“Tweed” can define a broad range of options. Tweed is a type of woolen fabric, and it can be constructed with a plain texture or a visible weave like twill (narrow diagonals) or herringbone. Colors also vary widely, but the fabric’s durability and water resistance have made it part of a gentleman’s practical wardrobe for centuries. Your wardrobe needs at least one good sport coat in a well-made tweed.
The manufacture and tradition of tweed comes from the British Isles, and many of the best makers are still there. Scotland’s Harris Tweed is overseen by a private governing body (the Harris Tweed Authority) that holds manufacturers to extremely specific standards, as does County Donegal of Ireland. Both cultures have traditional color schemes associated with the local dyes, originally made from berries, lichens, and even animal products.
Your tweed jacket is going to be a functional piece of clothing, so choose it with the durability of the material and the fit of the coat as your primary considerations. A good tweed should be on the heavier end of wool jackets, with a sturdy inner lining. Choose a fit that doesn’t hang off the shoulders (nothing looks worse than a shoulder seam down on the bicep) but leaves room for a turtleneck or a sweater beneath.
If you buy from a traditional manufacturer or tailor you’ll likely also have your choice of classic British decorations. Leather elbow patches are as iconic as it gets. Pockets will also usually have flaps, and may even be “accordion” style, where the sides and front of the pocket are entirely exterior and the jacket itself forms the back of the pocket. Big leather or horn buttons complete the British country style — you can, of course, choose to avoid all of these and wear a very simple, stripped-down tweed coat; the options are simply there if you like the rural affect.
Wearing the Tweed Jacket
You’ll want to keep the tweed jacket handy most of the year round, usually from fall through spring in temperate climates. It works as an outer layer in cool or wet weather, and beneath an overcoat in the winter.
Tweed pairs with very casual or somewhat dressy styles but is rarely seen in business attire. A pair of wool slacks will make you warm and waterproof from head to toe, perfect for a day outside in cooler weather. With khakis or blue jeans it becomes a less rugged style good for social occasions in the city. A dress shirt and necktie make an office-casual or professorial look (try a bow tie to really take the academic look all the way), while a knit sweater is pure English countryside.
Role in Your Wardrobe
A tweed jacket does two things well: it keeps you comfortable and warm in outdoor settings and it keeps the basic pleasing shape of a suit coat without looking formal or forced. Pull it out as a good alternative to sweaters when you want a warm outer layer but want to look a bit fancier — or pair it with a sweater for real warmth in the winter.
Your tweed jacket works in enough settings that it’s hard to overstate its function in your wardrobe. Put it on whenever you feel like a jacket and it’s not the heat of summer. As long as you’re not going to a very serious business function you’ll probably be comfortably within the dress code.