There’s a great Life archives shot that circulated through the style blogosphere some time ago: it pictured a Yalie, in 1964, wearing his navy blazer with shirt and tie, but accessorized with Wayfarers, Weejuns sans socks, and what appear to be flood-length white jeans.
The navy blazer is as essential as an essential can be—the Swiss Army knife of tailored jackets—and for good reason. It will get you through most occasions where a shirt and tie are required, yet pairs just as easily with the preppy uniform of polo shirt, khakis and boat shoes—or with distressed jeans, driving moccasins and an Italian accent. “I’ve never known a well dressed guy who didn’t own one, and wear it,” notes menswear historian G. Bruce Boyer. (When the City of New York unveiled its silver statue of Andy Warhol in Union Square this year, even the disheveled pop artist was immortalized in his Brooks Brothers blazer.)
But the secret to wearing it with style is playing against type, counter-punching its aura of tradition with irreverence, personal quirks and a dose of the unexpected. Try wearing it as a warm-up jacket some foggy morning to a sporting event—you know, the kind you participate in, not watch while chugging beer. Or use it as an extra layer on a snowy winter day, under a quilted jacket with cords, tattered sweater, and rubber boots.
There’s a peculiar irony in so much versatility coming from an item with so strict a definition. The blazer, whose origins are nautical, is not something that can be fooled around with very much without becoming something else. While button stance, vent(s) and ticket pocket are options, buttons should be brass, enamel, or mother of pearl, and fabrics are essentially limited to wool and cashmere. A blue linen version with tan buttons may be a fine jacket, but it’s not a blazer.
Speaking of which, perhaps because it sounds cooler, “blazer” has lately been used by the fashion media to refer to any kind of tailored jacket without matching pants, which is kind of like referring to your necktie as a “cravat” because it sounds more dandy-ish. This must end. The blazer has served generations of men, show it the respect it deserves.