Today, we are launching a new series, entitled ‘Dead or Alive?’. This series will look at classic menswear pieces and see whether they still deserve a place in your sartorial repertoire. The first edition will focus on the ultimate symbol of conservatism: the navy blazer.
I cannot be the only one for whom a navy blazer conjures up images of Cary Grant, David Niven, or Michael Caine sipping cocktails on the French Riviera or whiling away their hours in lavish nightclubs. What irony then that its beginnings couldn’t be further removed from the casual activities that we would generally associate with most other odd jackets.
Its origins actually lie in the British Royal Navy, on the HMS Blazer, to be specific. The captain of the Blazer is said to have ordered his officers to replace the buttons on the short, double-breasted jackets that were customary at the time with gold buttons for a visit from Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The rest, as they say, is history.
I will leave it up to you, dear reader, to decide whether that story seems believable or not. I, for one, am reminded of that old saying: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
The newly-minted navy blazer quickly became a popular casual staple. Unsurprisingly so, I would suggest. Skilfully worn, it combines the combination possibilities of odd jackets with the formality of suits. It is actually to underline this aspect that I strongly recommend a double-breasted blazer over its single-breasted cousin, the club jacket. Furthermore, in my most humble opinion, club jackets cannot quite decide what they want to be; not quite a sports jacket, not quite a suit jacket.
How to make it work for you
So, given its many benefits, just why has the navy blazer waned in popularity over the last years (ironically at the same time as it has established itself as an indispensable classic in any elegant woman’s wardrobe)? Is it its associations with pipe-smoking grandfathers around the world? Perhaps the golden buttons are too loud?
For both cases, there is an easy fix. Golden buttons are not the be-all and end-all. Even looking beyond (almost) equally classic silver buttons, brown horn or white, grey, or blue mother-of-pearl are elegant (if not quite as traditional) options. My only caveat would be to make sure that the buttons create enough contrast to the blazer fabric to ensure it doesn’t end up looking like a suit jacket masquerading as a blazer.
The solution to connotations that blazers are old-fashioned? Simple. Encourage young people to wear their blazer proudly. In fact, considering its versatility, it would be hard to find a better piece for cash-strapped millennials. To take this idea a step further, why not try your grandfather’s blazer on for size? You might just find a companion for life.
It is also worth noting that playing with button constellations can be a fun little tweak. Why not opt for a 4X2, 4X1, or even a louche 6X1 instead of the traditional 6X2? Prince Charles has even been known to wear a 8X3 double-breasted to reflect his military past!
How to wear it
For a semi-formal event on a cool night, you can never go wrong wearing your blazer with mid-grey flannel trousers (mid-grey Fresco or mohair are good alternatives in summer), a white or off-white semi-spread or tab-collar shirt, a regimental tie, and black oxfords.
If you’re going to a bar or a party and you want to give your flannels a night off, beige chinos are an option, with a coloured or striped shirt, no tie, and a colourful pocket square. In terms of footwear, full-grain leather oxfords or loafers will do just the trick.
If you’re feeling slightly more adventurous, you can try combining your blazer with a dark turtleneck sweater, a pair of selvedge jeans (or coloured moleskin trousers), and full-grain leather brogues. TG/DC/MM/JHS