Paul Galvin: Time for tweed
Embrace your inner country squire, says Paul Galvin
Published 12/03/2011 | 05:00
Tweed. For some reason, when I think of tweed, I immediately think of George from 'Glenroe'. You remember George? a man of impeccable sartorial nous. Nature lover, art lover, tweed lover. Surely the first, foremost, original and best champion of tweed this country has ever known?
Tweed cap, tweed waistcoat, tweed blazer -- even his moustache was made of tweed. What a fine tache that was. It wasn't so much a handlebar as a whole bike. For some reason, as a young fella, I never missed 'Glenroe' on a Sunday night at 8.30pm to watch the goings-on between Biddy and Miley, Dick and Mary, Dinny and Stephen.
And, of course, there were the greyhounds. More of them anon. George and Shirley were the out-of-towners. George was a little different. Terribly well spoken. English, you know. Awfully nice chap. Sprightly and positively brimming with good form. Nothing got this moustachioed man of means down.
Now that I think about it, Dinny was fond of a bit of tweed too, as was Stephen. 'Glenroe' reflected what Irish society wore, I suppose, and in the mid-1980s tweed was certainly in vogue. My dad has lots of tweed caps. He says Dinny was his style icon.
I didn't think I knew much about tweed but, once I thought about it, I realised I know quite a bit. And so I should -- I'm a country boy. Reared on the edge of a forested bog I was.
Irish and Scottish tweed can be made using bog heather. Hence the purples, greens and rusty colours that you sometimes see in tweed patterns. Herringbone and chevron are very popular tweed patterns that are seen more and more on the catwalks. Then you have plain or check tweed.
Paul Costelloe, the daddy of all Irish designers, featured tweed aplenty in his autumn/winter collection at London Fashion Week to much acclaim. I don't wear it much, but around my way it's very much part of the daily dress. Particularly at a certain time of year.
Tweed is not just worn by Prince Charles and the horsey set. Within a few miles of my house in Lixnaw there are three coursing meetings, Lixnaw, Abbeydorney and Ballyduff. Now, I'm not a coursing fan. I went once as a young fella and saw a few hares meet their maker and never went back. What I also saw on my day out was tweed.
If there's one thing you can be sure of at a coursing meeting, besides fast greyhounds and nervous hares, it's tweed. You've never seen so much tweed in one place. Tweed socks, tweed caps, tweed jackets, tweed waistcoats, more tweed caps. What's more, I think the gents around my way love getting dressed up in their finery to watch the chase. It's even a look I love, especially since wearing some of the pieces for this shoot. Very smart and squirish, if that's even a word!
That's it -- I'm organising a best-dressed man for next year's Lixnaw coursing meeting! And why not? If the ploughing championships can have a best-dressed man, then why not the coursing festivals?
Speaking of which, the winner of best-dressed man at the National Ploughing Championships, Eoghan McDermot, aka the career doctor and a published author, happens to be a good pal of mine and is a man of impeccable dress sense. He ticked all the city-gent-meets-country-squire boxes with his outfit. Tweed blazer? Check. Tweed cap? Check. V-neck jumper with shirt and tie? Check. Smart trousers? Check.
And the coup de grâce, Hunter wellingtons? Check. Eoghan I doff my tweed cap in your direction sir! In keeping with what he wore, the country-gent look has long since moved beyond the country and into the city.
Office workers and city types are tweed lovers now because it's smart and office-appropriate, but it's also durable and water resistant, so is very wearable for a climate like Ireland's.
I must confess that of all the looks we have featured here, this tweed look was the one I was most unsure about. I don't wear it much but, then again, you have to give clothes a try, experiment. Too often, I think men just make their minds up about what clothes suit them or not and stick stringently to a look or particular shops without ever giving new looks a go. Safety first is the modus operandi.
I just thought tweed would be itchy. Uncomfortable. But I'll always give something a go. I was pleasantly surprised -- I loved it. The texture of the fabric is rough and rugged, but the quality of it is really good.
Hackett is a one-stop shop for the country-gent look, and I so wanted to buy the tweed blazer (left). The heather mixes woven through it were so intricate and the colours so subtle that the craftmanship had to be admired. That said, Hackett's Dublin outlet will cater for a younger, more urban look too, with fine tank tops and sleeveless puffas and sports jackets.
Elbow patches are a little hobby of mine and, over the years, I've had many sewn on to blazers; another reason to embrace the country gent look. This Hackett jacket had great elbow patches. They really add character.
The green army jumper I'm wearing (left) is my own. I bought it secondhand from a vintage store called Eager Beaver in Temple Bar, and it has elbow and shoulder patches.
Topman, my second home in Dublin, has the tweed and heritage look down this season. What's new? They seem to have everything down. Corduroy trousers, another staple from my youth, in rich environmental colours complement the tweed aesthetic perfectly and look great with tweed blazers.
Blazers with heather mixtures have beautiful colour patterns in dark greens, purples, burgundies and browns, which makes finding a trousers to match great fun. I loved the tangerine cords from Topman. In fact, I'm really getting into bright coloured trousers. They're so interesting and fun and can transform an outfit.
To finish off the tweed look, no squire is a true squire without a pair of brogues and a cravat. I'm a big fan of cravats, and I wore a pair of leather brogue boots from Topman. I'm wearing boots and high-tops a lot right now with my socks pulled up over my trousers. I'm not sure why, but I just like how it looks.
Brogues are class and I'm stocking up on my supplies. I love that girls are wearing brogues almost more than guys today. More brogues, please. Magee in Donegal is a famous tweed manufacturer, as is Hanly in Tipperary. This is important, as tweed is an inherently Irish entity.
It's part of our heritage, it is of the land, and its manufacture, marketing and sale are important to our economy -- this must be nurtured and protected.
Many the emigrant has left and, sadly, they still leave our land with the tweed coat on their back, identifying them every bit as much as his passport.
He carries a piece of his land with him wherever he goes. Tourists arrive here and leave with the same piece of tweed as the emigrant. That's something to be proud of.
In fact, I've just realised something. I grew up next to a forested bog. I've been to a coursing. I wore corduroy pants a lot as a youngster. I love tweed. I love elbow patches. I love cravats. I love brogues.
I am a country gent.