If there’s one garment that quintessentially represents the prep look, it’s the navy blazer. Originating with officer uniforms of the Royal Navy, the navy blazer has since become a classic American staple due to its versatility, practicality, clean yet colorful presentation and nautical pedigree. Every man should own at least one.
Below is a guide detailing all of the important dimensions to consider when choosing a navy blazer. I’ve also attempted to put these dimensions in a cultural context, so that people interested in learning more about traditional American clothing can spot the details that indicate a truly classic blazer.
First, let’s clear something up: a blazer is a sportcoat, but not all sportcoats are blazers. The line between blazers and other sportcoats is a little hazy, but generally a blazer is thought to be of a single, solid color and is associated with uniforms. There are exceptions – club blazers or regatta blazers may have stripes or piping, but generally, “blazer” means one color, whereas other sportcoats may contain many shades woven together. Now, we can proceed:
The first question to consider is the material. This will determine the physical feel of the fabric (textile experts call it the “hand,” just like wine experts call it “mouthfeel”), what seasons and climates it can be worn in, and to some degree, the garment’s formality.
- Worsted Wool – This is the most common material – if the description just says “wool,” this is what they mean. Worsted wool is a densely-woven, relatively lightweight material with a smooth feel. Almost everyone is familiar with it because most suit jackets are made of worsted wool. This is probably the most versatile material, as it can be worn in all seasons and in every degree of formality. It’s never incorrect, equally appropriate on the dock or in the office. Prone to wrinkling.
- Flannel – While also made of wool, flannel is distinguished from worsted wool by its softer, more textured feel. It has a “nap,” which means that the fabric has a brushed quality, as if someone ran a comb through it. “Doeskin” is a kind of flannel with less nap. Flannel is a thicker, warmer fabric and is meant to be worn in colder weather, and because it’s more textured, it’s thought of as slightly less formal and more sporting. Very preppy – and as an added bonus, it’s more wrinkle-resistant than worsted wool.
- Hopsack – Hopsack has a loose weave and a lighter weight, allowing more air to pass through (“breathing”) and making it ideal for warm weather. It’s also coarser, making it less formal. Because the weave is loose, you can actually see the individual fabric threads, giving it a distinctive texture.
- Poplin – Another lightweight material ideal for spring and summer, poplin differs from hopsack due to its smooth, almost silky texture. Poplin blazers tend to be less structured and more casual, with a “just throw it on” quality. Ideal for lounging around the club.
- Tropical Weight Wool – This is yet another warm-weather option, perhaps the most comfortable and favored by people that actually live in tropical areas. This is wool with a porous weave, similar to hopsack but less textured. Tropical weight wool is actually often distinguished by the garment’s lining, which is the silky interior fabric that actually touches your body. Tropical weight blazers will usually only have this lining around the shoulders, leaving the rest as one porous piece of fabric that you can actually see through if you shine a light behind it.
- Cotton + Linen
Now that you’ve chosen the material, you need to make sure it fits. Whereas the other dimensions in this guide are largely a matter of taste, fit is mostly about right and wrong. Nailing the fit of the blazer is the thing that will determine whether or not you look good. Luckily, the basics of a good fit are the same as what hundreds of suit fit guides will tell you:
- The blazer should be snug around your shoulders. To test, stand straight up and press your shoulder against a wall. If you can feel the blazer’s fabric hit the wall before your shoulder, it’s too big.
- The blazer’s skirt length should extend at least to your knuckles and at most to halfway past your fingers. It should be long enough to cover your butt.
- The blazer’s sleeve length should allow about a quarter to a half inch of shirt cuff to be visible.
- You should be able to give someone a hug in the blazer. If it feels like the blazer will rip if you try to put your arms around something, have a tailor let out the back seam.
This will determine the style profile of the blazer, and it’s a matter of choice, but if your goal is to look preppy and classic, there are absolutely right and wrong things to do.
- Darts – Darts are seams designed to make a garment fit closer to the body by eliminating excess fabric. On a blazer, darts are visible running vertically roughly from the breast down to the pockets, one on each side. Most blazers (and suits) are darted, but the traditional American blazer is undarted, a cut that is called “sack.” Whereas darted blazers are more contoured and slim, undarted blazers let the fabric drape naturally off the body.
- Shoulders – What is in question is the amount of padding in the shoulders. It’s more European and boardroom-like to have padded shoulders, giving the wearer a larger profile that many find confidence-boosting. But the classic American cut is the natural shoulder , which has minimal padding and follows the natural line of the shoulder as closely as possible.
