It wasn’t so long ago that a blazer was the brass-buttoned item your dad wore to the golf club dinner. It was Alan Partridge’s jacket of choice, a garment wheeled out for occasions demanding that dreaded “smart-casual” dress code.
Its rehabilitation has coincided with a blurring of the lines between smart and casual. In the last couple of years people have been buying better suits – and not just for the office – while sharp jackets and blazers have become staples of the well turned-out gent.
“A navy blazer is our single best selling jacket,” says Jeremy Hackett of his eponymous label. “What you have now is great variety in blazers – cotton, canvas, linen, deconstructed blazers, plus the more formal, traditional ones.”
Barry Tulip, design director of Gieves & Hawkes – which has a dedicated blazer room at its Savile Row HQ – notes a similar trend. “In the past you just invested in a suit, but now people are investing in jackets and blazers as well,” he says. “As a designer, playing with such an iconic piece and putting your own spin on it is exciting. So there’s the functional side of it, but designers are offering a lot more.”
Deconstructed is the buzzword with blazers: rather than the formal, naval-style jacket of the past, softer, lighter, less structured jackets have appeared, offering a more rugged, versatile look.
“It doesn’t feel like you’re wearing the jacket from your suit, which some blazers used to,” says Thom Whiddett of Mayfair tailors Thom Sweeney. “You have thinner padding, less chest canvas and a little more of that Italian influence.”
The versatility of the modern blazer is what makes it such a useful item. Sport it with a knitted tie and pair of suede Derbys for a bit of chic formality, or with a polo shirt and chinos when you’re out and about in warm weather. For the travelling man, the specialist blazer from London menswear brand Rake is ideal.
“We’re known for a travel blazer that we make on a very high-twist fabric, and its completely unstructured apart from a bit of form over the shoulder,” says Rake’s Clive Derby. “It can be put in an overhead locker on a plane and will come out and retain its shape and not look crumpled.”
But is this modern item still a blazer at all? The original garment evolved from naval uniforms, though there’s a claim that the jacket – or at least the term for it – has its roots in the “blazing” red jackets of the St John’s College rowing club at Cambridge University in the 1820s. Whether this is the case or not, it continued to be associated with sporting clubs, colleges, schools and military regiments.
“In the States they call a jacket a blazer even if it isn’t one,” says Jeremy Hackett. “Here it should still generally be blue, and the buttons are different to how they would be on a suit. You tend to have patch pockets too [pockets sewn on top of the jacket, a bit sportier than the sewn in flat pockets of a formal suit].”
In fact, things could be heading full circle, with a more formal blazer coming back into vogue. Double-breasted blazers, such as the Paul Smith item pictured, are popular this spring, mixing a more formal look while keeping that light, deconstructed sensibility. Is it reasonable to expect structure and padding to be back before too long, then? Perhaps.
E Tautz at Mr Porter £795 at mrporter.com
Paul Smith at Mr Porter £515 at mrporter.com
Austin Reed £71.60 at austinreed.co.uk
Gieves & Hawkes £2,250 at gievesandhawkes.com
Rake £995 at rakestyle.com