Possibly a development of the nautical reefer jacket, a blazer is a loose-fitting and lightweight flannel sports jacket. Coming in both double- or single-breasted styles, although most are double-breasted, a blazer is generally tailored in either plain navy or black, has brass buttons, two side vents, is thigh length and in many cases has a breast-pocket badge. A well-constructed blazer can make even a pair of jeans appear smart. The blazer is generally considered to be a vital component of the “preppy” or “British look.”
The familiar navy blazer traces its origins back to the captain of the frigate HMS Blazer, who had short double-breasted jackets cut in navy blue serge for his scruffy-looking crew when Queen Victoria visited his ship in 1837. The crew’s “blazers” with their shining brass Royal Navy buttons impressed the Queen and soon became part of their dress uniform.
It is believed that the heavier double-breasted reefer jacket was the inspiration for the captain’s original blazer design. What is less clear is how and why the naval blazer came to be worn by civilians. One likely explantion, and probably why so many owners of yachts and other sailing vessels wear blazers, is that many people who had no obvious association with the sea or indeed the navy could still have blazer jackets made originally for maritime experiences. With traditional outfitters such as Gieves and Hawkes, on London’s Savile Row, cutting blazers for Royal Naval officers it is likely that many civilians would get their own tailors to copy a version for them. If buttons with emblems were not used then simple flat brass buttons were, although it would then become difficult to distinguish the blazer from the other sports jackets.
Divorced from any military background, the single-breasted blazer was the favored style of club jacket worn by rowing clubs in the nineteenth century. These would be made up in college, school, or club colors to be worn at special outdoor sporting events, such as the Henley Royal Regatta. Crests and other insignia were often embroidered in heavy gold thread on the left breast pocket, and the buttons were similar to those used by the navy. Men who were not in a sporting club might still wear a blazer but, as with the naval-inspired version, more likely using enamel buttons instead of brass.
Worn by many Europeans for both work and leisure and popularized by Brooks Brothers for the American market in the early twentieth century (and later in bright colors, such as bottle green or yellow, for golf attire), the authentic British blazer (and its imitations) have held a minor but consistent place in the male wardrobe for decades. The blazer’s most recent revival was as essential executive dress in the 1980s, often worn with open shirt and cravat. Its popularity is limited somewhat by its reputation as being too formal for the young, and too stuffy for the “casual dress” office.
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