Blazer 1: one that blazes 2: a single-breasted sports jacket in bright stripes or solid color. (Websters)
The blazer as a garment walks the fine line between formal and informal wear. Whether you wear it strolling down your favourite street with the swagger of a metropolitan boulevardiér or when in a hurry to work (deftly avoiding screaming children and their mothers), the blazer is a great piece of clothing. Depending on how you combine it you could be just perfectly dressed for the occassion. So let’s smartly about-face and look to the origins of the blazer in it’s first and most double-breasted form.
Looking at the classic blazer, the double-breasted blue one with brass buttons, the conclusion that the jacket is of military tradition is rather obvious. Legend has it that the commanding officer of the frigatte HMS Blazer had a special uniform-jacket made for his men at some time when queen Victoria was going to make an appearance. It was styled after the short jacket worn by naval men at this time (1830-50).This new garment found royal approval and was soon appreciated by both naval men and marine minded gentlemen who wanted to sport something that wasn’t a uniform but still associated with maritime virtues. Hence the name: blazer. The result of civilians having jackets like these made for occasions sportif and also naval officers getting jackets tailored in the same style as their uniforms, evolved into what is the originator of both the sporty striped blazer (a bastard child-bearing many names) and the plain blue blazer. End of history lesson.
Nowadays a blazer can look almost anyway you please, of course within certain given parameters: namely style and the threat of your friends having a go at you. Basically the only valid definition of a blazer is this: a short jacket, blue in color, always with two side vents and a double-breast with brass buttons . Does this remotely sound like anything you have hanging in your wardrobe? I shouldn’t think so. Fortunately there has been a lot of changes in the makeup of this garment. The striped blazer worn by rowing-club members sweating at the thwarts. The light jacket with a shiny finish of the mediterranean gentleman sipping his Pernod. The bottle-green blazer favored by americans mostly (this is the only place where colours other than dark blue is popular in the plain jackets). Somewhere along the line the blazer even lost it’s brass buttons (which were only there to flaunt membership of clubs, etc). In these times with a wide array available, the line between jacket and blazer is a thin one. If you start hollering: belay that bolard, tote that rope and starboard helmsman!.. you’re probably wearing one (a blazer that is).
The stylistic qualities of the blazer cannot be overlooked. Many tasty photos adorning some very groovy records reveal several hip cats of royal pedigree wearing them. If you’re going to look to the continent there are several very good examples: Serge Gainsborough , Boris Vian… you know, cool guys. Steve Marriott used to look really smart in the striped ones and most of the Creation wore them and still managed to look hard. Ard. Oh sorry, guess I am overstating it a bit. Still if you’re into history this is a point isn’t?
Most mens outfitters stock good off the peg blazers. If you’re in Italy I guess you could pay Brioni a visit. The Italians are known for the subtlety and novelty of their materials. Maybe some mohair and silk would look good? Italy is the land of fabric possibilities. But really why go overboard with this when the charm in the blazer lies in its simplicity . There’s nothing wrong with a plain blue one is there? But if you want “a garment cut by an individual, for an individual, by an individual” then it’s a nice touch.
So how to get the look right? Well it’s up to you. Are you into the more bohemic style go for the plain ones (we’re talking mod bohemic) combined with a pair of light trousers. Corduroy or moleskin looks really good. Traditionally the combination of dark blue and brown is considered bad. But then again because of tradition people on horseback in red ridingcoats (‘redingote’ in french, which always cracks me up) dementedly gallivants around the english countryside chasing some poor fox. The fox ain’t even Jane Fonda or Monica Vitti (I know it sounds unbelievable). If you want that youthful look in the summer get a striped one and match it with a pair of really dark denims and suede slipons.
With a blazer you could even leave the top button of your shirt open (gasp!) While you’re at it, stuff a Hermes scarf in your collar and sit down at the grand piano and play ‘Trains, Boats and Planes’ to entertain your friends if they are in a Burtish mood. You see, it makes perfect sense doesn´t it? The blazer is the preserve of the jet-set and who are you to argue?
© Jules Olivier 2001 – 2015 [Published 26 January 2001]
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