Doctor Damage

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For some time now I’ve been accumulating images of men wearing different types of blazers in a variety of settings, and this thread is intended to share those images. I don’t have a particular purpose in mind, although if the images spark discussion and add to the “marketplace of ideas” then I will have done my part.

The plan is to post the following:
1. post a general discussion on the origins of the blazer,
2. post images of reefer jackets,
3. post images of double-breasted blazers, &
4. post images of single-breasted blazers.

Throughout I have chosen images which illustrate the bewildering variety of buttoning configurations, and other variations of details, to demonstrate how blazers come in many different shapes and forms.

Enjoy!

DocD
 

Doctor Damage

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Origins of the Blazer

On the origins of the blazer we are usually presented with either the oft-related story of the captain of the HMS Blazer or something about midshipmen hauling in sails. Frankly, I don’t believe either story (neither does Lenius or Boyer, and others too), although I do agree the origins of the blazer are nautical. Boyer describes the modern blazer as a stylized version of the “reefer” jacket which I shall address later in this post.

But first, let’s dispose of the two most famous stories about the blazer.

HMS Blazer

My readings on Royal Navy uniforms and equipment of Nelson’s era put the kibosh to both the HMS Blazer and the midshipmen versions of the blazer story. The fact is Royal Navy seamen wore short jackets with gold buttons during the Nelson era, and occasionally much earlier, but not during the Victorian period. Blue became the universal colour for seamen’s jackets sometime in the middle of the 18th century. Jackets that we would consider familiar were commonly worn by seamen as walking-out or shore attire for fighting ashore and wooing the charming ladies of the ports. These jackets were short and had two or three rows of small gold buttons, sometimes in great number, usually worn unbuttoned. Sleeve cuffs had buttons and “mariner’s cuffs”, in essence surgeon’s cuffs but with larger attached flaps. However, by the time Victoria ascended the throne, seamen were typically uniformed in the archetypical “square rig” uniform, although this was technically not adopted as a prescribed uniform for seamen until 1857. Thus it is highly unlikely Victoria would have seen seamen wearing jackets that resemble the modern blazer or any dress other than square rig.

(As an interesting sidebar, Nelson-era seaman tailored their own clothes on board from bolts of cloth procured through the Admiralty for this purpose. For some reason, checked shirts became extremely popular among seaman and were even aped by landlubbers wishing to look a bit more...nautical. So the check shirt, which we usually associate with British country sports, especially equestrian, had other associations as well.)

Midshipmen

Officers and midshipmen—teenage boys getting a start on an officer’s career in the navy with on-the-job training—wore jackets with long tails throughout the 19th century. In the Nelson era these resembled modern “cutaways”, while in the Victorian period these evolved into full-skirted frock coats. None of these jackets resembled the modern blazer. Therefore the modern blazer did not originate with jackets worn by midshipmen.

Reefer Jackets

As I noted at the start of this post, Boyer describes the modern blazer as a stylized version of the “reefer” jacket, allegedly named after a certain group of seamen who reefed in sails. Does this story have credence? I believe it does and here’s why:

The reefer jacket is a double-breasted jacket buttoning 6X3 and traditionally worn for nautical and sailing activities by civilians. The term “reefer jacket” also describes the jacket worn today by Royal Navy petty officers (senior ranks) as full dress. These jackets are as the civilian jacket described above, but with gold RN buttons and three small gold buttons placed horizontally on each sleeve, a design which has not changed substantially since the 19th century. The modern reefer jacket worn today by Royal Navy petty officers can be traced (at least visually) back to the short jackets commonly worn by Nelson’s sailors. Petty officers—often known in early days by their job titles, such as coxswains and boatswains, for example—originally wore clothing similar to seamen. When the square rig uniform was adopted for seamen, petty officers continued to wear short jackets.

Since 1889, Royal Navy officers have worn jackets with eight gold buttons in two rows, called “monkey jackets”. These were originally introduced as undress jackets (until recently full dress jackets always had tails). Monkey jackets are worn buttoned right up (buttoning 8X4), although some officers in WWII wore them with the top button undone (probably for reasons similar to the “fifty mission crush” sported by USAF officers in the same war). Officers continue to wear the eight button monkey jacket today, but in contrast to petty officer’s reefer jackets use gold braid to show rank and have no cuff buttons.

