There are three important areas of consideration to keep in mind when we’re talking about the real thing, an
authentic blazer: the fabric, the cut, and the buttons. Fabrics for cooler-weather jackets mean flannel, twill or
cashmere. For warm-weather dressing, lightweight cashmere, silk, linen, serge or tropical worsted weaves. And of
course, the true colour is navy blue, falling between the almost black of midnight blue, and a simple dark
Today, blazers can be either single- or double-breasted. Both versions find their origins in 19th-century
England, but they started out as two very different jackets. Everyone knows the story of the enterprising captain of
the HMS Blazer, a frigate in the British Navy, who dressed his crew in smart, dark blue double-breasted jackets with
brass buttons to impress Queen Victoria. The story has been told so many times, it almost deserves to be true.
There have been at least seven Royal Navy vessels named Blazer, it’s usually the captain of the third (deployed in
1845) who is credited with kitting out his crew in striped Guernsey sweaters and blue jackets. But, complicating
matters a bit, it appears that short, blue double-breasted coats — known as ‘reefers’ — have been worn by British
midshipmen since the 1820s. Did the captain of the HMS Blazer merely add brass buttons to the reefer coat?
The term ‘blazer’ as it refers to a sports jacket seems rather to have originated in a particular version of the late
19th-century coat devised by university rowing crews — specifically, members of the Lady Margaret Boat
Club of St John’s College, Cambridge. Most boat crews wore flannel coats, but the members of Lady Margaret’s decided
to distinguish themselves by wearing a bright crimson one. Soon, other boat crews followed their lead, and by the
1890s, gentlemen on England’s civilised waterways preened in boldly striped jackets of red and orange, lavender and
black, sky blue and cream, scarlet and canary, and a variety of other retina-scorching combinations.
Exactly how the boating blazer turned navy blue, and how the reefer came to be bifurcated into the double-breasted
blazer and the peacoat, is less clear. Perhaps the simplest explanation is that, since men at the time were
accustomed to wearing dark blue serge suit coats with white flannels on boating excursions at the seaside, they
simply had single-breasted odd jackets made up in dark blue. Countries have outfitted their navies in all sorts of
garb, but there remains that special affinity for dark blue when going down to the sea in ships.
At the end of the 19th century, the English poured into French and Italian resorts and the Edwardian
blazer became all the rage. In the 1920s, a wave of Anglomania swept the US when the Prince of Wales (later the Duke
of Windsor) paid a number of visits, along with English university sporting teams, bringing their colourful
wardrobes of Fair Isle sweaters, Oxford bags, bright tweeds and double- and single-breasted blazers with them. These
styles were swiftly taken up on US college and prep school campuses. Dartmouth may have been the first American
university, in the 1930s, to outfit its entire junior class in blazers, with the graduating year on a breast-pocket
The only adornment or embellishment on a blazer (no yokes or braiding, half-belts, bi-swing backs or covered collars,
please), apart from the possibility of a chest-pocket crest to show some membership or affiliation, is found in the
buttons. Blazers are the only men’s civilian jackets that take metal buttons (traditionally, four or six on a
double-breasted jacket, two or three on single-breasted). There are hundreds of variations from which to choose —
everything from plain brass, to pewter, gilt or solid gold, sterling silver, antique sets, buttons denoting college
or club affiliations, custom work featuring monograms, insignia or vocational symbols. Tailors suggest attaching
rare and expensive buttons by a shank hole, so that they may be removed for dry cleaning. The experts also argue
that buttons featuring a design are preferable to the plain, shiny sort, which tend to scratch a great deal. Anyway,
why pass up a chance for self-expression?
In these parlous economic times, when even the most capricious of fashionistas have come to accept that we should
‘buy less, but buy better’, the one garment inarguably worth springing for is a fine blazer.