The Blazer: A Tradition Born on a Boat

 The blazer is considered by many to be essential to looking sharp. A few adjectives tend to fit well in a discussion of the clothing item: preppy, classy, gentlemanly, smart. Few are aware, however, of the history of the blazer and how it came to merit such fine regard. 

What is it and How is it Worn?

Before moving forward, it’s important to fully understand this garment. The blazer can be either strictly formal or a bit more casual. The former is often four, six or eight buttoned and double-breasted, while the latter is two or three buttoned and single-breasted. 

Like all important pieces of fashion, there are rules for how to wear it. A one-button blazer must always remain button except when the wearer is seated. For two and three-button blazers, the bottom button should remain free. All buttons on a four-button blazer must remain fastened.

The pockets must be used appropriately, as well. The breast pocket is reserved solely for a pocket square. The waist pockets must not be filled to the brim, lest the blazer shape be ruined. Some blazers have a “ticket” pocket which was originally for use in storing train tickets. 

Nautical Origins

There are two stories detailing how this jacket came to be, one for each of the two types of blazer, single and double-breasted.

It was the sport of rowing at British universities Oxford and Cambridge during the late 1800s that spawned the single-breasted blazer. The men on the team would wear these jackets during warmups. They were the casual sweats of the time, meant to warm chilly sportsmen on early morning practice rides. Like warm-up gear for modern sports teams, each rowing team wore distinctly patterned and embellished blazers. According to this history, the word “blazer” came from the “blazing red” jackets worn by Cambridge’s Lady Margaret Boat Club, a description printed in 1952 article. 

The double-breasted blazer is said to have originated on a boat called the HMS Blazer, whose captain had short, double-breasted navy blazers fashioned for his sailors in preparation for a visit from Queen Victoria in 1837. She liked the garments and their shiny, brass buttons so much that she made them part of the official Royal Navy uniform. In this history, of course, the word “blazer” comes from the name of the ship. 

Coming Ashore

The single-breasted blazer began to infiltrate mainland life when other British university sports teams began to refer to their own uniform jackets as “blazers.” Soon, Ivy-League American universities like Princeton and Yale began to adopt this clothing article. Eventually, the blazer was no longer confined to be worn as a part of athletic uniforms as it fell into favor with the public. 

The double-breasted blazer left the Royal Navy as owners of yachts and other sailing vessels began to have their own blazers fashioned by tailors. Famous outfitters, like Gieves and Hawkes in London, began to field requests for blazers by customers who had no connection to sailing.

Through these diffusion methods, the blazer lost any nautical association and became a wardrobe necessity of the well-dressed across Europe and, soon after, the globe. 

The Modern Blazer 

Once worn only by elite men, the blazer has crossed gender lines and is now just as essential a part of a savvy woman’s closet. This is demonstrated by high-powered female politicians like Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, and Elizabeth Warren, who are all champions of the garment.

Blazers today are reaching new fashion heights. Some of the current trends include vibrant colors, unique textures and form-fitting styles and out-of-the-box structures. 

Whether double-breasted or single, eight-buttoned or two, the blazer is a clothing item that allows any wearer to effortlessly exude sophistication and polish.