This was a variation of my mothers ongoing mantra of how the “boys at Yale” should guide one’s sartorial and cultural life. This also applied to haircuts, as Yalies apparently sported only crew cuts. Leaving aside the fact that her view of Yale life was frozen around 1950-something, mom did make an important if unintended point.
New England’s Ivy League, preppy aesthetic has staying power for a reason and schools like Yale, Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, and Princeton – to name only a few – embody tangible guidelines of that cultural idiom. Well, at least from a certain period of time; mom would never really accept that “Yale boys” no longer dress as though they were in a mid-century J. Press catalog.
Of course, we all know the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and that it’s not just about the clothes. It’s also a psychological thing; a cultural, societal, and aspirational signifier. Dress a certain way and people perceive you to be a certain way.
Many have already noted that dressing like you went to college with George Plimpton, Jack Kennedy, or Paul Newman provides a touch point for one’s style of dress that helps to tell the story they imagine for themselves. It also informs their choice of accessories, style of home or car, and even choice of vacation spots.
However, in the end, mom is always right: some clothing simply gets the job done better than others. Indeed, if there is a singular garment that endures in function and meaning, it’s the navy blazer. Classic, modern, dressed up or down, its variations and iterations are always the right choice. It can be worn with grey flannels or jeans, handmade brogues or canvas boat shoes.
While it’s true that the traditional navy blazer is the backbone of any serious wardrobe, the fact remains that formal or informal, double or single breasted, off-the-rack or bespoke, a good blazer is always going to be a smart investment.
It’s a bit of a clothing chameleon; and when it comes to meeting your needs in a sartorial pinch, from casual cocktails to formal boardroom, a well-made, well-fitting navy blazer will get the job done.
Some quickly conjure up images of stiff double-breasted numbers replete with rows of shiny brass buttons; fodder for many a Ralph Lauren ad campaign. However, the navy blazer of today is a more varied tool in your clothing arsenal. It’s actually a casually dressy garment, equivalent to a cardigan when paired with jeans and driving mocs. The classic design and balance of formality and functionality make the navy blazer universally appealing and long-lived.
There is a reason it’s one of the most iconic and enduring examples of male habiliment. As the king of odd jackets, a navy blazer can also fill the gap when you need to look nice but not too formal; somewhere between a suit and a sweater. Such inherent versatility means that it can dress up jeans and a worn-out oxford button down just as easily as it can dress down freshly ironed khakis and a repp tie.
Styles can vary as much as material. Some blazers have iconic brass buttons, while others sport muted horn or resin. While double vents are popular and provide a Continental flair, the single vented, natural shouldered model is classically American. Fabric weights can easily range from heavy flannel to lightweight linen.
Single breasted jackets typically sport notched lapels while double-breasted versions should have only those of the peaked variety. With its nipped waist and dramatic massing of buttons, a double breasted blazer naturally imparts formality and command. On the other hand, a two-button, single breasted sack jacket with no darting and patch pockets can easily project a more casual “drinks at the club” look.
As with all quality clothing, when shopping for a blue blazer approach it as a major investment and buy the best that you can. This is not the same thing as buying the most expensive brand with the fanciest advertising. A well-made and -fitting navy blazer should be a jacket to which you can turn for years to come and something for which you are happy to reach in the morning. Indeed, a well-constructed blazer made from quality fabric will be as comfortable as your favorite sweatshirt and its classic styling will conquer the vagaries of many fashion cycles.
That said, you do not necessarily have to break the bank when it comes to finding one that’s right for you – unless you want to. If you can afford made-to-measure or true bespoke – and the time and cost that accompany it – by all means, go for it. Otherwise, visit your local menswear or department store and try on several models. Find what works for you and feels right.
In the end, the blue blazer works because of its inherent versatility and balance between formal and comfortable. It’s one of those rare garments that both stands the test of time and evolves to meet the needs of each generation. And, the right one will stay with you for a very long time.