Certain items of clothing have remained essentially unchanged for so long that they seem not to have been designed as much as engineered according to plans from some ancient military manual. Levi’s jeans, white crew neck t-shirts and flat-front chinos come to mind. And, of course, there’s the navy blazer. As it happens, navy blazers were, in fact, built to military specifications. According to legend, the first were commissioned by the captain of the H.M.S. Blazer. Horrified by his crew’s ragged appearance prior to a visit from Queen Victoria, the captain had double-breasted jackets made for all aboard. His efforts must have worked: The queen then ordered them for the entire British Navy.
After World War II, the navy blazer, worn with khakis, cords or, for dressy occasions, gray flannels, became a campus staple. It was a new uniform that everyone from erstwhile Kansas corporals to William Buckley to Miles Davis could—and did—wear, at once democratic and cool.
Because the blazer was so basic, recognizing a good example required an eye for fine detail. It had to have three buttons; the lapels rolled instead of laying flat; the shoulders soft and natural. The fit had to be perfectly imperfect, easy and slightly rumpled.
Now that the navy blazer ranges from what can only be described as commodity good to designer versions that would be unrecognizable to the crew of the Blazer, it’s even harder to figure out what makes one perfect. For New York clothier Jon Green, though, it’s obvious: The perfect navy blazer is the one that’s made for you.
Green, who has been working out of his Madison Avenue atelier for 15 years, is known for his impeccably crafted suits. The lines of the chest and shoulder are clean and strong, but the jacket feels almost like a cardigan, moving with you, loose rather than confining. That, Green believes, is the kind of fit and quality a navy blazer demands: “There’s nothing in a man’s closet that’s more essential. It’s a setting for everything else he wears. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.” To make sure of that, Green typically does four fittings with a new client, and a single tailor makes each piece from start to finish. He does the same thing for a blazer.
Since Green’s clothes are all bench-made one at a time, the fit and quality are only the beginning. Indeed, even the seemingly restricted blazer offers a wide range of possibilities when it is bespoke. Color, for one: Yes, a navy blazer should be navy blue, but, as Green points out while paging through his fabric books, depending on what kind of material is used, navy blue is actually pretty variable. There’s the rich, stippled blue of English flannel; hopsack, with its flatter color but textured open weave; superfine modern fabrics that come in everything from midnight to pale navy. Green has thousands of fabrics for every season, all difficult—if not impossible—to get off the rack.
Then there are the other options. The pockets (patch, double besom, flapped, flapped patch); single- or double-breasted (the original Blazer version was double-breasted). And the buttons: Brass? Gold? Or even enamel? Also, plain or with a nautical motif? All those factors still fall well within the bounds of tradition.
But, as Green says, the options and details aren’t ends unto themselves. What makes a bespoke blazer perfect is that it is made for a single person, with all his bodily and personality quirks accounted for. “A navy blazer should be simple and classic, of course,” Green says, “but it should still be yours.”
A custom navy blazer starts at $6,500, depending on the fabric (cashmere starts at $8,500). For two-piece suits, wool begins at $7,500; cashmere, $12,500. Expect a minimum of four fittings. Some men anticipate a jacket by the end of the week, but true customizing takes time, according to Green, who says one blazer may require six to eight weeks. Green’s atelier is on the fourth floor of a townhouse at 801 Madison Avenue. For an appointment, call 212-861-9611.
The Backstory: Jon Green
Before he orchestrated the bespoke desires of American men, Green conducted symphonies of a more classical variety. The Texas native came to New York to attend Juilliard and was a concert pianist for 15 years before he came to terms with the fact that “all I could think about was starting my own bespoke clothing business.” The custom enterprise began out of his home, but soon Green’s laid-back approach (and highly trained ear for clients’ requests) warranted a move to Madison Avenue. His jackets are his signature: a blend of classic English and Italian styles but with features American men prefer, like a softer shoulder. Though he creates traditional bespoke garments, he’s not immune to the challenges of modern life. He just finished a pair of custom khakis with a side pocket constructed to the exact specifications of a client’s iPod.
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