The blazer is a pillar in the pantheon of men’s smart-casual; at times a symbol of institutional conservatism but, like all the best menswear, something that can be adapted to great stylistic effect. A good blazer can deliver a multitude of looks. Modern-classic versions such as Zegna’s Silkco silk/cotton super-deep-midnight-blue blazer (£1,090), or Dunhill’s Camdeboo mohair-wool number with steel monogrammed buttons (£795), can function at any level of demanding semi‑formal occasion when styled traditionally. Whereas, if you team one with a cheeky ostrich-skin loafer and a cashmere round-neck knit, you’ve got an entirely different look: relaxed, debonair but, due to its lofty lineage and military pedigree, still with plenty of clout aboard.
Speculation exists over when and where blazers evolved. Some sartorial pundits suggest they date back to Queen Victoria’s visit to HMS Blazer in 1837. The captain ordered his crew to be decked out in neat, lightweight coats, echoing the naval pea coat but with Royal Navy brass buttons. Ever since, button style has been critical. McQueen’s prodigious double-breasted blazer (£1,175), for example, has six gold-set black enamel buttons and is given a 1970s accent by its hardware. And Ferragamo’s teal or aqua double-breasted cotton jackets (from £955), cut very short, pert and bright (perfect for younger men), make the blazer grade because of their white mother-of-pearl buttons. Thom Sweeney uses imported grey or blue mother-of-pearl buttons to subtly update its soft‑shouldered bespoke blazers, with patch pockets in open-weave blends (£1,800). It also cuts excellent cotton chinos (£550) to go with them.
For more fashionable takes on the blazer, narrowed chinos – even ones that finish a little short – look very dapper. This gives the chance to show off penny or tassel loafers, or Gucci’s horsebit offering (£340), which comes in various new leather and canvas finishes.
Meanwhile, there are other menswear archivists who claim that right up until 1880 naval officers were still wearing tailcoats. A short tunic coat evolved in the Senior Service (of the Navy), eventually becoming double-breasted. Cut by military outfitters such as Gieves & Hawkes, it was then that blazers entered civilian scenarios. Gieves & Hawkes has held royal warrants for 200 years and still produces military officers’ uniforms. But it’s not all tradition, says creative director Jason Basmajian: “The blazer is a blank canvas. It’s such a strong menswear classic – men see it as a chance to explore creative licence.” Gieves & Hawkes offers piped edges and coloured borders – a feature ready-to-wear designers love. Jaunty versions include Hackett’s in navy with thin white piping (from £395) and Saint Laurent’s in chic black with white grosgrain ribbon trim (£1,285).
Gieves also offers 12 ready-to-wear options. “A garment-washed cotton canvas one with patch pockets [£495] has no pads in the shoulders. You can throw it on as an alternative to a windcheater,” says Basmajian. Ten doors down on The Row, at Huntsman, further traditional work is on offer. A handsome, one-button blazer in the distinctive house style (strong shoulder line, built-up chest) comes bespoke (£3,616) or ready to wear (£1,500). “The shoulder is sharp, and the cut of the jacket a little longer,” says general manager Peter Smith. “Emphasis is on a clean line. Many clients supply their own club buttons and add their own linings.”
A club tie is the smartest take on blazer styling – do consider those with a bit of texture and worn with a larger knot à la Michael Caine in 1972’s Sleuth. For maximum panache, wear an open-neck shirt with a slim scarf-tie inside. Prince of Wales check or grey flannel trousers are the classic pairing – but don’t forget chinos. JFK wore very light chinos, sockless with penny loafers, to great effect with a shirt and narrow tie.
A blazer can also uplift a pair of quality jeans. White or grey melange jersey T-shirts or sweatshirts (£45 and £95 from Sunspel) look very cool under a navy blazer with jeans for casual occasions. White or light “naturally” coloured denims can also work, although with white there’s a danger of stepping into nouveau Sloane territory.
There are schools of thought regarding colour-based blazer origins. Oarsmen of the Lady Margaret Boat Club of St John’s College, Cambridge, founded in 1825, wore bright-red striped jackets said to be “ablaze”. Today the showy, dandy blazer ethos is channelled superbly by Valentino in an off-white version (£1,450, from Harrods), but the look is explored to its fullest by Angelo Galasso. His scarlet linen, double-breasted and leather-piped affair, with wooden hardware (£2,700), is quite the boldest blazer statement I’ve seen. Not for the faint-hearted, but right on the money for those who fancy pushing out the sartorial boat.