By: Dr. Ben W. McClelland
Different colors of tweed
Most contemporary American sport hunters wear clothing that’s colored in variousshades of green and brown and patterned with leaves and black tree bark. Our preference of hunting clothes style—camouflage—comes from the military’s ages-old method of protecting personnel from detection by the enemy. A visit to Bass Pro Shops, Mossy Oak, or Cabela’s reveals the varieties of the today’s “in look” for outdoor wear: a bulky, camo winter coat with a hood and trousers to match.
As surprising as it may seem, tweed once reigned as the signature camouflage for any respectable sport hunter. How did that come about? Through a long and intriguing history, only the highlights of which I’ll outline.
According to “Tweed Guide,” “tweed emerged in Scotland and Ireland as a way for the farmers there to battle the chilly, damp climate that characterizes those parts. Tweed began as a hand-woven, rugged fabric, resistant to wind and water with excellent insulating properties. The cloth was rough, thick, and felted and the colors were muted and earthy.”
In 1848 Prince Albert bought the Scottish estate of Balmoral and when the foundation stone of Balmoral Castle was laid in 1853 he designed the Balmoral Tweed for use—as camouflage—by all the stalkers and ghillies on the estate. Many of the English aristocracy followed the Royals, buying estates for grouse shooting, deerstalking and salmon fishing. Balmoral Tweed was predominantly grey with overchecks of red and black the background contains threads of black and white yarns twisted together to achieve the appearance of the rough hewn granite so familiar in Royal Deeside.
British tweed was ideal for sportswear for a 19th and early 20th-century gentleman due to its hardwearing qualities. The English gentry quickly adopted tweed for outdoor wear on their country estates, but it wasn’t until King Edward VII took an interest in tweed, particularly the Glenurquhart tweed, when he brought the cloth to Savile Row, that it really became popular. (Tweed)
The word tweed was not derived from the River Tweed, although the cloth was manufactured in the Tweed Valley. Tweed is usually made by a variation of the basic twill weave, and the old Scottish name for twill was tweel. The name tweed is attributed to a mistake on the part of a London clerk who in 1826, when drafting an order or invoice for tweels, accidentally wrote tweeds, a name that quickly established itself. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
The wide range of modified twill weaves in use includes herringbones, diamonds,
Wildrose Teton Valley (picture by Chris Dickinson)
chevrons, cross twills, and checks, along with an even more extensive variety of stripe, marl, fleck, and mingled heather effects in many tones and hues. The counts of the yarns and the twist and colours employed vary greatly, as do the ends and picks in warp and weft, or filling. Technical advances in dyeing raw stock, yarns, and fabrics, together with new techniques in finishing, have resulted in a wide variety of stable and hard-wearing apparel cloths made in different weights. (Encyclopedia Brittanica)
A lot of skilled fabric designing went into developing tweed as an effective camouflage fabric. As the “Tweed Guide” explains,
Sporting tweeds were developed as a form of indigenous camouflage to help hunters blend into the landscape particular to individual hunting estates. Color combinations were optimized to find the most effective combinations. For instance, one local weaver produced eight color variations for the Strathconon Estate before enlisting hunters to prove which was least visible. Tweed’s estate sporting background is the primary reason we have so many variations of patterns and colors today. (“Tweed Guide”)
One of the old traditions of the Highlands was that the chiefs provided some clothing for their retainers in the clan tartan. As ownership of Scottish estates changed, new tenants and owners wanted to follow this tradition but they had no “right” to wear a tartan. The story goes that the first Estate Tweed was “born” when General Balfour of Balbirnie rented the Glenfeshie Estate between 1834 and 1841, the General’s daughter was “disturbed because she had no tartan.” So she designed a check, based on the Shepherd check, the traditional tweed of the Border shepherds, but with a scarlet overcheck. She felt that this gave her a “tartan” for her staff, which the ghillies and keepers all wore right into recent history. This check later developed into the Gun Club checks.
However, there was another reason for the creation of estate tweeds, and that was the need to blend in with the background of the mountain and moor to provide a camouflage for the stalkers when they were on the hill when pursuing the red deer of Scotland. (Tweed)
Also around the same time, Lord Elcho created his tweed for the new London Scottish Regiment. He felt it wrong that soldiers should be wearing so conspicuous a colour as bright scarlet, and had this idea of camouflage in mind as a solution. This tweed, commonly known as the “Elcho mixture,” led onto the khaki uniform now worn in many versions everywhere. (Tweed)
For some hunters today, tweed is still seen as the preferred hunting attire—specifically, a tweed jacket (or blazer), flat cap, checked shirt and a tie, and breeks (short pants that fasten below the knee).
Admittedly, some social class structure is suggested by a comparison of contemporary hunting camouflage and traditional hunting attire. And perhaps because of mass marketing, camo is ubiquitous, while tweeds are less so.
