One of the few compensations for the end of summer is the opportunity to reacquaint ourselves with our winter wardrobes. Despite the industry trying to sell us the benefit of perennial suiting, the sophisticated dresser will always have a good amount of seasonal clothing to call upon. For autumn and into even cooler months, this should include a healthy amount of flannel and tweed.
Tweed is a wonderful fabric that allows even the most conservative gentleman to have a little colour in their clothing. The home of tweed is Scotland, and the name itself derives from a misreading of the word ‘tweel’ (the Gaelic word for twill) by a clerk at a London cloth merchant on a delivery from a mill in Hawick. It was an understandable mistake: the river Tweed was only a few miles from the mill in the Scottish borders. Future orders for tweed were not corrected, and the name stuck. Tweed was the cloth of choice for the fashionable 19th-century sporting activities of shooting and fishing. The thick, coarse yarns produced garments that were hardwearing and in colours that could blend into the surroundings. Private estates would commission their own tweeds to be worn by the ghillies, keepers and stalkers. These designs often contained variations of windowpanes, shepherd’s checks and houndstooth patterns. Perhaps the most famous of these ‘glen checks’ is the Glenurquhart check of the Seafield estate in Inverness-shire. It was greatly admired by the son of Queen Victoria, the future Edward VII, while hunting there, and he used the design to create his own ‘Prince of Wales’ check. Unlike that other Scottish woollen — tartan — estate tweeds are geographical in nature, and whoever owns the land has the right to the cloth. There is some snobbery as to whether the tweed should be worn by the ‘laird’ or if it should be considered a form of servant’s livery. Donegal tweed is woven on the east coast of Ireland and is famous for its flecks of colour in the salt and pepper design and used to be entirely woven by hand. Harris tweed is woven in the Outer Hebrides, on the islands of Lewis and Harris, and is still produced on handlooms. Both cloths have a lot of character, are incredibly versatile, and have been used extensively in upholstery and accessories. For this autumn/winter, The Rake has collaborated with Harris Tweed Hebrides on an exclusive dark green windowpane cloth that is inspired by the Hebridean landscape. Walker Slater, an Edinburgh-based contemporary tweed specialist, has used the cloth for a sports jacket, which will be available from October*.
A traditional tweed item of tailoring was the hacking jacket designed for informal horse riding. They are a high-buttoning, single-breasted coat, long in the body with a deep centre-vent and aggressively slanted side-pocket and a smaller ticket-pocket on the right-hand side. The pockets have deep flaps, and this feature is sometimes extended to the chest pocket. The hacking jacket is cut with a high armhole, waist suppression and has a full skirt to afford the rider maximum comfort. This hourglass silhouette is particularly flattering, and the hacking jacket became quite fashionable in post-war England for the young man about town. The iconic image of Sean Connery in Goldfinger resting against his Aston Martin DB5, or Roger Moore as the Saint with his Volvo P1800, both feature the iconic tweed jacket. In an era when most working men would own only one or two suits, the luxury of a separate jacket for off-duty wear was a sign of affluence and sophistication. They still look cool today when worn with a roll-neck sweater, slim wool trousers, Chelsea boots and a knotted scarf at the neck.
The Norfolk jacket was designed for shooting game and has a box-pleated back and an easier fit, which allows the wearer greater movement in the field, while the generous bellowed side-pockets will carry an ample supply of cartridges. The waist of the jacket is usually belted (either half or full) and they can usually be buttoned to the neck. Of course, all these features are a boon to the seasoned sportsmen. The wonderful models created by Lucan exclusively for The Rake are made of traditional tweeds but updated with a technical finish that repels moisture and dirt. They also boast suede shoulder patches (on both sides) with recoil pads underneath, but these can be removed to make the garment lighter, and you have the ideal cool-weather travel garment. It repels liquids and has plenty of pockets. It can also be very stylish if you can avoid looking like Basil Fawlty. For urban environments, wear with dark jeans and suede chukka boots or loafers rather than putty-coloured cavalry twills and a flat cap. And don’t mention the war.
Flannel started its sartorial life as a summer cloth worn for cricket, tennis and cycling. The original woollen flannel was woven in the west of England, and while it is rarely seen in the warmer months it is the most useful of winter trouser fabrics. Unlike clear-cut worsted and serges, flannel has a textured, raised finish that is the epitome of casual elegance. The iconic flannel colour is grey and it is woven in the widest range of shades. Fox Brothers of Somerset are famous all over the world for their flannels; they produce cloths in modern lightweights and traditional heavyweights. Like tweed, the best flannels are created using a melange of tones, and mills will combine yarns in ecru, grey and charcoal to create the desired hue. Fox are well known for their sepia-toned, yellowish shade of grey, which is sometimes affectionately referred to as “urine soaked” and can be recognised at 20 paces. Grey flannels can be worn with jackets of any colour or texture. The designer and menswear authority Alan Flusser suggests that, “Should you be considering a new sport jacket and are having difficulty visualising with a medium grey trouser, move on”. As well as sports jackets, grey flannels can be paired with knitwear, suede blousons and cotton field coats. They are as versatile as the blue jean and significantly more elegant.
Vitale Barberis Canonico, the luxury Italian mill, produce flannels in a range of shades. They produce a lighter-weight worsted flannel that is ideal for businesswear and a heavier, more rustic, woollen version. Woollen cloths use thicker yarns that have not been combed and have bags of character.
A flannel suit is an elegant option for winter and a necessity in the wardrobe of the well-dressed gentleman. Bespoke tailors love to work with quality wool flannel, and a mid-toned plain colour allows the cut and the quality of their work to shine through. The soft roll of the lapel, the roping of the sleevehead and the fullness in the chest are all accentuated by the richness of the cloth. Fred Astaire was the master of the grey flannel suit; it complemented his elegant, easy style.
So many designs really come alive when executed in the soft woollen. Houndstooths and glen checks look less harsh, as the contrasting shades are blended together, and a chalkstripe pattern actually resembles the faint lines of the tailor’s chalk. Ralph Lauren is a master of the flannel suit and has taught us how they can be dressed down. Simply substitute your shirt for a cashmere roll-neck and a pair of tobacco reverse-calf shoes and you have nailed smart-casual simply and elegantly.
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