Tweedy fabrics have resurfaced in the world of men's fashion. The timing seems right, as men of the '90s become secure and comfortable with warm and fuzzy feelings as well as fabrics. For a while there, the man of style had to choose between two tough camps. He could turn himself out as a slicked-up banker or hard-shelled biker -- difficult roles, for the sensible man looks for comfort rather than aggression in his wardrobe. There was that relaxed option of jeans and sweater, but something in this fall's fashion air has men looking for something different for easy-dressing days.
Enter tweeds. American fashion consciousness has too long linked leather elbow patches and nubby jackets with den-bound academics stalking the library stacks. It's baffling. In the British Isles, where just about every variation on tweed was invented, tweed is the fabric of the rugged outdoors. Think of huntsmen and gamekeepers and grooms looking to the horses and hounds. Not a life for sissies. Think of Lady Chatterley, who found coarser fabrics deliciously manly. There is a life of rugged ease beyond denim.
Menswear designers have rediscovered the appeal of tweeds and are cutting them in styles for working chaps as well as the squires of city condos.
But tweed doesn't have to carry the fusty English gentry connotation it once had, says Larry Hotz, spokesman for Donna Karan Men. "There's something out there in tweed for everybody, unlike the all-black artsy funereal look we've been seeing. You can be Professor Higgins or a huntsman.
Tweeds can look British or American or even Italian," he says, citing the new intensely vibrant tweeds which have been shown by Gianni Versace. "There are so many variations in tweeds and there's a whole new world of people, a whole new segment of society who are realizing that there are many tasteful ways tweed can be put together."
But there's the rub. Now that tweeds are back, men whose fabric vocabulary is limited to worsted and denim may have to learn how to weave some new textures into their wardrobe conversation.
Roughly defined, tweeds are nubby fabrics made of coarse yarns, usually wool, although some modern weaves may blend silks or other luxury hairs. Tweeds may be plaid, checked or plain and woven in a twill, plain or herringbone weave in weights suitable for coats, jackets and suits.
Tweeds have a wiry or hairy surface and a soft texture which may be the result of a blend of varying fibers and colors. The industry attributes a "loftier" finish to tweed, meaning the surface fibers seem to stand up and the fabric itself has a depth of color and quality that is not possible in a tight, flat weave.
That's what gives tweeds a new appeal. "Many of my customers already have a wardrobe of basic weights and colors," says Eddie Steinberg of J. S. Edwards Ltd. "They have the blazers and city suits, but tweeds move them into a different school of style, relaxed but natty."
That's another plus for tweed. The fabric does not lend itself to sharp creases and rigid tailoring so tweeds, by their very nature, are ideally suited to the looser fits and soft tailoring of today's fashion direction.
The workplace has relaxed dress codes, yet tweeds have the sophistication to make a man feel pulled together without sacrificing comfort. That's because tweeds mold themselves to the personality of the wearer and tend to require less maintenance than city-slicker fabrications -- virtually no fussing with creases and little smudges.
But low maintenance doesn't mean less style. Again it's traditional British tailoring that gets the best cuts from a bolt of tweed. There are belted and pleated Norfolk jackets, roomy barn coats with patch pockets and jaunty high-buttoned vests -- the entire spectrum of the tailor's inventiveness.
Tweed doesn't have to mean full country gentleman regalia," says Arnold Borenstein, director of men's fashion for Hecht's. "A touch of tweed in cap, vest or jacket is enough to soften up a city suit," he says, "and for weekends, tweeds work easily with knits, corduroys and denim."
Now, call out the fashion hounds.