Nautical by Nature.
The history of the ever-preppy, forever classic Navy Blazer
The navy blazer has, since time immemorial–well, at least since the late 19th century– been an irreplaceable piece of the wardrobe of gentlemen of every generation. On the scale of formality, it occupies a somewhat nebulous position between the suit and the sports coat. Worn with gabardines and a striped repp tie, you’ll rarely feel out of place no matter the surroundings. On the weekend, it can be dressed down with jeans and an oxford button-down, à la Andy Warhol. Owing to this versatility, the blue blazer has been a mainstay in the attire of the well-dressed for nearly a century, though its roots go much farther back.
HMS Sports Coat?
The origins of the blazer (or more specifically, the term itself) are a bit murky at their start. The popular story stars the HMS Blazer, a ship in the Royal Navy and her crew. Around 1837, before the standardization of uniforms, the commander of the ship learned of an imminent visit by Queen Victoria. In want of proper dress, he commissioned double-breasted solid blue serge (or perhaps blue-striped; accounts vary) jackets for his enlisted crew.
The second story, perhaps better borne out etymologically, concerns the Lady Margaret Boating Club at Cambridge University. At its founding in 1825 the members wore a single-breasted jacket in a “blazing” scarlet, the club’s color. Other boating clubs soon adopted similarly bright jackets, and the name was applied to those as well. In the 1880s, the item and the term gained popular currency, becoming standard wear in the English independent schools — though in the fashion of the time colors became more muted, eventually settling on navy blue.
The traditional gold buttons display a crest (originally naval, later that of a school, club, or other organization). Though the original Lady Margaret blazers were not so adorned, by the 1930’s most blazers did sport gold buttons as naval and civilian traditions of the blazer became in effect one and the same.
The Road to Tradition
The blazer’s lasting popularity with the prep crowd is little wonder. Since its invention the jacket has been associated with both boating and elite universities, longtime mainstays of the prep lifestyle. Perhaps most helpful in this regard was the adoption of blazers as uniforms in many English independent schools (also called private schools in the US), where the elite of several centuries running have been formed.
Today’s blazer is not much changed from the time of its adoption by the Royal Navy, but there are some options out there for casual wear. Try a novel take, such as a knit or unstructured model, and keep your closet up-to-date; it’s true that the original blazer is perhaps the most versatile piece in any wardrobe, but by supplementing that with a few modern takes you’re sure to catch an eye or two—with a blazer, it’s never for the wrong reasons.
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