The fabric has utilitarian roots and elegant connotations—neither of which has been lost in its recent cultural resurgence
Tweed has been synonymous with wealth and status ever since Coco Chanel introduced the two-piece set in the 1920s. Karl Lagerfeld bolstered its significance until his death in 2019. It was a staple for cultural heroines Jackie Kennedy and Princess Diana. When Lagerfeld was appointed creative director of Chanel in 1983, he made slight changes to the house’s signature. His suits were punk-style tweed, paired with bright neon tweed bralettes. Tweed was—and in some ways, still is—an emblem of sophistication and class.
And its relevance endures. Tweed still decorates the recent collections of many contemporary designers; take for example Bora Aksu’s tweed lapel detailed double-breasted blazer, and Paul and Joe’s Mazarin coat. 2023’s Met Gala—which devoted its theme to Lagerfeld—saw Anne Hathaway in a Versace tweed gown, Dua Lipa in a tweed Chanel wedding dress, and Keke Palmer in a strapless tweed Sergio Hudson number that resembled Chanel designs of the ’90s.
In recent history, it’s understood as an extravagance—but tweed’s Scottish origins are humble. Originally called tweel, it was manufactured in twill mills; the rough, woven fabric, made from wool, was originally worn by farmers and hunters in the late-1700s, offering warmth in the rainy, cold terrain. It became famous among the upper class when Prince Albert bought Balmoral Castle in Scotland, designing a unique Balmoral tweed from Balmoral tartan; it features different rations of black-and-white threads, taking on the subtle grays of Deeside granite, representing the royal family’s country digs. As tweed grew in popularity, it prompted other property owners to design their own distinct ‘estate tweeds’ to differentiate themselves during hunting expeditions. For centuries, its insulation and wind resistance protected working men and women against rural Britain’s harsh climate.
“Tweed’s newfound affordability has only further solidified its staying power, enabling a sense of luxury that supersedes socioeconomic divisions—becoming a staple in an array of wardrobes, regardless of age, wealth, or status.”
Tweed first emerged as a fashionable trend for men in the 1820s and ’30s, because figures like Sir Walter Scott—the most famous Scottish writer of his time—and Henry Brougham—Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain—highly favored bold tweed trousers as fashion accessory, rather than as a utilitarian necessity. Inspired by the fabric, Chanel feminized it with passionate colors, adding hats to match, rising to such prominence that other designers were cornered into copying the trend. It came to be known as the Chanel Uniform—cemented in a famous 1924 magazine spread of actress Ina Claire dressed in a Chanel tweed suit.
Tweed used to be expensive because of its high quality; pure wool cloth has always been a classic. Its appeal today is its versatility in source and in style: It comes in a variety of weights, weaves, and colors, making it possible for all kinds of brands to adopt it, as there is no typical iteration. Usually, tweed is named after the sheep’s wool that it’s made from, or the technique used to construct it. Harris tweed, for instance, is strictly defined: “Handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.”
Jackie Kennedy wore a pink double-breasted Haute Couture Chanel tweed suit on the day in 1963 that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. She refused to take off the blood-stained ensemble—showing the public the gruesome evidence of the murder—cementing it as a piece of history beyond the realm of fashion. Even today, the suit remains in a custom-made box at the National Archives in Maryland. It became the target of conspiracy theories around the assassination, including questions about its missing pillbox hat and its authenticity as real Chanel—ultimately, further propelling tweed’s cultural relevance.
The fabric’s enduring reputation speaks to what it represents: timeless prestige, a way of life. Its popularity is comparable to denim, but it communicates a legacy and a lifestyle that no other material can quite match. Tweed’s newfound affordability has only further solidified its staying power, enabling a sense of luxury that supersedes socioeconomic divisions—becoming a staple in an array of wardrobes, regardless of age, wealth, or status. There’s simply no escaping it.