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Fabric Focus

Twill herringbone is marked by a pattern that has seen practical and aesthetic applications for millennia


The allure of herringbone is evident given its usage in everything from shirts and shoe treads to wallpaper and parquet flooring.

As its name suggests, this pattern was almost certainly inspired by the skeletons of herring fish, whose bones are arranged in an aesthetically pleasing series of obtuse angles. Herringbone artefacts have been discovered all over the world: horsehair fabrics from ancient Ireland, textiles from first-century Pompeii and ancient Egyptian jewellery.

During Classical antiquity, it was most prominently used in building roadways throughout the Roman Empire and, to a lesser extent, walls and hearths. Opus spicatum, or ‘spiked work’, denoted the kind of masonry whereby Romans arranged bricks or stones in a herringbone pattern on top of a gravel base. Roads built this way absorbed the impact of heavy traffic, with any need for frequent repairs so pre-empted that many of them have survived to this day. One example is the paving at Trajan’s Market in Rome, built around the beginning of the second century CE.

Appearances of the herringbone pattern dramatically declined with the fall of the Roman Empire, before re-emerging during the Italian Renaissance. Filippo Brunelleschi notably used it when layering bricks to reinforce the dome of the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (aka the Duomo), whose completion in 1436 marked that of the cathedral itself following more than 140 years of painstaking construction.

But, as mentioned, herringbone fabrics are also nothing new. In fact, one of the oldest extant articles featuring the pattern is a pair of outer leggings found preserved in permafrost in the Italian-Austrian Alps in 1992. Discovered alongside some other garments including shoes, stockings and another pair of leggings, it was dated to about 500-800 BCE.

To call herringbone garments classic might, then, be putting it lightly. Today, herringbone fabrics are usually made from wool (mostly for the winter), light cotton, linen, or combinations thereof. Twill herringbone features all the great qualities of any twill weave. It’s warm, it drapes nicely and it shines with a subtle lustre.

Coming in either pale blue or white, our Formal Twill Herringbone shirts are made from 100 per cent cotton. With a similar weave to regular twill, an alternating diagonal texture produces a repeating “W” effect like a subtly broken zig zag; the pattern sometimes referred to as a broken weave twill. In spite of its relaxed finish, a certain degree of sophistication is conveyed by the sense of detail discernible in the herringbone pattern itself. The fabric is soft yet, much like Roman masonry, sturdy.