Ask Chris: Blazers vrs. Sports Coats

Chris, aka “The Elegantologist” is the writer behind the blog “Easy and Elegant Life”. He is a writer and wardrobe consultant. Every month he will answer a question that has been bugging someone enough to ask us here at Leviner Wood.

This month a client’s wife was deciding between a sport coat and a blazer for her husband and wondered aloud what the difference is between the two?

Pedigree, for lack of a better word.

All menswear is influenced heavily by military or sporting garments. The Navy or rowing blazer, and the sports coat (see what I did there?) are no exceptions to that rule.

The blazer has two origin stories, from what I gather.

hms_blazer_crest

Apparently, prior to 1857, anything went for the British Navy. The commander of the HMS Harlequin, dressed his crew accordingly. The Admiralty were not amused and issued a standard for the greatest maritime fleet in the world. “No more clowns.” A theory that follows is that the blazer was named for the HMS Blazer.  In order for the crew to look presentable during a pass in review (or whatever the Navy calls it) for Queen Victoria, the Captain commissioned shorter reefer jackets that were to be double-breasted and brass buttoned. The cut of the coat ensured that if one side of it was soiled, it could be buttoned under the cleaner side for inspection. Why blue? India was British Crown Colony and produced a lot of indigo dye. Indigo is color-fast. Nice look, useful, durable. A keeper.

The Shiplake College First Eight sport their blazers for Henley.

The Shiplake College First Eight sport their blazers for Henley.

The other story has it that our modern blazer descends from the brightly colored and striped sports coats worn as team colors during crew meets. (A great book about them has been published. They are still passed down to a new generation in each rowing club.) The originals to come up with this are purported to have been 1825’s Lady Margaret Boat Club of St. John’s College, Cambridge. The look caught on. Sometime later, a visiting undergraduate saw the gathered teams and supporters sporting their crew colors and remarked that the crowd just “blazed” in the sunlight; the “Blazer” was born.

POWSalute

The sports jacket (or sport coat) was just that: a garment for gentlemanly sporting outings. Think: shooting, riding, hiking, a day on the links. Sports coats were country wear (as opposed to the city suit), and so reflected their environments. Tweeds took their distinctive colors from the plants native to the region where the wool was dyed and woven. Tweed was effectively used as camouflage when stalking or shooting. At a distance, it would blend into the moors and hillsides covered in native growth. The thicker material withstood thorns and branches; the natural oils in the wool protected the wearer from the constant British drizzle. Country clothes became popular in the City when the then-Prince of Wales (a youthful rebel and dandy) took to wearing them as an alternative to stuffier city suits. Plaids had been popular since the Royals took to Balmoral in the Scottish highlands. It wa s short leap for the Prince of Wales to take to the patterns and have them made up in suits and sports coats to wear with “odd trousers.” The familiar black and white plaid with a red, or blue overcheck was named for Edward VIII. We call it a “Prince of Wales check.”

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