A Man’s Primer on the Blazer Jacket

by Antonio on September 16, 2010 · 30 comments

in Dress & Grooming, Style

Incredibly versatile, a navy blazer is one of the core garments a man should own if he lives in a large city, near the water, or has a lifestyle where the wearing of suits and sports jackets needs to be bridged.  A blazer should always be matched with odd trousers (never a fabric too similar) and is not a substitute for a suit; rather, it is meant to fill the void between a business suit and casual dress.  Technically, blazers are more formal than light colored or rough weave sport jackets and about on par with a suit worn without a tie and loafers.  A blazer is at home dressed up with a tie and dark slacks and is a natural dressed down with an open collar striped dress shirt, white trousers, and boat shoes.

Blazer Jacket History

The story behind the men’s blazer jacket is a muddled one.  Today what we generally call a blazer jacket is actually the offspring of two distinct jacket styles, one being double breasted and having a British military origin while the other is single breasted having evolved from the jacket worn at rowing clubs.  From 1870 to 1950 there are about 10 different stories that I know of as to how the blazer became a classic – I’ll bore you with none of these.  What I can tell you for certain is that the blazer jacket has been serving men for over 100 years, is a style that has been approved of and worn by kings, and because of its naval history evokes a feeling of nautical adventure in its presentation.   The modern blazer is a hybrid of this heritage – it can be found in single or double breasted styles, is often cut from a wide range of colors, utilizes a variety of buttons and patches, and is used by businessmen, sportsmen, and school children to signify belonging and placement in society.

Blazer Jacket Style

Blazers come in all types; for this article I will give you an overview of the traditional “country” styles.  However, it’s important to note that an Italian can ask his English tailor to make him a jacket in the American style……in other words travel and fluid borders have made it so that these distinctions have less to do with location.  Instead, these country styles serve as more of a historical guide on what was and is still possible to create.  But hybrids incorporating a mix of the below characteristics are common and often even preferred.

American Style Blazer – The traditional American style blazer is normally a 2 button navy blue jacket with soft shoulders.  The jacket’s pockets can either be patch or flap pocket, with the lapel style being notch.  Normally you’ll see a center vent here, although I encourage men to choose a double vent as it flatters more body types.

English Style Blazer – English style blazers vary from their American counterparts in that they are built around more structured shoulders with a suppressed waist (assuming the man in question is of the right build).  They build out the chest a bit more and have less of a box shape.  Made in either a single or double breasted style, the English style blazer will have a double vent and if double breasted always peak lapels.  The single breasted version will have notch lapels and most likely 3 buttons but possibly 2.

blazer jacket types

Single-Breasted American Style vs. Double-Breasted English Cut

Italian Style Blazer – The Italian style blazer varies from the other two in that the fabric selected is lighter weight, and the entire jacket build is much less structured.  Extremely soft shoulders and a flexible but gently constructed inner lining allow the jacket to float next to the wearer’s body.  Vented or unvented, 3 buttons or 2, the Italian jackets have more flair and are a reflection of their wearer’s personality and quirks.

Blazer Buttons

The most noticeable detail on a blazer jacket, blazer buttons can range from delicate smoked mother of pearl buttons to heavy solid gold family heirlooms passed from father to son.  Most manufacturers will make their jackets with simple generic brass buttons; although many never change these, a man in the know can easily turn one jacket into many by simply having a few sets and changing the buttons out with the seasons.  Mother of pearl for spring & summer, silver for fall, and gold for winter.

Blazer Buttons

3 Various Blazer Buttons

Blazer Fabric

Blue worsted Serge is the classic blazer fabric, although any navy worsted or flannel wool is a classic choice.   Rougher weaves or fabrics with a slight pattern technically transform the jacket from a blazer to a blue sportcoat, but the distinctions are blurred by most, and I have to admit my favorite “blazer” uses a blue glen check fabric that I love.  Besides navy, blazers also come in bottle green here in the United States and lighter colors across the world.

How a Blazer Jacket Should Fit

A blazer should fit in the same fashion a suit jacket and sport coat should.

