Sometimes all that separates the modern gentleman from a young tearaway is a nice blazer. They’re sharp, stylish, and, despite being quite literally a suit jacket, they’re also incredibly utilitarian. But where did they come from? Where did they start? And why do they share a name with a euphemism for stoner?
Despite their connotations here in New Zealand as being inherently tied to the hallowed ranks of the first XV, blazers in fact have their origins in the preppy sport of old world British boating.
In 1829, Charles Merivale, a student at Cambridge University, challenged his friend Charles Wordsworth, a student at Oxford, to a race at Henley-on-Thames. A member of the Lady Margaret Boat Club, then only four years old, Merivale and his team were soundly thrashed, with Oxford’s winning boat still on display at the River and Rowing Museum at Henley. The teams wore flannel jackets, ostensibly to keep warm, however they were uniform in colour and in keeping with the school’s branding. The tradition endured, however, and by 1889 the London Daily News were being scolded for their apparent incorrect usage of the word blazer.
“In your article of to-day, you speak of ‘a striped red and black blazer’, ‘the blazer’, also of ‘the pale toned’ ones.‥” wrote the positively miffed reader. “A blazer is the red flannel boating jacket worn by the Lady Margaret Boat Club. When I was at Cambridge it meant that and nothing else."
Then, as now, rowing was an elite and prestigious sport, and the venerable blazer was soon as much a status symbol as a way to stay warm. Other colleges adopted their own blazers, with local variations on colour, trimming and patterning seen across the country, and before long those rogues in the United States were following suit.
Here in the antipodes, blazers are seen everywhere from the bony shoulders of adolescents at fancy schools through the prefecture and all the way into our elite sports teams. Even equestrian athletes wear blazers. If we could put blazers on a horse, we probably would. But no blazer holds as true to the original spirit as that of the Number Ones.
Cast your mind back - not too far - and remember the feeling of a visiting school’s first XV, all blazers and badges, easily as intimidating as any pickelhaube from the German army. There’s something in the uniformity, the solidarity, and the slick style that binds the blazer wearer to tradition.
Perhaps no first XV has been intimidating as that of our own nation however. And it’s Barkers that proudly provides the Number Ones for the All Blacks. Now, in time for the intensely tribal season of the oval-shaped ball, Barker’s has got all your blazer needs covered, including the clean black jacket inspired by the blazers of the greatest rugby team the world has ever known.