As dress codes become increasingly more casual, menswear is embracing the blazer with zeal. Funny how, once you didn’t have to wear a suit to work, you started eyeing up tailored pieces more than ever. Just like when you shrugged off that hand-me-down your mum insisted you wear to school, it’s all about rebellion, really.
"A blazer these days doesn’t necessarily need to be formal," says Lee Goldup, Browns Fashion’s menswear buyer. He’s right: if you only associate this jacket with boardrooms or events, you’re missing out on the best in-between bits. There’s a whole new world of nuances when it comes to blazers and tailoring. "Unstructured styles in techy fabrics have become more popular in recent years and are a cool way to change up the traditional ‘smart’ look."
If you’re grappling with the ever-confusing smart/casual boundaries, fear not. The blazer's history is conformist and contrarian – it's both an establishment uniform and a subcultural signifier.
A short history of the blazer
This blazer’s origin is attributed to both royal naval officers (the crew aboard Queen Victoria’s HMS Blazer wore navy double-breasted styles with brass buttons) and rowers (the Lady Margaret Boat Club at Cambridge University wore red flannel) in the early 19th century.
In the decades that followed, similarly straight-laced styles have uniformed cricketers, polo players, country club golfers, school children and probably your history teacher. It wasn’t until the Sixties that someone challenged the blazer’s buttoned-up aesthetic: teddy boys and mods managed to subvert its smart reputation with slim trousers, even skinnier ties, rolled sleeves and an all round give-a-fuck attitude.
This relaxed take on such a tailored piece was echoed in the Eighties, when Giorgio Armani’s fluid, unstructured blazer re-wrote the stiff, corporate dress codes dominating capitalist America. Check out Richard Gere's wardrobe in American Gigolo (1980) if you want to witness the exact moment in history.
The 2020 take on blazers
Fast forward to 2020, and designers are pushing boundaries in a whole new way. But this isn’t a classic case of responding to authority signifiers with a cheeky pop of the collar and a provocative badge. If Virgil Abloh’s and Kim Jones’ new take on tailoring has taught us anything, it’s that men no longer have to stick to the neutral colour palettes and clean lines that have defined ‘masculine’ for the past few decades.
If you need inspiration, look to the A/W ‘20 shows. There were blazers aplenty at Acne Studios: unstructured leather and raw-hemmed velveteen numbers, as well as jersey styles in schoolboy grey and navy pinstripes. Prada’s were oversized and cut from corduroy or technical nylon, whereas Christophe Lemaire’s were collarless and just a little bit crumpled. Dior, on the other hand, went all out. Kim Jones well and truly kicked the prep out of traditional boating blazers with a healthy dose of flamboyance in the form of taffeta, velvet, peaked lapels, embellished pins and, wait for it, debutante gloves.
How to wear a blazer now
How to introduce a bit of attitude into your everyday looks without going overboard? It’s all in the styling, which means you don’t have to tap into the catwalk buzz to look on-trend. Invest in something with longevity, then make it work for whatever situation you’re in.
If you really must whittle it down to one, Goldup believes it should be a formal blazer in navy: "It will go with just about anything, from jeans to chinos to dress trousers, so every guy should own one."
Beyond that, it completely depends on your lifestyle. If you work in a formal office, buy something smart and simply loosen it up on the weekend with trainers and a T-shirt. If by contrast you live in jeans (or that newly-introduced WFH tracksuit), we implore you to try an understated blazer instead. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a high-maintenance way of life: casual styles actually look better when a bit dishevelled.
And if you’re an unabashed traditionalist who thoroughly enjoys the pomp and performance of British events, then feast your eyes on our edit of the best summer blazers (seersucker and towelling galore) and hold out for Henley 2021. Or, treat yourself to a velvet number ahead of the winter party season (again, you might be waiting a while).
It’s never too soon to break free from a selvedge denim plus sweatshirt rut and invest in a blazer (or two). Keep scrolling to the five key styles every man should have on his radar.