  • Room in the shoulders to allow full arm movement but not so much room that the shoulders are over extending the shoulder points by more than ½ inch.
  • Room in the chest to fully button the jacket but not enough to hide a baseball.
  • The blazer jacket sleeves should extend to the wrist bone and show ¼ to ¾ an inch of shirt cuff when standing straight.
  • The jacket length should always fully cover your backside – it can be a bit longer if you are taller than six foot, and should lean on the shorter side if you are shorter than five foot six.
how a blazer should fit

How a blazer jacket should fit

What to Wear with a Blazer Jacket

Grey Flannel Trousers – the perfect partner for a blazer jacket, grey flannel trousers compliment a wide range of sport jackets as well and have historically been the go to trousers for stylish men for almost a century.  They are comfortable, classic, and durable.

Khaki Trousers – Will make a man look a bit shorter as this combination’s contrast in color draws attention to the midsection instead of allowing the eyes to flow from head to toe.  Men south of five foot seven and those with substantial midsections should try to wear either darker shades of khaki or skip this option altogether.

White Cotton Slacks – A great summer choice, white cotton trousers require a bit of personality to pull off and need to be worn with care.  The pros outweigh the cons here though; if you can pull it off, the contrast looks great.

Quality Denim (aka Jeans) – Levi 501s and 505s are my favorite, but there are so many types out there it shouldn’t be too hard to find something that works for your body shape.  The key here is to know that the quality and color of the jeans will determine the dress level of the outfit.  Dark colored 501s and a blazer – Andy Warhol pulled this off at big events in NYC; shredded designer jeans and a double breasted blazer…..you’re on your own there!  And never wear baggy jeans like this with a blazer.

Lastly, remember the details.  A blazer deserves nice slip-on dress shoes, a crisp dress shirt, and always looks great accompanied by a simple pocket square.

Finally,  the question I hear most often – Can you wear an old suit jacket as a blazer?

The answer is yes, assuming that-

1) the jacket fits you.
2) the style is simple (no 4-button, Saturday Night Fever, or Zoot Suit coats).
3) the fabric is solid navy or dark blue.
4) the plastic buttons are removed and proper blazer buttons are attached.

Written by
Antonio Centeno
President, A Tailored Suit
Articles on Custom Suits – Dress Shirts – Blazers & Sports Jackets
Join our Facebook Page & Win Custom Clothing

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mike September 17, 2010 at 12:56 am

One should stress “old” suit jacket if you’re going to pull that trick. In other words, the pants had better be lost to the ages, because once you split them from the jacket, the fabric will wear at uneven rates and look odd when paired together again.

I’d even urge caution at the practice altogether; while most casual observers aren’t likely to notice the trick, sharp-eyed sartorialists will note that suit jackets are cut from subtly different patterns than blazers. If you know what to look for, it doesn’t look *quite* right.

But again, if you’re in the sort of company who’s not likely to pick up on it, more power to you.

2 Ethan C. September 17, 2010 at 1:01 am

So then, is a black blazer a contradiction in terms? Because that’s what I bought in high school, and still wear sometimes to this day. Though usually I wear it with black pants, for a faux suit.

3 Steve September 17, 2010 at 1:54 am

My question is similar to Ethan C’s. How do you feel about a black blazer or jacket?

I wear mine with Levi 505s and a dress shirt. I know that’s a similar to VP Biden’s outfit, but my jeans fit! I either dress it up with black leather shoes and belt, or dress it down with black Chuck Taylor All Stars and a canvas belt.

4 Peter September 17, 2010 at 2:54 am

Very sweet! Since I’m in Shanghai, I hope you will forgive me when I say I can print this baby off and head to a Shanghai fabric market. Great article and I appreciated the overview w/ the practical suggestions.

Cheers,

Peter aka @ourmaninsh

5 Charles September 17, 2010 at 3:02 am

Can we hear those stories anyway?

6 Steve J September 17, 2010 at 3:19 am

I own 5 blazers none of which are double breasted. My particular favourite style of blazer is the regatta blazer, bold stripes that became popular in the 1920′s whilst donned at boating events.

