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The Rise of Tweed Ski Suits

A quick scan of the queue at any Alpine ski lift, or at the bottom of any mountain run, will confirm that synthetic is king when it comes to skiwear: and that’s not a big surprise. When it comes to comfort and safety anyone would want to choose the most modern option available. And while the past often has a lot to teach us, most people aren’t eager to return to the days of hand pumped water and washboards, so why should your skiwear be any different? Synthetic fibres overtook the world in the 1950s, and it’s true that they offered a lot of improvements over the status quo of natural fabrics that had dominated since before recorded history. They are cheaper, easier to manufacture by machine, faster to make and all in a form that offers decent performance against bad weather. But what if you want better?

The History of Tweed Suits

When Ernest Shackleton took his fateful voyage to the Antarctic, managing to return after nearly three years stranded on the seas around the frozen continent, it was while wearing a suit made from natural rather than synthetic fibres. The voyage began in 1914, so of course his custom-made Tweed snowsuit was the height of the available technology at the time, but there are some good reasons why a modern day Shackleton might wear similar gear even in this day and age. Tweed clothing originated from a material called Tweel, created by weavers in the north of Scotland to keep fishermen and kelp cutters warm and dry in the often bitter cold. It spread to the fashionable rich as sportswear through their ghillies and groundskeepers, who had already discovered its amazing properties, and was renamed Tweed for the English market. 

Regardless of how they came upon it, people from paupers to princes relied on Tweed to protect their lives at work or at play, as a result of its remarkable ability to insulate the wearer against the cold and wet while also remaining breathable and light enough to wear for long periods of time. Made in the traditional way on the Isle of Harris or in a select few other locations, the various patterns of Tweed all share a distinctive pattern of diagonal ribs, most often woven in a Twill or Herringbone pattern: This style of tight and close weaving helps to ensure that there aren’t gaps or seams that will allow moisture to penetrate the garment, keeping water away from the skin and preventing it from sapping away heat. But despite its ability to keep the moisture away, Tweed is also remarkable for its flexible and breathable structure, which moves with the wearer even during vigorous activity and allows body heat and sweat to be wicked off the skin. As tweed became more popular, designers began creating men and women's tweed suits.

The Evolution of Tweed

It was practically a miracle material in 1914, but surely we’ve come a little further since then, and the plastic revolution has left Tweed behind? It’s true that there are lots and lots of waterproof fabric out there these days, and you have plenty of choice when it comes to the many synthetic options on the market, but a lot of that technology goes out of the window when extreme cold is involved. Skiing is a particularly harsh environment for your clothes because of all the many contrasts it can experience in a short period of time: The base of the run is often located in a colder and more sheltered area with deeper snow, but the mountain peak can often be quite hot when it’s bathed in sunlight, as many a sunburnt skier will attest. Similarly skiers can be hot and dry one minute, covered in freezing snow the next, then soaked by meltwater soon after, and their clothes have to keep up and perform well in all these different conditions.

There are synthetic fabrics that can cope with all of these scenarios individually, radiating heat in the sun or keeping off the water in the rain, but there are none that can manage all of them in quick succession like Tweed can. Neoprene is great for keeping the water off, but it’s hopelessly sweaty and clammy if you work up a bit of a sweat. Polyester is nice and breatheable, but it’s hopeless in the wet, while acrylic is nice and warm but just as bad as Neoprene when it comes to breathability. While all of these synthetic materials work well in their niche, the kind of extreme conditions you’ll experience when skiing are best dealt with using natural fabrics like Tweed that can do it all.

Tweed Ski Suits at Barrington Ayre

While the past was a big inspiration when we created our first Tweed ski suit, we ended up going back to the drawing board, using Shackleton’s own suit as a base while introducing new elements to create the perfect skiwear. We added to that the traditional mountaineering gear worn by Mallory on his Everest ascent, as well as the lessons of skiers and climbers from more recent times, to create something that is at once deeply traditional and highly contemporary. Having made countless examples for everyone from mountaineers to casual slope safaris we’ve learned a thing or two about how it’s done, adding extras like modern ventile linings to further increase waterproofing and breathability to take the Tweed’s natural properties to another level.

If you’re looking out for another option on your next visit to the slopes, looking backwards rather than forwards could be the best choice for you. With proven abilities to solve a lot of the daily problems skiers will encounter, from overheating to getting wet, Tweed can do everything synthetic fibres can and more. It’s even got much better environmental credentials than synthetic materials, being made from environmentally friendly materials that are grown naturally rather than made in a factory, so there are even more reasons to choose Tweed. Made 100% bespoke to you so that it fits your measurements, body shape and gait perfectly, the Tweed ski suits here at Barrington Ayre are the ideal solution for staying comfortable on the slopes in a way that’s perfectly designed around you.

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