- Vents – The vent is the opening in the back of the jacket. It can either be center vented, with a single opening up the middle, or side vented, with two openings on either side of the back of the jacket. Side vents are more European, and have their origins as an adaptation to make wearing a jacket easier while hunting on horseback. Center vents are more classically American.
- Single or Double Breasted – Like suits, blazers can be single or double breasted. Single breasted blazers have one row of buttons, double breasted have two. Single breasted is far more common, but double breasted blazers do exist and are thought of as especially nautical and British. Prince Charles likes them.
So, we find that the classic prep look is single-breasted, center-vent and undarted with natural shoulders (also known as “Ivy” style), although it’s certainly possible to look good in a different cut.
- Color – They should be gold. There are lots of metals and materials that people use for blazer buttons – brass, silver, horn, plastic – but on this issue, nothing matches gold. It pops perfectly against the navy and creates a totally classic image. As an additional note, it’s highly encouraged to swap out store-bought buttons for ones that carry the crest of a meaningful institution, such as your alma mater.
- Stance – This boils down to whether the blazer has two or three buttons. We’re talking only about single breasted blazers, double breasted ones have all kinds of complicated stances that I don’t want to get into. Basically, two buttons is the safest and most common route, but three buttons can work if you have a long torso. However, the most classic stance of all is the “3/2 roll” . This means that the blazer has three buttons, but the top button is actually behind the roll of the lapel and not visible, leaving two functional buttons. The 3/2 roll is what J. Press and Brooks Brothers first sold, so even though there’s nothing that physically marks it as preppy, that’s tradition for you.
- Cuffs – In addition to the buttons you use to close the jacket, there are also buttons on the cuffs that are used to…well, not really do anything, just look nice. Some very high-end jackets have what are called “functional” cuffs, where the buttons have actual buttonholes, and can be unbuttoned to take apart the jacket sleeve. This serves no practical purpose other than for Internet menswear pundits to fetishize novelties while getting overcharged by a factor of five. In fact, functional cuffs are a huge downside if you ever need to tailor the sleeves, making a relatively inexpensive but necessary operation cost up to triple the price (it’s more work for the tailor if you have to move a bunch of buttons and buttonholes when you want to make the sleeve shorter). Cuff buttons are also examined for a slight overlap, called “kissing buttons” which supposedly can only be achieved by hand-sewing and indicates a quality garment. Cuff buttons vary in number, but it’s worth noting that while most blazers will have three or four cuff buttons, the classic American preppy/Ivy number to have is two. It probably started as a cost-saving measure when J Press was a struggling start-up, but that’s more tradition for you.
And a word to the wise – with a either a two button or three button blazer, never, ever button the bottom button.
- Flap pockets – The most common variety, these are pockets that have a flap of fabric that closes over and outside the mouth of the pocket. Most suits have these.
- Patch pockets – Patch pockets are actually sewn on to the outside of the jacket (although they still may be closed with a flap). This is very sporting, very informal, and very preppy.
- Ticket pocket – A single extra pocket positioned directly above the right hand jacket pocket. Very sporting and less formal. Not often found on blazers, but often on tweed sportcoats.
Where to Buy
If you’re looking for classic, traditional American styling, you have two strong options – J Press at a high price point and O’Connell’s Clothingat a slightly lower one. Blazers bought from either place can be assumed to have natural shoulders and a center vent, and many will be sack cut (undarted).
Brooks Brothers is a different animal, because while many of their offerings are classically styled, many are not, so you have to know exactly what you want going in. The classic blazer offered by Brooks is this one – the Three Button Sack. Outside of this, Brooks blazers come in four cuts – Regent, Fitzgerald, Cambridge, and Madison. Regent will have very slim tailoring, including waist suppression and padded shoulders. It should be avoided if you’re looking for a traditional American blazer. The Fitzgerald has relatively natural shoulders but with darted tailoring that hugs the body – it’s a slim fit option. The Cambridge is an interesting hybrid, with classic “Ivy” styling (sack, 3/2) but slim-tailored for a closer fit. I suspect many people here would like it. The Madison is their most traditional cut. I don’t have any direct experience with their Golden Fleece line, but I’d be highly skeptical of their astronomical price points.
If you’re looking for a bargain, the first place to go should be a thrift store, preferably in a small, wealthy New England town (plenty of well-dressed old men donating their wardrobes). Most of the blazers you’ll find will have the label of the manufacturer rather than the seller, so you’ll want to be on the lookout for high quality American manufacturers like Southwick and Oxxford. However, if you don’t trust thrift stores and would prefer a new garment for cheap, I’ve heard good things about the JC Penney Stafford line. Their hopsack blazercomes in at a very reasonable $200.
Written by Tahmasp and ADoucett