by Alexander Freeling

Cold, like happy, is a relative term. Tell anyone from New York or Moscow that it was cold in Britain this year and you might get a pitying chuckle. But in a land without snow tyres or decent central heating, it was. At least, this is how I choose to explain my recent fascination with seriously heavy fabrics.

When the fog freezes at sunrise and sticks around all day, a 14 oz cotton is endlessly satisfying. Never mind that it’s is more commonly employed in tote bags than trousers. A good tailored trouser excels in the heavyweight range. It’s not just the extra warmth, though that’s certainly nice. They drape better. They last. And on a hanger, the sheer weight of each half of the trouser unfurls the creases from the other, so that by the next morning they scoff at ironing.

Wools also desire weights comparable to the sheep they came from. One of my earliest mistakes in the bespoke game was ordering a pair of trousers from a certain well-known Italian mill (also known to make some delightfully pricey casualwear) in 6 oz tweed. The finish was impeccable—richly textured yet refined—and of course, with the brisk walking habits of yours truly, the seat and thighs dissolved in a matter of months. We should celebrate our losses, but learn from them. Next time, I’m doubling the weight.

Beyond cloth, I’ve been looking at woven wool’s noble ancestor, the sheepskin. An indulgent form of home insulation, certainly, though an indulgence balanced in part by the fact that in these more civilized times, unindulged sheepskins are treated as one more waste product by the meat industry. Asides from that, I’ve been wondering the same thing about towelling, bathrobes, and bed linen: wouldn’t they be a bit better if they were heavier? 

It’s not just practicalities that appeal to me. Beyond the warmth, the toughness, and the longevity, I feel an appreciation close to reverence. In Gravity and Grace, Simone Weil continually links our weightiness as humans to those aspects of our lives and deeds that drag us down. Our weaknesses and mistakes weigh on us. Our bodies themselves, she suggests, create a kind of drag on our souls. Weight, for Weil, is the sum of all these fears. To me it’s less about people falling down, more about making them secure. I wonder how much of Weil’s connection is cultural: it’s one thing getting plump on earthly pleasures in Paris or Nice, it’s another thing layering up in Yorkshire.

The cultural explanation seems necessary because there’s something resolutely British about heavy cloths: cords, flannels, thornproof tweeds. I think of Marling and Evans, Dugdale Brothers, Huddersfield Fine Worsteds, and cotton specialist Brisbane Moss. (If the last sounds suspiciously antipodean to you, don’t worry: it began life as The English Velvet Cord Dyeing Company.) 

Amy Clampitt, an American visitor, perfectly captures the dingy British cold. In the ’70s, she wrote of “damp sheets in Dorset, fog-hung / habitat of bronchitis, of long / hot soaks in the bathtub, of nothing / quite drying out till next summer.” There’s a bit less bronchitis, but much of this seems familiar half a century on. Hardly arctic conditions, but you certainly appreciate a good heavy sweater.