Jeans - the how, the when, the why
What is Herringbone?
Herringbone is a V-shaped zig zag pattern that is usually made from tweed/twill fabric. Some historians believe that the V-shaped pattern was developed around 500 B.C. during the Roman Empire’s construction of an expansive world-class road system called the Viae Publicae. The basic principle for the construction of this very important road was called Opus spicatum, or “spiked work”. This simple pattern of interlocking bricks creates an intensely durable and stable geometric matrix, which, in fashion design is often used symbolically to connect a modern garment to its historical predecessors. Its name derives from the pattern’s resemblance to the bones of a herring.
If, in fact, herringbone’s roots are in Rome, it is no surprise that many suits, jackets and overcoats have been created in this pattern. It has also been found in Celtic history: horsehair herringbone cloth has been found in Ireland from around 600 B.C.
How is it made?
The herringbone pattern can be woven into all fabrics or fibre combinations using a twill weave. Wool is the fabric that is most commonly used. The pattern is made by cutting and reversing alternate vertical sections of a broken twill weave. The twill diagonals are arranged into vertical columns and are staggered along the vertical line at the point where they reverse. This produces a characteristic vertical ‘break’ or ‘cut’ in the fabric.
There are two main ways in which a herringbone pattern may be produced in a woven fabric. The first is by weaving the fabric in a herringbone weave structure. The second is by using special drafting arrangements when setting up the warp for weaving; the fabric is then woven in twill weave or combination of different twill weaves, and the drafting arrangement automatically changes the direction of the twill line at regular intervals to form the herringbone pattern.
At first glance, you might look upon Herringbone as the go-faster stripe of tweed, perhaps making the wearer look a little less stolid than in your average Harris or Donegal tweed? But this would not reflect the inherent stability of the pattern and its durable and reliable heritage. It’s hard to imagine Romans using herringbone as a fabric for high viz togas whilst toiling over their great arterial viae. The Celts probably made more use of the fabric in sturdy, durable outerwear.
That reliable, conservative element means that herringbone as a fabric for sportswear and suiting has frequently been chosen by politicians (Ronald Reagan, for example) to accentuate that I’ve been around for a long time look. But it has also been adapted by (especially) menswear designers to appeal to a younger, less conservative market, and has broken away from the traditional black on grey colour combination.
Herringbone is elegant and reassuring at the same time. A person wearing herringbone is a person you can trust. Is this because they are persons who can afford lined trousers, or can otherwise deal with chafing? Hmm.
On my first date with the handsome lad who, reader, I married, he was wearing flared herringbone trousers in shades of donkey brown and beige, with a small back belt to nip the fabric in around his neat buttocks. This was a blind date, but the trousers won me over immediately, paired as they were with a very pale pink shirt. We went to a pub on Canvey Island and I was charmed by the chevron pattern on his thighs and by his stories of a childhood in South Wales.