In Britain, 12 August – AKA the Glorious Twelfth – is the first day of the season for red grouse. This is not just tradition but law: read the Game Act 1831 for further details. It is a day of great excitement and activity on our vast grouse moors, so big they account for nearly a tenth of the land of England and Scotland, and it brings together a motley crowd, from grizzled ghillies and sportsmen to off-duty hedgies and corporate lawyers.
Tweed is the sine qua non of the grouse moor. More modern fabrics like Gore-Tex may make an appearance, but traditional woven wool in country colours still dominate the sport. The first lesson for the tweed wearer is on the moor itself: obviously new and unworn clothes will sparkle and gleam like the new acquisitions they are and will indicate the arriviste. No-one wants to be looked up and down and asked by a Sloane with frayed sleeves, “Is this your first shoot?”
The material began as a purely practical one. Woven in the Scottish isles or the north-west of Ireland, it was recognised as hard-wearing and water-resistant, ideal for the British and Irish climate. But it was the Edwardians who really took it to heart; in an era when upper-class hobbies like shooting, cycling, fishing and even motoring were booming, it represented the lifestyle of leisure to which the middle classes aspired. Edward VII could often be seen sporting (capacious) tweeds, and it is no accident that Kenneth Grahame depicted his character Mr Toad in the fabric.
As we approach the Glorious Twelfth 2021, tweed has a strangely Janus-like existence. It retains its cachet as the country fabric par excellence, characterising the country house party and the rural aspirations of fogeyish young men; until the end of the last century, it would commonly be seen in the City and Westminster on Fridays, as men (and some women) of business and politics prepared for their flight to their country piles for the weekend. You will still see the occasional tweed suit on a parliamentary Friday—James Gray has a good country wardrobe, and Jacob Rees-Mogg knows the form—but it is now a period piece.
However, the fabric has a newer, more vibrant face, especially for women. This is exemplified best, perhaps, by Holland Cooper, the fashion house started by Jade Holland Cooper, a young Royal Agricultural College drop-out who married the founder of Superdry. Hannah Betts, one of the wisest and sharpest-eyed of fashion writers, has lauded the trend. But even traditional clothiers like the House of Bruar and Dubarry of Ireland have sniffed the wind and are presenting women’s tweed which is fashionably cut, flattering and brightly coloured.
Gentlemen can play it more safely. For the traditionalist, you can hardly do better than a brand whose soul must surely be checked or herringbone, like Cordings of Piccadilly or Bucktrout Tailoring (aficionados will mourn the late Pakeman, Catto and Carter of Gloucester). If you have never owned tweed before (is that even possible?), a versatile jacket in a muted green or brown is a good place to start: this herringbone from Hawes and Curtis is durable and can be dressed up with a collar and tie or (if you must) down with jeans.
If you are bolder, and enjoy country pursuits or wish to give the vague impression that you might, a tweed suit is a definite statement of intent but can be glorious. This Skipton tweed suit from Cordings will make you feel like Bertie Wooster at his best, ready to hop in the two-seater and motor down to a lavish estate belonging to someone’s aunt. Jennis and Warmann, a relative newcomer to the sector, put a hint of modernity and dash into the traditional composition.
Wearing tweed opens your eyes and expands your sartorial mind. With the base colour in rich earth tones, your palette for shirts and accessories will suddenly broaden; you will look at orange and yellow and green in new ways. I have a much-treasured Ede and Ravenscroft tie in heavy orange silk with a pattern of pheasants on it, and while it complements my tweeds beautifully, I have snuck it into more formal outfits where it has given the whole ensemble a real lift.
So whether you’re looking to renew a well-worn suit or buy your first tweed jacket, now, the week of the Glorious Twelfth, is the time to do it. Honour the sporting origins of the fabric, but acknowledge that it has spread so much wider. You need some tweed in your life; how much is limited only by your imagination and your bank balance.