Twin Set

Remember those photographs of your mother - or even grandmother - all dressed up in twinset and pearls, lacquered hair stiff as a board and looking as ladylike as can be, circa 1950? As remote from current fashion as bustles and bonnets, you might think, but here is the surprise: although it never actually went away for ladies in the shires, the twinset is about to make a reappearance.

What it has is the kind of accessibility that made Tocca dresses such a hit. Nothing clever or avant-garde, just completely wearable. And one thing you can say about the twinset – modelled here by Lana Turner – is that, like most fashions that evolve rather than being invented, it has staying power.
The twinset was, initially, a middle-class form of dress, which came into being in the 1920s in response to the needs of the average woman, who didn't work, almost always lived in a house with no central heating, and had time on her hands. She used the time to knit, a skill that she had learnt during the first world war. Early in the decade, sweaters became popular for the new sport of skiing, and it was a logical next step to wear them in the chilly English house.
A cardigan was added for extra formality and a way of dressing was born.
Women took to the twinset immediately. It became more refined in the 1930s, and by the 1950s had evolved from its role of middle-class uniform to be a wardrobe staple. But it couldn't survive the 1960s, which made the twinset seem "old lady". Fashion turned its back and it looked as if it were gone for good.
In its long heyday, the twinset was always made in Scotland by quality labels such as Lyle & Scott, Braemar and Pringle. Pringle, one of the few firms to survive the vicissitudes of the knitwear business, was set to become a label for the new century - it hired a new designer in 2002, the brand showed at London Fashion Week, and a flagship shop in Bond Street opened. The twinset looks ready to have another "moment". But forget the pearls - too Country Life to be sexy - and leave grandma's knitting needles behind the sofa, where they have been safely lost for the past 50 years.

(First published October 2002)