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The British National Costume: Of Tweed and Tension

by Kelsey Erin McClellan

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A phenomenological inquiry of the islands of Lewis and Harris provides a foundation for the cloth that is made there, which in tag and reputation conveys its relationship to “place.” Tweed is a cloth historically born out of place-based tensions, which express themselves socially and materially in the vehicle of this woven proxy. Using Harris Tweed as a primary case study, this tension is addressed in a narrative examination of insiders and outsiders to conclude that the fabric of tweed—as well as the nationalisms, social fabric, and industry so iconic to it—is constructed with contrasts and differences, and not in spite of them. This examination proves relevant to tweed’s historic role as “British National Costume,” especially in light of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and the 2016 Brexit vote.

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