A man’s jacket is the sartorial equivalent of a lady’s handbag. They both offer style, status and a means of conveniently transporting personal belongings. A tailored coat is particularly useful in the latter respect, having as a bare minimum, two in-breast pockets, an out-breast pocket and two side pockets. Additional pockets are often added for pens, coins, tickets, mobile phones and all manner of other essential items. Every gentleman should have at least one good jacket in his wardrobe – and if it is only one, it should be a blazer.
Robert Redford. "Dashing" in blazer and flannels.
The blazer is the most versatile piece of tailored clothing. It can be “dressed up” with a collar, tie and flannels, or “dressed down” with a t-shirt and jeans. An increasing number of modern men combine theirs with an open-neck shirt and semi-formal trousers to satisfy the “smart-casual” dress code that is becoming more prevalent amongst the business community.
Daniel Craig dresses-down his blazer
There are several conflicting stories relating to the origin of the blazer, but the general opinion is that the history is directly linked to Oxbridge sporting clubs of the early 19th Century, in particular the Lady Margaret Boat Club (1825), the rowing club of St. John’s College, Cambridge. The rowers wore “scarlet” jackets, and the bright-red coats were said to have created a “blaze” of colour – hence the term, blazer.
The "blazing" red colours of the Lady Margaret Boat Club
Traditional rowing blazers are single-breasted with three patch pockets. They are made in either striped or plain cloth (with or without matching or contrasting braided edges). The colour combination is used to identify the individual rowing clubs, and the club’s insignia is often embroidered onto the breast pocket (or a patch that is sewn upon it).
Rowing blazers in full colour
Whilst these colourful coats continue to be seen at rowing regattas, they are rarely worn by anyone other than oarsmen. However, striped boating blazers did become something of a fashion statement in the 1960s, being worn by musicians such as Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones and various members of The Who. They became popular with the Mod movement at the time, and are still seen as a staple wardrobe item by revivalists.
Who legend Keith Moon wearing a boating blazer
Braiding the edges of blazers with a contrasting trim is something that has also proven popular from time to time outside the rowing community. Patrick McGoohan, the actor and celebrated customer of Anthony Sinclair, wore the most iconic version of this style in the cult 1960s television series, The Prisoner.
Patrick McGoohan wearing the iconic Prisoner blazer
During the early 19th century, whilst rowers pulled in one direction, the Royal Navy was charting a different course for the history of the blazer. Legend has it that in 1837, a young Queen Victoria, at the beginning of her reign, was to visit a vessel in her fleet - the HMS Blazer. Concerned with the shabby appearance of his crew, the ship's captain decided to dress them ahead of the royal visit in a uniform of short, dark-blue jackets, in turn creating the first “Navy Blue” blazers. Other battleships in the fleet began to dress their crews in a similar manner, and military sailors soon became known as "bluejackets".
Bluejackets on parade in 1876
The blazers adopted by seafarers differed to those worn by the rowing fraternity. Bold patterns and bright colours wouldn’t suit a life on the ocean wave, and plain navy-blue was the universal choice (together with a smart set of brass buttons). In order to offer protection from the elements, the cloth was usually cut in a double-breasted “reefer” style, creating a refined version of the Peacoat.
The classic Naval Reefer
During the 20th century, the tide changed, and the dichotomy between club and naval blazers began to subside. Hybrid versions of the coat (intended for use on dry land) began to appear, bridging the sea of difference between the original designs. It is undoubtedly the convergence of the two styles (one created for leisurely pursuits and the other for military service) that makes the blazer such a versatile garment, and no surprise that the blazer became an essential piece of everyday kit for Royal Navy Commander, James Bond.
George Lazenby as James Bond in 1969
The blazer worn by George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) was a double-breasted reefer style, clearly influenced by the maritime version of the garment. In contrast, those sported by Sean Connery during his tenure as 007 bore a closer resemblance to the club blazer. They were made by Anthony Sinclair and tailored in his distinctive Conduit Cut style, with the addition of patch pockets and metal buttons (either gunmetal or brass – but nothing too shiny). Sinclair often produced blazers with “swelled edges”, to create a more casual look and further differentiate them from the top half of a suit.
Sean Connery makes a stylish entrance in his Sinclair blazer
Connery’s successor to the Bond role, Sir Roger Moore, was the man most commonly linked to the blazer as a signature look, wearing almost all conceivable design variations during his adventurous lifetime. Conduit Street tailor, Cyril Castle, made those worn for his performances as The Saint and early appearances as James Bond. He was succeeded by tailoring legend Douglas Hayward, and then in his final years (we are proud to say) by Anthony Sinclair.
Sir Roger Moore in his signature style
Sir Roger’s style continued to serve him well thought his life. When GQ published their 2015 list of “50 Best Dressed Men in Britain” he was placed 38th - an improved position from 41st the previous year… and 8 places above David Beckham! British model Lara Stone commented on his achievement, "Sir Roger Moore is the sexiest octogenarian in the world. Those blazers, those slacks, that twinkle". Clearly, whether you are eighteen or in your eighties, if you want to blaze a trail into a best-dressed list and a supermodel’s heart, put a blazer in your closet (and a twinkle in your eye).