My first adult blue blazer came from J. Press in Manhattan. That’s just what you did. It was one of the stops on what my father, a banker who split his career between New York and the South, called “making the rounds.” His menswear circuit included Brooks Brothers, Paul Stuart, and others long gone. You know the sort of blazer I mean—navy blue hopsack fabric with brass buttons. It still gets tossed into my duffel bag when I’m headed for some hard-core clubman event or a YCA (yacht-club-adjacent) locale, but I’m as conflicted about that workhorse as I am about some old high school flames. Me and the J. Press burned hot and heavy when first we met, but I’m a different person now—more modern, hopefully more worldly—and this classic is just too boxy in the cut. The brass buttons make me cringe. The crest is fake and a little too yachty—and not in an cool, ironic way.
However, there is no denying the power the right navy sport coat has when given the right mix—worn with chinos, jeans, cords, or flannels. The key is to avoid the Thurston Howell III Effect: looking like the lockjawed scion of a Gilded Age fortune.
As if on cue, some of the best menswear designers are giving the blazer a refresh right now, spinning the schoolboy staple forward, including Tokyo’s Kapital, which offers an indigo-dyed version in a sweatshirt-like jersey, and Junya Watanabe x Carhartt, which has a vintage American work-wear feel. Gucci’s new Cambridge series—you recognize the name—pays psychedelic homage to the blazer’s elitist origin as part of the uniform for 19th-century British rowers. (Yes, like the button-down collar and the polo, the blazer began its life as performance sportswear.)
In the hands of creative director Alessandro Michele, the jacket gets sent through the looking glass with patches, prep-school crests, and bright grosgrain piping. One design sports a velvet collar more commonly found on a riding coat. Across the board the cut is slightly more nipped at the waist than with the classic yacht-boy cut, and in some cases Michele has added a small ticket pocket and the Gucci golden bee logo where a boat club’s crest would normally sit.
For the classicist who may prefer a modern take on the three-season blazer, there’s Sid Mashburn’s Virgil No. 3 jacket. The fabric is the house’s Leno Hopsack-Weave, a proprietary blend of cotton and wool that has an almost piqué-ish look to it. Made in Italy with a full canvas construction, the jacket has a slightly more tailored shape, a natural shoulder, and a shorter body.
The Virgil No. 3 has been a best seller since Mashburn designed the prototype for himself in 2011. The Mississippi-born clothier held posts at Ralph Lauren, Lands’ End, and J. Crew before he and his wife, Ann, opened their first menswear shop in Atlanta in 2007.
“The Virgil is on the sportier end of the spectrum, but still office-appropriate,” says Mashburn, who also advocates skipping the brass buttons and going with horn ones to make the jacket feel slightly less nautical. In terms of styling, he loves dressing the blazer down with a Liberty print shirt and a pair of white jeans or five-pocket, slim-wale cords.
A slightly bolder reworking of the classic would be the double-breasted blue jacket from the young menswear label Noah. Also made in Italy but from 100 percent baby camel hair, the jacket has horn buttons, a single back vent, and peaked lapels that make the wearer appear broad-shouldered. The fabric is super-soft, yet the thickness of camel hair reminds me of a polo coat. This is a substantial garment that could double as outerwear during fall and spring—a rakish pinch hitter for a peacoat—and could work with a shirt and tie or even a hoodie.
With a small shop in the Nolita section of Manhattan, Noah is a favorite of industry insiders and streetwear fans because its founder, Brendon Babenzien, is a former design director of cult brand Supreme. He’s also a devotee of Italian and British tailoring—equally at home discussing skateboards or swatch books. Babenzien’s boyhood interactions with a blue blazer were different from Mashburn’s or mine: He grew up in a part of Long Island that he has described as “neither the city nor the Hamptons but everything in between.” He recalls his formative sartorial experiences as this: “All the kids who wore blue blazers in high school were either super jocks or from well-off families, so I always tried to go another way.”
Babenzien’s baby camel hair comes from Loro Piana, but for warmer weather he turns to more technical fabrics, having recently developed a navy jacket with a mesh lining and a vented back. “For guys moving in and out of places where temperature isn’t regulated,” he says, “people who move quickly through the world.” To be sure, no one will mistake the wearer for Thurston Howell III.