If you can just about peel yourself from your favourite overshirt, then the next step up in is a casual blazer. They come in all shapes and sizes: workwear-inspired, unlined and just a little bit crumpled, cut from faded cotton twill (it only gets better with age) or lightweight linen. Although it always pays to invest in staples, with these, you can get away with shopping on the high street – the minor details become ever so slightly less important, the importance being placed on fabric and cut instead.
The world is undeniably a more informal place today, and even smart blazers often come unlined and a little less structured. Perfect examples of this are Zegna and Brunello Cucinelli’s wool numbers, loved by the Pitti Uomo crowd – as we all know, the Italians invented the casual blazer game.
If you’re not a chino-and-tan kinda guy, though, go Japanese or Eastern-inspired for a dose of drama. Think all-black Yohji looks, with pleated pants and Mandarin collars. Umit Benan B+'s blazer is impeccably cut to create an elegant silhouette, but the drapy crepe fabric keeps things looking modern.
British summer means blazers (well, usually). Blazers for rowing, regattas, parties on manicured lawns and temperamentally weathered weddings. A bit like velvet jackets in the winter, during the warmer months you’ll be forgiven for sticking to a stereotypically dandy uniform – everyone enjoys a spot of seersucker, just like they secretly love Pimm’s.
Polo Ralph Lauren’s number is ideal if you don’t want to spend too much on seasonal pieces, but Isaia’s is a well-made garment you’ll treasure forever (we’ve gone for those famous blue and white stripes here, but it also comes in a more wearable navy).
If you’re more of a Riviera resort wear type, lounging by pools à la Sean Connery in Goldfinger (1964), go for Mr.P’s towelling blazer; with its stretchy handle and shawl lapels, it’s the most comfortable – and delightfully frivolous – take on tailoring we’ve ever seen.
On the other hand, those who don’t ‘do’ frivolous should stick to the cool-as-a-cucumber Italian mode of dress: a neutral linen jacket being the epitome of that aesthetic.
The checked blazer conjures up so many cultural and historical connotations. On one end of the scale is the traditional tweedy type – the stuff of shooting trips to home counties estates and bespectacled professors – on the other, are the playful colourful plaids worn by golfers and Martini-drinking country clubbers in the Sixties (type ‘Mad Men checked sport coat’ into Google and Don Draper will show you the ropes).
Somewhere in between is the ever-elegant Prince of Wales weave, which pairs just as well with a roll-neck as it does a white shirt. It’s been loved by the likes of Gary Cooper, Gianni Agnelli, Ralph Lauren and the infamous but influential Duke of Windsor for good reason.
With the rise and rise of Ivy Leaguer cool, you can go full-blown collegiate (elbow patches and all) in a timeless, tweedy single breasted iteration – just freshen it up with wide-leg trousers and trainers.
However, it’s difficult to resist the more directional options available. Every winter designers create a new take on the checked blazer with oversized proportions, extra padded shoulders and asymmetric silhouettes. Martine Rose’s double-breasted wrap style is a good middle ground if these feel too OTT for everyday life.
Yep, that’s right, the velvet blazer gets a big shout out here. As black tie and tuxedo-wearing opportunities have dwindled (whose office Christmas party isn’t in the pub?), this plush jacket has stepped up and given winter events a new level of dandy.
There’s a real Seventies feel in tailoring at the moment, and Gucci is leading the way with bold colour palettes, flamboyant peaked lapels and decorative finishes. You can keep things more classic with satin-trimmed dinner jackets, or by sticking to the traditional colour palettes: burgundy, claret, midnight-blue, bottle-green and black.
If you want a velvet jacket that’s more versatile, cotton weaves create a dustier, matter velveteen. Paul Smith’s will work for casual dinners (underpin it with a T-shirt or turtleneck jumper) but also winter events (go for a dress shirt, you can always add a bow-tie depending on the formality).
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