Herringbone, named after the skeleton of the herring fish, is a popular pattern that can be seen in many sorts of applications, from road paving to wood and tile flooring to wallpaper to jewellery to textiles. In textiles, herringbone is a variation on the twill weave where the diagonal wales alternate direction every given number of warp yarns, resulting in a broken zig-zag appearance. This is not to be confused with an unbroken zig-zag weave, known as chevron.
The herringbone weave can be found all over menswear; you’ll see it on suits, sports coats, overcoats, morning coats, morning suits, shirts, ties, braces, hats, caps and scarves. The herringbone pattern can also be knitted into a sweater or polo shirt.
Though the herringbone weave is a basic and popular variation on the most common weave for a suit, the twill weave, herringbone suits are few and far between. Not even Daniel Craig’s James Bond, who costume designer Jany Temime dressed in three herringbone suits for Skyfall and Spectre, has been able to bring the herringbone suit to mainstream fashion.
The herringbone suit started for James Bond with Sean Connery in Goldfinger, when Bond wears a blue herringbone flannel suit to Q’s lab, where he first lays his eyes on the classic Aston Martin DB5. Since then, the other five James Bonds have worn herringbone suits.
There are different ways the herringbone weave can be treated for suitings. When the cloth is woven in a single colour, the herringbone effect is very subtle and creates the impression of self stripes. A suit made of such a cloth, like George Lazenby’s navy herringbone three-piece suit in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or Daniel Craig’s black herringbone three-piece suit in Spectre, is still a solid suit—not a striped suit—and can be worn the same way as any other solid suit. Hence, the solid herringbone suit is a very versatile suit. One only has to be careful not to pair it with other herringbone weaves in a similar scale.
The herringbone weave is commonly woven with different colours in the warp and the weft to emphasise the pattern in the weave. The more contrast there is in the pattern, the less formal and more sporty a suit will be. Sean Connery in You Only Live Twice and Timothy Dalton in The Living Daylights both wear worsted herringbone suits woven in black and white. Both of their suits feature the black-and-white pattern on a small enough scale to be read from a distance as grey, and the same self stripe effect seen on the solid herringbone suit can be seen here.
When in a small scale like on these two suits, the overall semi-solid effect is similar to pick-and-pick.
In tweed, the alternating herringbone pattern is done on a larger scale and is thus more obvious. Sean Connery’s brown and black tweed jacket in Diamonds Are Forever is a good example of this. The herringbone weave and pattern here creates an interesting texture for a sports coat that is still subtle and elegant enough to follow in the James Bond tradition. Though Connery only wears the large herringbone tweed in a jacket, it can also make for a versatile sports suit.
Herringbone suitings not only vary in how colour is treated but also vary in scale. The smaller variations on the herringbone weave can be called a small herringbone, narrow herringbone, mini-herringbone or mini-bone. The herringbone weave and resulting pattern is more subtle in the smaller repeat, and the perceived self stripe on these weaves is narrower.
Though herringbone suits are most often made of worsted wool, herringbone suitings can be made of almost any kind of fibre. Bond’s first herringbone suit mentioned above is a woollen flannel. In The Man with the Golden Gun, Roger Moore’s mini-herringbone suit has a sheen that suggests it’s a mohair and wool blend. In The World Is Not Enough, Pierce Brosnan’s cream herringbone suit is made of linen, and the herringbone weave prevents the linen from wrinkling as much as the standard—yet more breathable—plain weave for linen. Daniel Craig’s grey narrow herringbone track stripe suit in Spectre is made of a blend of worsted wool, silk and mohair.
Apart from suits, James Bond has worn many herringbone overcoats (like the navy Crombie-style coat in Spectre), a navy herringbone rain coat in Casino Royale, a grey herringbone morning suit in A View to a Kill and a brown and black herringbone sports coat in Diamonds Are Forever. Though Bond never wears herringbone shirts, they make a fine alternative to the simpler and more common poplin and twill shirtings, and in white they can be amongst the most formal of shirtings.
With Daniel Craig’s fashionable wardrobe in Spectre consisting of two herringbone suits and a herringbone Crombie-style coat, the herringbone weave is as relevant as ever. Considering its versatility, it’s a shame herringbone is not more worn or readily available in all kinds of clothes. Consider it for your next suit or anything else.