True Blue: A History of the Navy Blazer

The blazer has always had a distinctly nautical flare. The origins of the name are lost to history, but each (perhaps apocryphal) tale is inexorably tied to the water. Some of the more fanciful stories involve the crew of the HMS Blazer and take place in the years before the British Royal Navy standardized its uniforms in the mid-1800s. One states that, during a review of the Blazer not long after taking ascending to the throne in 1837, a young Queen Victoria was so thoroughly taken by the sight of the crew in their dapper dark blue coats that she declared on the spot that the style would henceforth be known as a blazer. Another tale of the HMS Blazer traces the jacket’s name to something of a style competition between the crews of the Blazer and the Harlequin. Yet another credits a frustrated captain in implementing the jacket as a way to curtail his crew’s tendency toward sloppy dress.

The origin story that holds the most water traces the name to the bright—or blazing—red jackets worn by the members of a rowing club at St. John’s College, Cambridge, England. The jackets were worn to identify members of the club while they competed in regattas—like a predecessor to the sports jersey of the modern era. The practice caught on, first at other Cambridge colleges, then spreading farther afield and birthing what we now know as the rowing blazer. The style is characterized by eye-catching colors, sharp stripes and contrast trim—often in grosgrain for a textural twist—at the edges. While some rowing blazers still serve their intended purpose, warming and identifying rowers at regattas, the style is also firmly entrenched in the wardrobes of the sartorially savvy.

By the time the blazer reached American soil and was wholeheartedly embraced by Brooks Brothers in the 1930s, this iconic design had settled into the shape we know and love today—a quietly sophisticated jacket of deep navy blue, often accented by gleaming brass buttons. It has become the foundation of the polished man’s wardrobe, eternally stylish and versatile. Paired with dark wool trousers, it is appropriate for all but the most traditional offices. With chinos and a button-down-collar shirt, it epitomizes American style, while the act of adding one over a sharp white shirt and jeans exudes an effortless air of laid-back polish