7 Paulo September 17, 2010 at 7:53 am

I think some may be confusing Blazers with Sport Coats. Blazers are always solid. And black, crimson, green (The Masters) are fine, and in the modern world can be paired even with designer jeans as easily as linen slacks

A suit without a tie? Not done. (That’s a blazer moment.) Worse of course is the suit unbuttoned neckline and loosened tie – which screams “drunk”.

8 Paul September 17, 2010 at 8:08 am

What a great post! There’s nothing so basica the the blazer and the fact that so much goes with a blazer it’s considered the first item of mature clothing young men should buy. Like the history aspects of your post as well. Good luck to you!

9 Jordan September 17, 2010 at 9:00 am

@Ethan C. and Steve

A black blazer might work at a night club, but outside of that, don’t be surprised if anyone asks you to take a look at the desert menu or says “check please!”

Seriously though, a black blazer lacks the versatility of navy blue, and looks very harsh under normal lighting conditions.

10 Antonio September 17, 2010 at 10:25 am

@Mike – Thank for the comment and good point. I provided the info as many men will try to do this no matter what; my goal is simply to help them make the best of the situation. I have to admit I have done this myself…….the key is changing out those plastic buttons!

@Ethan&Steve&Jordan – Jordan is right on the money….a black blazer is too harsh. If you have black hair and dark colored skin….you can pull it off……but for most the contrast it creates id too much.

@Peter – If I were in Shanghai I would do the same!

@Charles – Perhaps I need to post them on my website?

@Steve – Yes, I didn’t even touch on boating blazers…..that would have turned the article into a 2000 worder!

@Paulo – That’s one take, but look at the boating and club world and you’ll see blazer in all types of patterns and colors. But 95% of them are solid colored. And Tom Ford along with many other stylish modern men routinely pull the “no tie with suit” look. The key is to wear the right type of collar, keep the suit fabric simple, and own the look with a pocket square or other detail.

@Paul – Thank you sir – nice blog!

11 Len L September 17, 2010 at 11:03 am

What’s the rule with Black trousers and a Navy Blue Blazer? I’ve heard you should never mix black and navy blue…..

12 Jordan September 17, 2010 at 11:18 am

@Len L

Phase out your black trousers and replace with charcoal grey. They will pair excellently with a navy blazer.

13 Brandon September 17, 2010 at 12:17 pm

And what can I do if the majority of my trousers are dark (black)?

14 Mike K September 17, 2010 at 6:06 pm

If you’re going to wear a white shirt and grey slacks with your navy blazer, make sure they’re a dark charcoal grey. Too light of a grey and you look like a rent a cop security type.

15 Steve September 17, 2010 at 7:15 pm

@Jordan, @Antonio
Thanks for your further explanation about the black blazer!

I do use mine mainly as club or concert wear, which means dim lights, loud music, and dancing. I’ll make sure to save the black jacket exclusively for those events, and keep it out of the bright lights where it would appear too harsh.

16 JG September 17, 2010 at 10:23 pm

Thou shall not wear khaki pants in winter.

17 Chris Kavanaugh September 18, 2010 at 2:09 am

I was waiting for my reserved table at a ocean side eatery. Man in a blazer decides as president of the local yacht club he had ‘earned’ my table. I was informed of this with a finger jerked toward a 60′ ketch tied nearby. I jerked my finger toward a Coast Guard 378′ high endurance cutter. “That’s my ship. Your sailboat’s name again is?”
A versatile item,the blazer: I just worry about some people getting chocolate on the lining.

18 Mack Hall September 19, 2010 at 2:37 pm

I shalt wear khaki in all seasons. So, ha. And as Bertie Wooster would say, I mean for that “Ha” to sting.

