It might seem that we wrote so much about tweed last autumn that there isn’t much left to say. And yet on the occasion of our new collection’s launch and the presentation of the sportcoats, some questions still arised - most prominently, what the hell does Barleycorn mean?
Author: Mateusz Tryjanowski
Well, in English it’s much simpler than in Polish or any other translation. You probably know that barley is just a one of many grains - but what does it have to do with tweed?
Like many names, eg. herringbone, windowpane or houndstooth, also this term was created to describe fabric’s appearance by the closest resemblance. Simple, isn’t it? I’ll just tell you that you’re lucky that you can read this part in English. If you’d only know how much I had to write there originally in Polish, trying to explain cultural differences and indirect translations…
Ok, enough, time to explain some technical stuff. Although barleycorn might seem pretty similar to birdseye at first, it is not. This weave is much more dynamic, vertically-oriented and arrow-like upward-pointing. Phew. If you were to touch it, you’d feel the texture - but not as clearly as you’d with any jacquard fabric. Technically, barleycorn is a particular hybrid of hopsack and twill with its unique design and properties.
Hey - if it’s just a weave, then barleycorn doesn’t always have to be tweed, right? Not exactly.
In practice, it is hard to find any other type of wool or other type of fiber woven in this way. Why? Probably because it is only with such a thick and "hairy" fiber that this weave makes sense and shows a visible texture. The fact that tweed is rarely uniform in color - thanks to the natural method of dyeing or even the lack of it - further enhances the effect. What on a thin worsted wool would be just a vague variation of the weave without clear practical and aesthetic advantages may turn into an intriguing pattern on a thick woollen fabric.
Unfortunately, the limitation of use to practically only one type of fabric (in addition, with a quite specific geographical origin) meant that the barleycorn weave was largely lost and disappeared from the public consciousness. Let's add that the steady decline in the popularity of tweed (between the 1960 and the 2010 production of just the Harris Tweed fell about 10 times - or by 90% if you prefer) definitely helped.
Even if someone chose tweed back when it was démodé, he or she would rather go with classics (e.g. gray herringbone), characteristic and unique patterns (big plaids with an earth-colored base), or modern versions (cold, city colors). The decline in overall demand was followed by a decline in supply, gradual narrowing of cloths’ variety and closures of weaving mills, eventually resulting in some niche patterns completely disappearing from the market along with the loss of know-how. You have to know that in the second half of the 20th century, we irretrievably lost quite a large chunk of the British weaving heritage!
In pop culture, apart from the jacket worn by James Bond (played by Sean Connery) in the film Goldfinger, it is hard to find any examples of the barleycorn tweed. It is totally overwhelmed by the sea of other (more stereotypical) patterns straight from the English Country look. Even despite the fact that the pattern - as you can clearly see - looks great, versatile and quite contemporary!
Barleycorn - too modest for tweed, too tweed-y for a modest everyday fabric? Condemned to extinction?
In our opinion, no!
Fortunately, the world of men's elegance is now reconciled with tweed and these weaving mills that have survived now care for the heritage. Moreover, some are quite successful and thriving! This currently includes Marling & Evans, a producer that stands behind this fabric that we have chosen for our collection.
It is beautiful not only thanks to its rare barleycorn weave, but also the fact that it is made of undyed wool. This is something that this manufacturer specializes in - M&E uses different colored yarns (in shades of beige and brown, ranging from light to dark) from various types of sheep, so that even without dyeing, interesting colors and patterns may be achieved on the fabric. The natural color of the wool is surprisingly cool and gray-ish, making all the shades of brown in this series appear very urban and modern. In addition to the one you can now see, selected for a sports jacket, we also chose a dark one (in a more standard weave) for a suit, which we will tell you more about another time.
Coming back - interestingly in the context of today's subject, Marling & Evans mill does not come from Scotland, but from England. More specifically, it is from the epicenter of a wool industry area, the city of Huddersfield. Despite this origin, we can certainly say that it is a true tweed, not an imitation, perhaps maybe just a bit softened and suited to modern times. It is neither overly heavy (although it cannot be called light by contemporary standards), nor itchy nor old-fashioned. This is one of the reasons why this barleycorn tweed jacket has found itself in the latest AW2020 Poszetka collection so well!
In addition, the lack of such details as leather buttons or hacking pockets makes it much closer to the archetype of a sports jacket rather than a tweed jacket. Again, this is the implementation of the Everyday Classic motto in practice: British fabric is mixed with a soft Italian cut and a pinch of Ivy League aesthetics to create a coherent and neutral whole, that will match the contents of most of your wardrobes, regardless the default style you wear.
In this context, let me also comment on the Kuba’s outfit seen in the pictures here. This is a beautiful example of how mixing styles can create something that looks cohesive even when combining elements from totally separate worlds. Depending on what we start describing the outfit from, we can get the impression that we are talking about something completely different. Tweed jacket, cords and Macclesfield tie? That’s British! Oh, tassel loafers, sartorial (forgive me that term, I don't like it myself) trousers cut and softly-constructed blazer? Italian! But wait, an OCBD shirt and white socks (say what you want, I'm a huge fan!) paired with loafers? I guess it's this famous American university style… You see!
Well, I hope that I’ve managed to show you how versatile this item is and how interesting the barleycorn tweed fabric itself may be. Good luck with your own experiments!
Meanwhile, I still have to think about whether it is worth breaking my own promises of not getting any more clothes this season just for this tempting piece…