Even though I live in a warm climate, I’m always delighted by fall and winter which together connote the emergence of the best pieces from our closets. Autumn may entail a visible evolution into winter with foliage changing colors and the sky growing evermore dreary – for better or for worse – but wardrobes rarely change too egregiously; there is a subtle shift in weather, but it’s simply from one cold season into a colder one. Tweed, corduroy, moleskin, wool flannel find their rightful places during this time, especially sport coats which no longer serve just a professional purpose, instead they now function with with the vitally important utility of staying warm. And what better jacket is there than one made from herringbone tweed, especially when one wants to dress well AND keep from freezing?
Herringbone to me has always conjured up old photographs of scholarly professors, wooded offices, and well-worn oxford button downs. Some find this image somewhat authoritative and far too stuffy, but I surely don’t. Herringbone is casual. It’s warm. It’s utilitarian. It isn’t simply for the erudite, it’s for the youthful (not only in age, but at heart) and stylish; a great majority of young students on college and prep school campuses wore wool herringbone jackets throughout the early to mid 20th century for a reason.
In a way, it’s the true antithesis to the concept of “fad.” As an ultimately historic pattern, its semi-contemporary roots stem from use in the English country, very much like many other menswear items and patterns (moleskin cloths and cuffs on trousers come to mind). It grew even more popular during the early 20th century, becoming an unmistakable American staple and further embedding itself in the iconic annals of the “Ivy League” look.
It’s perfectly rustic, hardy, and warm, and the colors are often muted enough to wear with anything. If the jacket ends up being more vibrant, the texture and pattern inevitably subdue the color enough to keep the piece respectably sober. Herringbone also creates an interested dynamic when worn with variously patterned shirts and ties; the additional texture from the herringbone tweed creates the perfect juxtaposition with variously textured fabrics like oxford or flannel, or patterns like plaids, checks or stripes, exhibiting, for lack of a better term, a sartorial dialectic.
And as one can glean from the two photos above, the most versatile of all herringbone patterns is that of charcoal and light gray. Worn with gray flannels, tan chinos, brown cords, dark blue jeans… you really can’t go wrong with this most traditional and storied colored combination.
While I’ve found it much harder to find quality and appropriate warm weather jackets, excellent herringbone tweeds are far more abundant. Southwick offers an efficient and economic MTM program where you can choose from a range of fabrics and cuts – the best of which is the “Douglas” sack model. I’ve lamented the current state of Brooks’ Brothers in a few posts in the past, but this jacket isn’t all that bad. I also love this one from J.Press (you can get a glimpse of it in the photo below) and O’Connell’s offers another great alternative that’s possibly my favorite of these recommendations. More affordable options can be purchased from Lands’ End and Orvis. The vintage route is too very useful – I currently have an abundance of herringbone tweeds in my Etsy shop.
Maybe the best thing about wearing a herringbone tweed jacket during the winter is its durability and long-lasting nature, despite the added wear that comes with repeated use during the cold, as well as the wind, snow, and rain that can beat it down. Its long-established use and seasoned nature has not only allowed it to last the test of time, but a good herringbone tweed jacket may literally outlast you!