19 Chris Kavanaugh September 20, 2010 at 3:47 am

I’ve tried not to comment on the ‘designer jeans’ with blazer. Levis were first sold to California gold miners. The pants were durable, little more as the #1 killer was not Jouquin Murietta, but exposure. The things are hot in the summer,cold in winter and worn tight enough produce enough heat to decimate sperm counts. 5 pair will shrink 10 ways and getting a perfect fit in one simple luck. They aren’t even made in San Francisco anymore or in the heavy material that was their sole virtue and cost 100 fold more for some fake eyetalian designer house.
The blazer. By all means lets all look like a moviestar turned from putting coke up his nose to sniffing Jesus; resplendant in jeans, tennis shoes. blazer and tshirt on some religious programme telling how Joseph’s coat of many colours saved his soul though sartorially damned. It doesn’t require shatnez codes to realise bluejeans and navy blazer look like a goodwill Industries ensemble the cat peed on.

20 art September 20, 2010 at 8:45 am

Jeans of any kind with an odd jacket is pushing it depending on your location and the social setting. With a blazer is unacceptable anywhere.

@ Antonio: Tom Ford looks like an ass wearing a suit without a tie, making the rest of us that much farther from pulling it off.

21 Terry September 20, 2010 at 11:13 pm

Hello,
Thanks very much for his site and this article.

I’m just beginning to focus more on my own proper style and have what seems like a simple question about a blazer I just purchased:

The blazer has a flap on the lower back that has been tied down with two pieces of string, one on each side of the flap. Is there a specific reason for this? Should I leave the flap tied down or cut the strings?

22 art September 21, 2010 at 8:13 am

@ Terry: The vents (the cuts on either side of that flap) as well as the pockets are usually sewn shut during assembly to keep everything flat. Do cut the threads before wearing the jacket.

23 JS September 26, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I’m English and go to Cambridge University, and the position I take on Blazers is that they should only be worn at Summer garden parties (or yachts, not that I have that opportunity) and then only if earned – the most obvious is the University Blue blazer, but there are also college boat/rugby/cricket club ones. Unless I earn one, I won’t wear one.

For occasions when shirt and tie is required, it will always be a suit for me. Blazers are too informal.

24 Helen September 28, 2010 at 4:06 pm

Great post! The kind of thorough overview a guy should print out and take a peek every time when going to buy a blazer or deciding how to wear one. I haven’t seen many of those double-breasted blazers though – probably because these don’t fit every body type.

25 jeff September 29, 2010 at 4:58 am

Sorry, I stopped wearing Blazers after every building security, customer service drone, and realtor started wearing them. I wear bland earth tone sport coats, crisp white dress shirt with neutral color slacks; leather laced boots, a solid color tie, and Casio Dive watch. Most of the time I don’t wear the jacket, which means I wear a v neck shirt or sweater over a colored tee. I pretty much dress like Mark Harmon in NCIS, but with a lot less attitude, and make up for it by making sure the clothes are clean, with a sharp crease on the slacks. Oh, one other thing, none of my pants have pleats, or are relaxed fit, at 53 it just makes me look sloppy. Bald so hair is buzzed or shaved, clean shaven, with teeth cleaned twice a year, but no bleaching. It works for me. I’m new here so I wanted to let you know.

26 Gerald November 19, 2012 at 1:15 am

The Navy Blue Blazer goes also excellent with red trousers. (corduroy)

27 Jean Francois December 18, 2013 at 4:51 am

Great article !
I m wondering what’s the name of that blazer style (n°3 on the first picture), the one with no front flap ?

28 Jonathan December 31, 2013 at 9:32 pm

Art is incorrect. A blazer is perfectly acceptable with jeans, especially considering the formality of both; assuming the jeans are close fitting and a darker color. GQ wrote a nice article about it, as well.

29 Jovi January 25, 2014 at 4:04 am

I’m wondering if 84% Merino Wool, 16% Mohair blend makes a good blazer? I no knowledge about the Mohair fabric.

30 Patrick March 19, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Not sure what all the fuss is about jeans and a blazer. I can say, I look damn sexy in the pair with some churches black boots. The buttons are black and the blazer is camel, dark navy with some indigo levis. Can you say “Heart Breaker”!! Then again, I am married and my spouse loves it!

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