For all summer's many joys, it can still be hard to relinquish the tactility of one's tweeds once the temperature begins to rise. Fortunately we have a solution, in the form of our 'summer tweed' jacket. G. Bruce Boyer elucidates.
I can usually come up with a decent opening line, it’s the rest of them that give me trouble. But I’d like to make a bit of a prediction that the Summer Wardrobe’s MVP this year will be the tweed sports jacket. I don’t mean heavy, wintertweed, I mean those wonderful blends of linen and wool that can be woven with a slightly rough, open weave that both resembles tweed and yet has the necessary airiness demanded by warmth and humidity. The mix of yarns that promotes the virtues of each, and captures that irresistible insouciance of stylish summer attire. That’s what I’m talking about.
Fabric woven from plant material – flax, silk, cotton -- has been around for at least 40,000 years, and cloth woven from sheep wool for over 10,000, but it’s interesting to think that successful attempts to alter these time-honoured means of production changed very little until the last century, when industrial weaving and chemical experimentation moved us forward into the realm of comfortable fabrics.
Attempts to produce fabric to make it more utilitarian or beautiful weren’t really successful until the chemical invention of cellulose derivatives in the mid-1800s, and the blending of natural fibers at the end of that century. “Viyella”, the first of the branded blended fabrics (55% wool / 45% cotton), was introduced in 1893. And it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that blends of cotton, rayon, silk, and wool were effectively woven to produce lightweight cloths that could simulate the look of heavier fabrics, more comfortable versions of their winter counterparts.
Why it took such an incredibly long time to achieve such a good idea – blended fabrics woven together to promote the best qualities of each – is undoubtedly due to the pace of industrial science. But once a variety of production problems were solved – we don’t need a lot of technical info here, do we, not among friends – blended fabrics revolutionised clothing.
Which brings me ‘round the corner and up to the doorstep of summer tweeds. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like the look of tweed, the depth of texture and soft subtlety of colour, the slightly springy hand and sophisticated casualness of it. But even lightweight woollen tweed has been found too warm for summer tailoring. What to do? Obviously weave a blended fabric with the look of tweed without the weight. Experiments in this field have met with mixed reviews over the years, but a blend of equal parts wool and linen has been found to have the right properties, the texture and look of tweed without the weight. The linen provides the slightly coarse, beefiness of texture, while the finely spun wool resists the wrinkling associated with pure linens.
So, miraculous age in which we live, it is possible to duplicate your favourite tweed sports jacket with a lightweight version. It’s working outside the box a bit, while still remembering what the box looks like.