Thus modern naval officer’s jackets, which so closely resemble modern blazers, actually began as quite different garments which eventually evolved to resemble the jackets traditionally worn by petty officers. Indeed, the garment which became the modern petty officer’s jacket shows the greatest continuity throughout its history of any Royal Navy jacket and is the most likely antecedent of the modern blazer.

Ultimately, I think Boyer was spot on when he said the problem with blazers lies with misuse of the word “blazer”, not the jackets themselves. Originally referring to the brightly hued and striped jackets worn by England’s rowing teams and schoolboys, over time the word “blazer” broadened to include solid-coloured jackets with metal buttons and today, in a particularly unfortunate misappropriation of the word, includes odd jackets of nearly any kind.

But now, on to the images!

DocD
 

Doctor Damage

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Reefer Jackets

First off are reefer jackets, from early civilian versions to current-day stylized examples, over the period of the 20th century.





Here is a pattern for a reefer jacket (left). Note the "mariner's cuffs" with three horizontal cuff buttons.



Note that reefer jackets are still worn today by the officers and commodores of the more traditional yacht clubs in North America. Below are some examples (I can't remember the yacht club in the photo). Note the large black buttons instead of gold.



 

Gruto

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Origins of the Blazer
Ultimately, I think Boyer was spot on when he said the problem with blazers lies with misuse of the word “blazer”, not the jackets themselves. Originally referring to the brightly hued and striped jackets worn by England’s rowing teams and schoolboys, over time the word “blazer” broadened to include solid-coloured jackets with metal buttons and today, in a particularly unfortunate misappropriation of the word, includes odd jackets of nearly any kind.
DocD
Thanks, a short reply:

The DB blazer comes from the reefer, the SB blazer comes from ... well, this is more tricky. The striped jackets from late 19th Century more appear like odd jackets today, not blazers. So does the SB blazer have a history at all?
 

Doctor Damage

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Gruto said:
Thanks, a short reply:

The DB blazer comes from the reefer, the SB blazer comes from ... well, this is more tricky. The striped jackets from late 19th Century more appear like odd jackets today, not blazers. So does the SB blazer have a history at all?
I think it was someone on this forum (a long time ago) who suggested single-breasted blazers came from clothing manufacturers just putting gold buttons on suit jackets to broaden their range of products with minimal effort. That's probably why most blazers today, including double-breasted ones, are virtually indistinguishable from suits except for the buttons and why patch pockets are rare on RTW.

DocD
 

nicksull

Super Member
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SB Blazer

I think its far more likely that the SB blazer is descended in a natural way from the DB reefer/blazer; just as the SB suit is a derivation of the DB, itself being a logical derivation from the usually DB frock coat. There is no reason, in some relatively enlightened moment, that a club might not have decreed single breasted blazers acceptable. But they would have to have been at least seen about for that to happen. For some reason i cant fathom (excuse nautical pun) rowing/tennis clubs might be where actual SB blazer comes from. Nice pics

Ive got one to add shortly....
 

Doctor Damage

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Reefer Jackets continued...

Below are photos of more recent examples of reefer jackets, although in each case they appear to be buttoned to the middle row of buttons. In the third photograph, note the fellow on the far left in the reefer jacket and (for curiosity) note the older fellow next to Diana with toggles instead of buttons on his blazer!








The following photos show members of the royal family wearing modernized versions of the black reefer jackets I posted previously, but with the top row of buttons for show only.






Next up: double-breasted blazers of various types.

DocD
 

s4usea

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I'm sorry, but isn't there a possibility that there isn't a nautical angle?

I'm thinking of the short coats that Cavalry wore so the tails wouldn't get in the way of their pistols. They went away for a bit when tactics changed from ranks of horseman riding up and "blazing away" with their pistols and then rode back and re-loaded as they worked their way to the head of the column again, to sword and lance shock.

They re-appeared by the end of the Eighteen Century when tactics changed again away from swords and lances.

Just wondering here...

Scott
 

Albert

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Doc,

That's fantastic stuff - keep them coming, please! Many thanks for posting.

Cheers,
A.
 

alaric

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I'm thinking of the short coats that Cavalry wore so the tails wouldn't get in the way of their pistols. They went away for a bit when tactics changed from ranks of horseman riding up and "blazing away" with their pistols and then rode back and re-loaded as they worked their way to the head of the column again, to sword and lance shock.

They re-appeared by the end of the Eighteen Century when tactics changed again away from swords and lances.

Just wondering here...
What your referring to, I think, is what became the spenser jacket, A waist or hip length skirtless jacket.

alaric
 
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