Loader at Blixt & Co, Wildrose Teton Valley (picture by Chris Dickinson)
A writer in the “Gentleman’s Gazette,” views this as a regretful style choice: “Unfortunately for the dapper gentleman, shooting apparel has dwindled in the same sense that men stopped wearing slacks and blazers in the 50s and 60s and reverted to sweatpants and hoodies as being the socially acceptable attire for a day out. However, there is a contingent of us still who enjoy dressing for the event, and there’s no reason we can’t wear traditional country attire for a day of shooting. Any man who claims you won’t have a successful hunt should be reminded that camo has been used for just a few decades whereas men have been successfully hunting in elegant attire since the Romans.”
Actually, as the popularity of upland hunting grows, so does the appearance of traditional dress—svelte in tweed. Moreover, recently aired English historical period dramas, such as “Downton Abbey,” have also spawned greater interest in traditional hunting plaids.
American upland hunting destinations—which offer pheasant, partridge, and quail hunting—draw clients to the sport and to the traditional style of hunting dress.
For example, Idaho-based Blixt & Co. offers premier, traditional, driven pheasant and partridge shooting, as its website says, bringing “a long-held English tradition to the majestic American West.”
In giving advice to its clients, Blixt & Co. suggests traditional dress:
It is important to come prepared and dress for the shoot. Each shoot is different, but it is best to bring clothing that will keep you comfortable, warm and dry, with an eye to earthy colors and NO CAMMO or BLAZE. Driven Shooting attire should not be confused with duck hunting gear. Tweeds, wools and earthen colors are expected and you should avoid bright colors that will flare the birds. Blaze orange is required for upland or walk up hunting but should be avoided on a driven shoot as the birds flying overhead can see it and will quickly divert their course.
In addition to considering the weather, make sure that you can comfortably mount your gun and that you are not impeded by what you are going to wear.
A traditional Tweed Shooting Suit usually consists of the following: Breeks, Long socks with flashes, Shooting Vest, Sport Jacket, and a Field Coat or other outerwear. Additionally matching or coordinating trousers can be included. You certainly don’t have to wear all of this, but if you are asked to dress traditionally, consider what you pack. You should also ask your host how formal dinners will be. On some English and Scottish Estates you are expected to wear black tie. (Blixt & Co.)
Blixt & Co. give much more detailed advice for Ladies Field Fashion. Owing to Jennifer Magnusson’s keen eye for ladies’ traditional hunting dress, she opens the section, “Notes,” in a pleasantly conversational style, saying, “Like you I am always looking for inspiration, great fitting items that I can add to my collection and advice from other women.” Jennifer continues, encouraging the clients to interact, “I use Pintrest a lot. You can check out my pins here! I also encourage you to share with me, your favorite items, where to buy, new brands and designers and I will share them here.” In the ensuing multi-page section, “Guidelines for Etiquette & Dress” presents four distinct style “Looks,” each one including a picture of the style described.
Hunters interested in traditional hunting attire can also look to Leonard Logsdail, of True Bespoke Tailors, New York & London. Logsdail presents a full line of traditional hunting dress for the high-end client. Dubbed “Logsdail Classic,” this ensemble includes a classically tailored collection of traditional hunting attire. In a series of YouTube Videos Leonard Logsdail presents each piece of clothing—showing the precise attention to functional detail in the design of each piece, including Game Shooter Vest, Field Coat, Sportsman Jacket, Gentleman Jacket, Poacher Jacket, Breeks, Gentleman Trousers, Cavalry Trousers, and Rake Trousers.
Viewing the videos, one can learn some interesting facts about bespoke tailoring—as well as some intriguing details about furtive hunting practices. For example, Logsdail appears to delight in demonstrating a large interior pocket sewn inside the lining of the Poacher Jacket. The pocket was designed so that a poacher could hide a hare from the game warden. A strap extends from the armpit to the top edge of the pocket in order to hold the weight of the hare, preventing the jacket from bulging and revealing its illegal contents.
Coincidentally, Leonard Logsdail was a recent Wildrose Workshop participant. In addition, the Wildrose Trading Company stocks his stylish necktie that features the Wildrose puppy-with-bumper logo.
Style choices for hunting attire will continue to trend towards hunters’ personal preferences and type of hunting activity. No doubt, more folks will sport contemporary camouflage; nevertheless, it’s heartening to see that tweed continues to make a resurgence, giving sporting men and women other functional and stylish options for outdoor clothing.
Works Cited & Consulted
Blixt & Co. Sporting Days
British Country Clothing
British Tweed – The Story: 14th October 2016, In “Fabric, Secrets & Know-How,” Tweed
Country Clothes & Odd Jackets
Gentlemanly Pursuits: Hunting and Shooting Attire
Hunting, Riding & Shooting Suits from the 1930’s
Informal Country Style: Apparel Arts 1938
Leonard Logsdail, A short Interview
- Bruce Boyer, Len Logsdail, Part II
Logsdail Classic, a classically tailored collection of traditional hunting attire. YouTube
Nigel Carville, conversation, May 28, 2018. Wildrose Kennels, Oxford, MS. Since 1999 Wildrose has had a relationship with Nigel Carville, Astraglen Kennels, Portadown, N. Ireland. On a recent visit to the Oxford kennels he provided helpful insights for this article.