Her Majesty’s Blazers

There’s an old story which isn’t true, but should be:

In 1837 the commander of the H.M.S. Blazer, a frigate in Her Majesty’s employ, caught wind that a young Queen Victoria would soon be inspecting his charge and, intent on impressing Her Majesty, replaced his crew’s usual decrepit togs with short blue jackets. The jackets were fitted out with Royal Navy brass buttons and,  in some versions, the jackets were striped in navy and white also. In others, there are no white stripes. Regardless, the young Queen was so taken with the jackets that she required them of all men sailing under her colors, ever after.

Another, equally unverified story is that 19th century Brits took to emblazoning their blue jackets with the crests and decorations of clubs, schools, and military units.

In either event, the blazer was born and it was blue and had brass buttons. In fact, the blazer is the only men’s jacket which is allowed brass buttons. All others take horn, leather, shell, or plastic.

Scrubbed down, the moral is this: blazers are blue (with few exceptions, notably the green blazers worn by alumni of Dartmouth College and some very good golfers) and they come with brass buttons. Jackets which are patterned, textured, or fitted with buttons made of anything but brass aren’t blazers; they’re sport coats. The difference is a matter of arcane minutiae, true, but it’s the type of thing by which the wheat is seperated from the chaff, and the initiates from novices. And anyway, if you’re going to wear clothes, you ought to know what they are.   

The Duke of Windsor's double-breasted blazer.

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2 Responses to Her Majesty’s Blazers

  1. Cantab says:

    Andrew,

    Great blog, I really enjoy your writing, and its great to encounter such an abundance of intelligent opinions in one place. I am a student of Cornell University spending the year at Cambridge, and I’ve actually heard quite a different, and I think quite plausible story as to the origins of the blazer.

    As you probably know, each Cambridge college has its own boat club, all of which compete in intercollegiate championships twice a year. When not actually heaving on an oar, oarsmen wear “blazers” in their club colors- I put blazer in quotation marks because my club’s, for example, is blue and buff striped, and most clubs’ are similarly striped in college colors, as opposed to being solid blue, though all are still referred to as blazers.

    But as the story goes, back in the 1840’s, when the tradition of College boat clubs was in its infancy, Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John’s College took to wearing short-cut jackets in their only college color: blazing scarlet. Seeing as how there lacked an existing name for this type of jacket- anyone had yet to copy them- onlookers took note of this sartorial innovation calling it the “blazer”, impressed by the strikingly bold color and strikingly sharp cut.

    Anyhow, keep up the great writing. Best of luck with your JD.

  2. Andrew Eastman says:

    Thanks for your time and comments, and for the kind words. I’ve heard the Lady Margaret Boat Club story also, and it sounds logical to me.

    Enjoy Cambridge, and best of luck the rest of your time at Cornell. A good friend played hockey there several years ago, and Dartmouth-Cornell games were always a pleasure.

    Best,

    Andrew

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