I really like this picture of my Dad from his RAF days, (that’s him aged 27 on the right), which is captioned ‘With Flight Lieutenant Stevens on leave in Torquay, June 1948’. Notice he’s out-of-uniform but still sporting a dark blazer with the RAF badge on the chest pocket. I have a vague and distant memory of seeing this blazer when I was a kid but by the time I was old enough to remember such things more distinctly the blazer was history – either worn out, out of fashion or no longer fitting well.
In the picture above from a holiday to Scotland in Summer 1967 Dad is on the left next to his best mate (and ground crew mechanic) Larry Newton. Both are wearing comedy deerstalkers bought for a laugh and Larry is sporting his own version of the blazer with RAF badge. (Yours truly is in the hooped polo shirt in the front row).
These pictures got me thinking about crested blazers. You’ve got to give credit to Ralph Lauren for forging and maintaining an enormous clothing empire for several decades amid the shifting sands of the capricious fashion business. A continuing theme of his designs is the nexus of olde worlde English tradition combined with american trad and by extension preppy style.
Enduring components of the prevalent English theme in Lauren’s style include his appropriation of regimental striped ties, and his collections have often featured some version of the crested navy blue blazer. He even invented an ‘old school’ type crest for these Lauren blazers. No surprise that he was chosen to redesign the line judges’ livery at Wimbledon.
I have a bit of a soft spot for that old English style myself. By the time I got to my secondary school it had been converted into a ‘comprehensive’ but still had a few vestiges of its grammar school past. We had a uniform of grey strides, blue shirt, striped tie and navy blazer with an embroidered Phoenix on the chest pocket. Sixth form prefects had the white piping stitched around their lapels. Ralph Lauren’s dream!
There was a bit of a revival of this look in the late eighties – a time when lads going out on a weekend still wore jackets and occasionally even ties. I used to think it amusing that fellas who would have hated their school uniform and done anything to get out of it a few years previously were now adopting a very similar look voluntarily. Even the bouncers at the excellent and late-lamented ‘Chambers’ nightclub in my home town had a uniform of navy blazers replete with chest pocket badges and cream chinos.
There’s a strong association between sports and blazers. In the book ‘Rowing Blazers’ by Jack Carlson he makes the case that the origin of blazers was with rowing clubs not with any naval affiliation. Either way, the sporting origin of blazers doesn’t necessarily result in a desirable outcome. As Pete Aron in the excellent 1966 film ‘Grand Prix’, James Garner is forced to ‘go corporate’ but never quite looks comfortable in the maroon blazer he’s forced to wear as a media commentator while he’s between driving jobs.
The ‘green jacket’ given to winners of the Masters golf tournament is quite subdued, but the same can’t be said to the version awarded to inductees into the NFL Hall of Fame.
And then there are the hosts of the ‘Men In Blazers’ football (soccer) pundit show who have taken the look beyond parody, wearing blazers with a blazer badge consisting of two blazers and the Latin slogan ‘Vire recte vestiti’ which translates to ‘well dressed men’:
After the sixth form I went to college at Carnegie Leeds which had a great sports reputation. Anyone who played on the teams was encouraged to get the blazer with the Carnegie college crest of the ancient greek ‘discobolus’ for travelling to and from games. I didn’t like the style of the jackets (two button), but there was an option to get the silver bullion badge and put it on your own blazer. I was as proud as any young graduate should be when I matriculated in 1989 and was hoping the reputation of the place would stand me in good stead for my future. I then moved to America for graduate school where nobody knew nor cared a thing about Carnegie College!
Still, my first ever custom commission was a blazer ordered to accommodate the college badge. Not being very clued up at the time, I spent an obscene amount of money at Brooks Brothers for a heavy wool made-to-measure blazer which fit poorly and which I wore very rarely. Another bad custom experience which was repeated when I commissioned my wedding suit from an independent tailor.
I then got this blazer made-to-measure a few years later at Bachrach with much lighter weight wool and somewhat better results, and transferred the badge onto this one. My favourite professor and mentor with whom I’d stayed in contact over the years heard about my tailoring adventures and cut the crested buttons off his own blazer and sent them to me. He came to our wedding in 2012 and sadly died the following year, thus giving extra sentimental value to wearing this.
There was talk at one time of renaming the entire Leeds Metropolitan University ‘Carnegie Leeds’ but that idea was eventually vetoed in favour of ‘Leeds Beckett’ so it appears that the Carnegie name, reputation and discobolus crest are now consigned to the history books. Dusting off my blazer, which is a good weight for breezy spring weather, might serve to provoke an interesting talking point, but won’t open any doors for me! As we progress through life our work experience eclipses any cachet gained from the reputation of our seats of higher learning, which is how it should be.
The badge is made of real silver wires and can obviously come off as a little ostentatious so I don’t mind that over time it’s gained that tarnished patina which calms the look down. Back at college we’d usually wear our crested ties too, but this may seem ‘de trop’ with the discobolus displayed on tie, blazer badge and buttons. Nowadays I’m more likely to wear some other repp striped tie instead.
Sunglasses – Randolph Engineering Crew Chief
Blazer – Bachrach made-to-measure
Shirt – Tyrwhitt
Tie – Carnegie / Tyrwhitt
Strides – Banana Republic
Chelsea Boots – Carmina