionable textile for huntin’ shootin’ and fishin’ wear.
It soon became the fabric of choice for the aristocracy and landed gentry. Soon finding its way (as did many things Scottish) into Queen Victoria’s inner circle, and embraced by her descendants. Its status was established and thus, around the 1850s, the mens Harris Tweed Jacket as we know it, was born.
And so it remains, the sine qua non of the English Gentleman. It has altered little over 170 years, save the odd fashionable vagary. A little nipped at the waist here, a wider lapel there. The colours, always vibrant, still come from the natural plant dyes of the Outer Hebrides, all stamped with the orb mark.
The jacket for all occasions for the man for all seasons.