The Unofficial Fabric of Fall

Why tweed has been a Ralph Lauren essential since day one

Back in the late 1960s, when Ralph Lauren was starting the tie business that eventually grew into a global lifestyle brand, he would wear a tweed jacket to stand out from the pack, which favored dark suits and old-fashioned hats. “Today it’s very common,” he said in 2005. “But then it was sort of radical for a guy to wear that.”

Which is exactly why Mr. Lauren chose to wear a tweed jacket with jeans in his first ad for Saks Fifth Avenue.

In 1972, he was inspired to launch his first women’s line by a tweed riding jacket worn by his wife and muse, Ricky.

Through endless updates and upgrades, and countless campaigns, the unofficial fabric of the British Isles has remained an essential part of the Polo look. Equal parts traditional, stylish and functional, tweed plays a starring role in the Polo Ralph Lauren Fall 2015 campaign, from classic men’s hacking jackets to modern, city-friendly blazers for women that feature a cropped silhouette and a color-pop undercollar.

It’s not hard to see why. Tweed is one of the hardest-working fabrics around. Traditionally hand-spun from coarse wool, it originally protected Scottish farmers from the cold, damp climate of their native Highlands, and it has been referred to as the original moisture-wicking material. It wasn’t long before tweed’s reputation spread. A favorite among British gentry in the 1800s and early 1900s, tweed was the outerwear fabric of choice for hunting and fishing trips (just take a look at virtually any episode of Downton Abbey).

Tweed’s hard-wearing qualities have never been lost on Mr. Lauren. “Men should look masculine and rugged,” he said in 1969. “I think tweeds look great on a man.” He designed his original tweed suits with a long, lean silhouette and a natural shoulder. It was a look he envisioned for a sophisticated man with an appreciation for quality. “Battle jackets,” made with herringbone tweed, wide lapels and patch pockets, were complemented by pants in rich, heavyweight tweeds that were pleated and cuffed. The overall effect was young and polished.

  • Classically modern: An image from the fall 2015 Polo campaign. Click through the slideshow for a look at back at a few iconic moments in RL tweed.
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As his women’s collection grew, Mr. Lauren applied his signature mix of refinement with a preppy irreverence. The Fall 1977 Polo Ralph Lauren women’s collection, for example, boasted Harris Tweed suits with sable coats thrown luxuriously over the shoulders. Other iterations consisted of tweed dirndl skirts worn with cashmere sweaters and equestrian boots. The look, of course, became ultra-popular that same fall with the success of Annie Hall and Diane Keaton’s influential wardrobe in the title role, which was built from Ralph Lauren clothing.

Silhouettes have evolved since then, but tweed’s appeal remains. Click through the slideshow above for a brief visual history of tweed in the Ralph Lauren universe.
  • COURTESY OF RALPH LAUREN CORPORATION
  • COURTESY OF RALPH LAUREN CORPORATION
  • COURTESY OF RALPH LAUREN CORPORATION
  • COURTESY OF RALPH LAUREN CORPORATION
  • COURTESY OF RALPH LAUREN CORPORATION
  • PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN HAMILL