As outlined in a previous Parisian Gentleman article, the word "jacket" can be used to describe a coat which is made and worn to accommodate a specific activity such as shooting, smoking, dinner, mess, or hacking. It is a little less simple, however, to decide exactly when the word "blazer" is appropriate. Hopefully this article will provide some much-needed insight into this matter.
In a post on my Instagram account DanielWearsSuits (prompted by my friend, London-based bespoke tailor and fellow sartorialist Paul McTigue), I outlined the properties which I believe make a coat a blazer. These are:
- Decorative buttons (mostly metal, but Mother of Pearl can be worn for a more subtle effect)
- Decorative piping
- A crest or patch on the breast
- Striped cloth (but not suit stripes such as "pin", "rope", "chalk", or "cashmere" stripes)
Regarding combinations of these features, there seem to be two main groupings: nautical and sporting. Nautical blazers tend to be double breasted with a more rigid construction and two vents at the back, made from a plain worsted cloth with decorative buttons.
Sporting blazers tend to be single breasted with a softer construction, patch pockets, and no vents, made from a block stripe cloth often with decorative buttons, crests and patches, and decorative piping. One common feature of both is decorative buttons. It is my view that decorative buttons are truly the only feature which must be present in order for a coat to be a blazer.
The word "blazer" has become very popular with cheap off-the-rack stores to describe any sort of tailored coat. This is likely because the word simply sounds more appealing than "coat" or "jacket". If a coat does not have at least one of the aforementioned characteristics, it is not a blazer. So when fashion brands sell you an orphaned navy suit coat or an odd tweed coat labelled a "blazer", you're likely being misled (perhaps unintentionally).
Another thing which is misleading however, is the misconception that a blazer is always an odd garment, worn with separate trousers, and not part of a suit. This myth is often unfortunately propagated by the #menswear crowd online, alongside other sartorially cognoscenti . Yet one quick look at some British subcultures can quickly dispel this myth: upper-class sporting culture, and arguably mod culture too.
Traditional upper-class sporting culture in the UK is a sartorial goldmine. From the beautiful livery in equestrian, and the classic shirts of polo and rugby, to the elegant knitwear of tennis and cricket, there truly is an infinite supply of sartorial inspiration from which to learn. One such example is the prominence of the blazer. Not just as a stand-alone garment, but as part of a fully coordinated outfit. Not only coats but waistcoats, hats, gloves, scarves, and even spats in matching - delightfully preppy - repp stripes to display one's loyalty to a given club or group.
Mod culture saw a rise in the popularity of blazer-like block stripe cloths worn as suits two-or three-piece suits. Even Liam Gallagher has been known to wear suits made with such cloth.
Although nowadays the coats from such suits could certainly be worn in lieu of a blazer, they are rather a Frankenstein combination of features from nautical blazers, sporting blazers, and suit coats. Their most notable feature, oftentimes, is plain horn buttons. This, in my view, means they are not blazers, rather block striped coats. Although few would know the difference.
One rather uncommon form of blazer suit would be a one of a plain cloth, which would comprise of a solid colour coat with decorative buttons, perhaps a crest on the breast, and maybe decorative piping, and matching trousers, possibly also a waistcoat, and maybe even a hat in the event it's a uniform. It is clear that the coat can be called a blazer, and the outfit can be called a suit (because the coat and trousers are of the same cloth), but there is nothing about the trousers which sets them apart from regular suit trousers. Such outfits are most commonly seen these days as part of high fashion or work uniforms for pilots and sometimes train drivers, rather than the general public, however. And it could be argued that the coats are more akin to uniform tunics than blazers, although this distinction is fairly minor as nautical blazers are derived from the British Royal Navy uniform.
Oftentimes online, one may also read that blazers are defined by a more casual construction and cut than regular suit coats. This may be true within a given tailoring house, but it is not true generally. For example: imagine firm X makes very structured garments, whereas firm Y makes very soft garments. A blazer from firm X will likely be softer than a suit coat from firm X , but may still be more structured than a suit coat from firm Y, a blazer from whom would likely be the softest of all four garments. Similarly, a given firm may choose to construct only blazers with shirt-style sleeveheads, yet a different firm might often use that construction method on a more formal lounge/business suit. As the pictures below demonstrate, a blazer can truly have any level of stiffness to its construction, and any level of drape to its cut.
On the left is my good friend Blake Stephens wearing a St Michael's navy blazer, likely from the 1980s. It's very classic, with a fine twill weave, decorative brass buttons, and a 6x2 button arrangement. It is of medium softness and has a sleevehead which wouldn't look out of place on a business suit. Casually worn with blue jeans, a Macclesfield silk scarf, a linen butchers stripe shirt, and, if I remember correctly, brown suede penny loafers.
In the middle is pictured a very different blazer being worn by myself. A stunning 1930s Blazer, either for the Dartfordians Rugby Football Club or Dartford Grammar School, with a traditional striped cloth, unlined and unstructured construction, decorative brass buttons, and a crest on the breast. It has an incredibly soft shoulder with no padding, and a very drapey chest with a 3 button front and fairly generous lapels.
On the right is a curious blazer, also worn by myself, made by Jon Collier in the 1970s. It is a very heavy twill weave in medium blue, with an incredibly stiff construction. And it is with a 4x2 button arrangement with spectacularly large lapels and a very structured shoulder. In both cases I'm wearing grey flannel trousers and Brooks Brothers button-down shirts. My neckwear was chosen to compliment the colour of my blazers. Readers watch out for an upcoming article on colour coordination.
These three garments perfectly demonstrate the fact that a blazer is not so much defined by its construction (or lack-thereof), but rather by the above four specific characteristics (Stripes, Crests, Piping, and always decorative buttons).
Hopefully by now you might recognise why a tweed suit coat is not a blazer, although a blazer can indeed be part of a suit. And perhaps more pedantically, an odd navy flannel coat with dark brown horn buttons... is not a blazer.
This being said, most people will continue to call all their tailored coats "blazers", and life will go on.