David Renna, director of the club division at The Breakers,
illustrates the versatility and tradition of the blue blazer.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Emily J. Minor
It’s the quintessential piece in a man’s wardrobe, or at least it should be. The blue blazer. Perhaps double breasted with a single vent in the back. Maybe a six-inch drop. Or perhaps single-breasted with classic brass buttons and a double vent.
Cashmere? Hopsack? Linen?
Just put it on, and go.
“We’re such a visual society, and we size people up instantly,” says Susan Bigsby, a veteran image consultant based in South Florida. “The blue blazer takes it up a notch.”
John Zoller, vice president of retail operations at The Breakers Palm Beach — who knows a thing, or two, or three, about island life and the style it demands — is very often seen in public wearing a blue blazer.
“It never dies,” says Zoller, simply. “It’s good for someone who’s 15 years old or 80 years old.”
What’s so special about the blue blazer, even after all these years? What makes it look good on everybody from a Romney to a Rockefeller to a Jones?
What makes it a blazer and not a sports coat?
And why in the world is it even called a blazer?
Lucky for you, we happen to know these things. And then some.
The first blazers were worn by the lady rowers of the 1825 Lady Margaret Boating Club at St. John’s College in Cambridge, England. The team was named after Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of King Henry VII, who founded the college in 1511.
At the start, the team jackets were red — and therefore the word “blazer” since they were so bright they seemed to light up. But fashion, of course, changes — even back then.
By 1889, the original red flannel jackets had evolved into designs of stripes (red and white), and soft tans and blues also became more popular. This evolution, noticeable in all the high-end British social circles, made the pages of the London Daily News.
“It seems that a blazer now means a coloured flannel jacket, whether for cricket, tennis, boating or seaside wear,” wrote one Daily News reader.
And so it was. The blazer had taken off — considered a staple for everywhere from a stuffy men’s club to a noisy boarding school refectory.
Resembling a suit coat, the blazer is cut more casually. Sometimes the pockets are made without flaps; the buttons are often brass. There is no nap to the fabric. No tweed. No subtle checked pattern. Today, double-breasted blazers are less popular than the single, mainly because double breasted must be worn closed, a look that doesn’t work well on everyone.
“I went to an event the other day and my friend wore a blue blazer with Bermuda shorts,” says Bigsby. “I can’t tell you how many blue blazers I’ve bought for my clients over the years.”
And so it was one quiet Monday afternoon that we got our Blue Blazer Lesson, taught with great flourish and inside knowledge by Zoller.
We met at Polo Ralph Lauren at The Breakers, where Zoller and buyer Kristeen Pastore had put together some very impressive looks, each built around a blue blazer.
Cashmere ($2,395) and virgin wool ($1,095).
A blue blazer with jeans. A blue blazer with white trousers. A cashmere blue blazer over a cashmere sweater. A blue blazer over Bermuda shorts. A blue blazer with a shirt and a tie.
“And we haven’t even shown the most classic look, which is with khakis,” Zoller says, proudly.
Used to be, when Zoller first started at The Breakers nearly 20 years ago, jackets were a dinner requirement, right along with the reservations. If a man showed up clueless, they’d help him out. “We wouldn’t turn anybody away, we’d turn them around,” Zoller says. “We would be able to throw a jacket over their shoulders.”
But in the last 10 years or so, the rules have changed.
After all, should you really have to wear a jacket in paradise? (The Little Club and the Delray Beach Club still think so.)
At The Breakers, there’s not a single restaurant with a “Jackets Only” sign, although if the ladies are getting dressed up “it might be fun to wear one,” Zoller says, smiling.
Mark Wenzel, who manages the men’s department at Mercer Wenzel, the clothing shop that has been on Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach since the late 1950s, considers knowing the rules on island dining just part of his job.
When an out-of-towner comes in, curious about what he should wear that night for dinner with the in-laws at the club, Wenzel can steer him to the blue blazer rack. Or not.
“Actually, somebody not too long ago was giving a lecture on computers and didn’t have a jacket that he could wear to the lecture, so he got a navy blue blazer,” Wenzel says.
Wenzel’s dad, store founder Bruce Wenzel, says he’s been filling up the blue blazer stock for 54 years. “Believe it or not,” he says, speaking about the blazer’s perpetuity, not his.
Indeed, so important is the blue blazer that, given our opportunity, Mark Wenzel took it upon himself to practically wax poetic about the coat and all its virtues:
“If you want to own just one jacket, it’s the navy blue blazer — and the reason is this: It goes with whatever you want to wear. The darker the color, the more conservative. The blue blazer is a statement that you are dressing to the fullest. People wear it because it goes with anything and it says that someone is interested in dressing conservatively and looking good.”
All that from one little jacket.
We mean blazer, of course.