Tailoring in Technicolour: The Club Blazer

Vintage striped club blazer
Image is my own / All rights reserved

Is there a more fun item in the classic menswear arsenal than the club blazer? Fun shirts, maybe. Or go-to-hell pants. Possibly seersucker, madras, or… actually, you know what, there’s definitely a good time to be had with trad style. But I reckon nothing packs quite the same punch as a club blazer. Bold, bright, variegated, and entirely singular in appearance, unlike the other giddy candidates cited above, there is no tamping down the inevitably eye-catching club blazer. You could, in theory, throw a long coat over a bright pair of trousers or ground the wackiness of a fun shirt with a sombre sweater or suit, but a striped or trimmed blazer can’t help but announce itself loudly from a distance. 

And it has done as much right from the get-go. Being conspicuous is baked into the garment’s DNA — and its etymology, for that matter. Legend has it that we get the word ‘blazer’ from the jackets worn by members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club (1825) of St John’s College, Cambridge which came in such a striking shade of red that they seemed to be on fire, hence ‘blazers’. 

Despite the arresting appearance, however, a club blazer (sometimes also called a boating jacket or rowing blazer) is surprisingly unfussy in its construction. While making one well is no easy matter, it is in essence a tailored jacket in its simplest form. They typically come unlined, unvented, dartless, single-breasted, and without any padding at the shoulder. Simple patch pockets, a few metal buttons, and you’re off to the races.

New college blazers 1860
Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

Sport jackets made with these characteristics were first adopted by sporting clubs in the second half of nineteenth century. As a show of allegiance and as a means of telling teams apart, it became custom to decorate these jackets with club colours, sometimes with an accompanying heraldic badge, matching hat band, and appropriate necktie. Lest this all sounds impossibly fancy, as blazer expert Jack Carlson (author of Rowing Blazers and founder of the brand by the same name) points out, ‘Guys would throw these jackets on the same way we wear hoodies or windbreakers today. They would throw them on to jog down to training, and they’d wear them[…] while they were warming up’. Then, as these things go, these athletes inevitably wore their jackets outside of pure sporting contexts and, by the end of the First World War, they had become acceptable everyday informal wear. 

Apart from their longtime association with cricket fields, tennis courts, and boat races, club blazers have also been a hallmark of school uniforms since the Edwardian era. Since then they have also become wardrobe staples for preps, mods, and streetwear adherents the world over, lending this one-time mark of privilege and exclusivity a somewhat more achievable quality. 

It is via those latter contexts that I came to possess my own club blazer not too long ago. I had to wear a blazer all throughout my school years, so it took me a while as an adult to circle back around to the style. I happened across a striped one from the 1970s at a local vintage dealer’s and, despite resisting the temptation for several weeks, eventually bit when I tried it on and, as so rarely happens with second-hand tailoring, it fit perfectly off the rack. Plus, the jacket’s longtime neglect in the showroom meant that it had been discounted to far too tempting a price to pass over. So I took a chance and, after leaving it to languish in my closet for a few months while building up the courage to wear it, when I finally took it out for a spin it proved every bit as merry as you might expect. Now, I count the days to spring and summer when I’ll get to take it out on the town. And while I’ve never been a member of any sort of club, I now know I’d join one in a second so long as membership entailed wearing a swanky jacket.

Vintage man wearing a club blazer
Image credit: The Library of Congress / No known copyright restrictions

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