Monday, 28 January 2013
On the fashionability of houndstooth tweed
My prediction was a simple one: that within the next decade we'd see a return to fashionability of houndstooth tweed. Think about it, ten, twenty or thirty years ago did you see anyone wearing that fabric?
C works in the television business. He writes software that runs digital TV studio equipment, you've probably watched TV that passed through his code somewhere. Our conversation was about one of the projects he was working on, as an electronic engineer who started with scrap TV sets it's a subject of interest to me.
At the time the UK and other countries were on the cusp of moving from analogue to digital TV. For most consumers this probably meant more channels, a better picture or high definition, but for us it also meant the end of the analogue colour encoding systems, PAL, SECAM and NTSC.
Analogue telly was sometimes referred to as compatible television, meaning that a colour signal was compatible with a black-and-white receiver. The colour information coming from the studio was split out from the luminance information and cleverly encoded such that it wouldn't show up as noise when viewed on a black-and-white set. The PAL, SECAM and NTSC colour encoding processes each took different approaches to the same problem, but shared the same aim.
PAL was developed in Germany in the early 1960s. We Brits got it in the late '60s, on our third TV channel, BBC2. PAL tackled some of the problems found in the earlier American NTSC system, but in doing so it introduced a few quirks of its own. The one you'd have seen from time to time is the so-called Hanover bars, colour noise appearing whenever any close-together stripes appeared on the picture. It's one of the reasons PAL test cards have striped regions.
As you've probably guessed, houndstooth tweed produced intense Hanover bars on a PAL TV, resulting in a riot of colour noise on the picture. As a result, the pattern disappeared completely from the fashion scene sometime in the 1960s.
So why my prediction? Digital TV has its own picture quirks that you can spot if you look carefully at some of the lower qualty channels, but it doesn't use PAL. Instead, you get the full unadulterated colour signal, so Hanover bars are a thing of the past on a digital set now PAL has been turned off.
And as if by magic, houndstooth tweed has made a reappearance. You won't see me wearing it as it's never been a favourite of mine, but there it is on the High Street. Technology influences fashion.