The History of Tweed and Fieldsports
When we think of shooting there are some things that come to mind almost instantly. Working dogs, Land Rover Defenders and tweed. While the first two serve a clear purpose, many may wonder why tweed has stuck around. Considering modern advancements in waterproof fabric, Wool seems an odd choice but there’s a deep history that we can’t forget.
Tweed was first used in Scotland in the 18th century, made from wool and coloured to match local topography. This is what would now consider rudimentary camouflage. Used by gamekeepers and Hunters to blend into the environment and at the time offer them the best waterproofing. As far back as 1826, “tweel” was being transported to London as a fabric for clothing. Over the next century, the fabric became synonymous with country sports and later fashion. In 1853 Prince Albert ordered the first Estate tweed for his gamekeepers. From here on we see many other Landowners establish their own patterns exclusive to their estate. By the end of the 20th century, we see it adopted by fashion houses and trickle down into consumer clothing and even cars! A little fact that some may know, tweed was used during the first ascent of Everest.
In history tweed was worn out of practicality, now we wear it out of respect. Much of shooting boils down to History and tradition and tweed is a cornerstone of this. To dress in tweed with a shirt and tie is a symbol of respect to the quarry you’ll shoot that day. It acknowledges the work of the keepers before you arrived to shoot. Keeping this tradition acknowledges that this is more than a sport but instead a lifestyle. While tweed might not be the most practical garment is encompasses the same values as using an over and under or side by side.
The Shooting Connection
While originally used by Gamekeepers as everyday workwear, guns quickly adopted tweed. The fabric was initially function over form but it didn’t take long for style and unique colours to be introduced. As the importance of camouflage diminished with driven shooting, personal flair took over. As with all styles, some guns wished to stand out more than others and tweed was perfect. Harris Tweed currently produces 150 different options with plenty of scope for personal touches. Campbells of Beauly currently manufactures garments for over 20 estates across the UK. With colours varying from dark green to teal blue, these colours represent the intricate landscapes. Costal estates might look towards pale colours while inland estates may need something darker.
For the Gun, the pattern is all down to personal preference. While some Patterns and colours represent the quarry it would take an astute eye to tell them apart. The pattern will offer you little difference in terms of durability so choose what you think looks best. However, there are some pitfalls with picking certain patterns that you may not realise until too late. I made the mistake of buying tweed breeks in a specific colour but not the jacket. That pattern and colour is now discontinued meaning no jacket. It’s a pricey endeavor to have the fabric made to create just one jacket. If you find a tweed you like and aren’t likely to change size do your utmost to get the set at the same time.
Tweed is exceptionally warm yet supple enough to be comfortable for a full day shooting. With the tight weave, the water stays on the outside and takes a good amount of time to soak through to the skin. In more recent times we have seen tweed breeks using Gortex linings to change this. Brands like Musto have taken their sailing expertise and improved the functionality of tweed. These modern additions allow Breeks to remain as authentic as possible without compromising functionality. Without the trade off there no need to wrap up in a typical waterproof layer. While the lining will keep you dry, the woolen exterior can become saturated with water. Wearing a waxed jacket and tweed breeks often leads to soggy breeks as the water runs straight onto them. Luckily, we now have plenty of waterproof tweed jackets to complement breeks.
For almost 200 years tweed has been synonymous with fieldsports. From the first keepers requiring practical clothing to the modern shot looking the part. In this period its trickled down into everyday fashion and homewares. Much like the wood burning stoves in an old pub, there’s a rustic authenticity to it all. There is little reason as to why this would change, modern tweed is waterproof, breathable and comfortable. Will we still be wearing tweed in 100 years? I really hope so. Much of shooting is about a community spirit, and tweed plays a huge part in that.