Classic Hickey Freeman Blazer with Metal Coin Buttons
I was inspired to write this brief essay on the pleasures of owning multiple navy blazers by a similar paean to excess on white shirts found at The Fine Young Gentleman. Justin admits to owning 18 white shirts, and I only have nine navy blazers*, so obviously he knows more about this than I do. Read his post.
From left: Billy Reid, Hickey Freeman with coin buttons and elbow patches, Hickey Freeman with smoked pearl buttons, Chipp, Brooks Brothers worsted Golden Fleece
First of all, I use the term blazer loosely to mean a sport coat (not an orphan suit jacket) that is a so-called odd jacket intended to be worn with flannels, khakis, or other trousers. It seems accepted these days—even if it offends some “trad" purists—to include jackets without metal buttons in the blazer category, though some will argue this point ad nauseum. Life is too short, so I won’t.
I read somewhere that Pierre Cardin once said he could travel the world with just three items of clothing: a navy blazer, a gray suit, and a tuxedo. Hard to argue the logic, especially if you add that today we might have to throw a pair of jeans into the mix.
And it is 2015…most of us could lose the tuxedo and not miss it, unless our name still happens to be Pierre Cardin or James Bond. (Or we’re going to the prom.)
But I digress; the point is the navy blazer is a must have. Designers like Ralph Lauren and Billy Reid agree with Cardin and say it’s possibly the single most versatile garment a man can own. Sid Mashburn even made a video about them.
So why then would we want to limit ourselves to one?
The standard sleek worsted wool three season blazer with brass or silver buttons has long been a trad favorite. Seen by some today as too stuffy, it’s still classic for a reason and it’s still ubiquitous. You can find them at Polo and Brooks Brothers and Steinmart.
I have a few. One is a beautiful old fully canvassed Chipp with side vents and surgeon’s cuffs and real pick stitching around the lapels. Another favorite is the Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece. I have three of them. Golden Fleece blazers have the neat enamel and gold buttons that are proprietary to these top of the line Brooks blazers. All of these jackets are a slightly lighter-than-usual shade of navy blue--especially the Chipp. I like them all very much.
I also have three Hickey Freeman navy blazers. One still has Hickey Freeman's distinctive bronze-colored coin buttons. I added tobacco color suede elbow patches to repair a worn elbow and I think it looks great. The proprietor of my favorite local men's store--a family-owned business named Ashworth's that's been around since the 1930s--agrees. So it must look okay. He knows his clothes.
On my second HF blazer, I substituted smoked pearl for the stock coin buttons, and it has become my single favorite jacket. The third Hickey Freeman now sports white mother of pearl buttons, and it's a beauty.
But I must admit, the original Hickey Freeman coin buttons are very handsome.
Billy Reid Rustin Blazer
Billy Reid Rustin Blazer
I have two hopsack navy blazers that are great for more casual occasions. Hopsack is just a coarser weave (as its name implies) than worsted wool. My Billy Reid Rustin blazer is a modern fit (in other words, it seems a bit too tight and short to most of us north of 40), but it is extremely lightweight and thin.
They are made for Reid in Italy, and it’s a sinfully nice jacket in the warmer months when worn with a light button down shirt. Or even with a tee shirt, if you want to go for the urban hipster look. It has (appropriate for a hopsack blazer) patch pockets and very dark brown Italian horn buttons. Billy Reid says the hopsack blazer is one of his perennial bestsellers.
Brooks worsted Golden Fleece on left, hopsack Billy Reid on right
My other hopsack is (yet another) Brooks Brothers Golden Fleece. A very cool jacket with a 3/2 roll lapel and patch pockets. I removed the enameled Golden Fleece buttons and replaced them with dark navy blue Ralph Lauren horn buttons to update the jacket a little bit.
I also have an inexpensive Brooks Brothers 346 line blazer (made for their outlets) that I updated with horn buttons. I leave it at the office as a spare jacket for emergencies —like when one of my other jackets loses a button or I spill coffee or something messy, etc.
Since it’s navy blue, in a pinch it can go with almost anything I’m likely to wear. It wouldn’t work with black or navy slacks, but I rarely wear those colors. If I’m not wearing a suit, it’s mostly gray, brown, or khaki trousers with an odd jacket for me.
Don Draper kept a crisp white back-up shirt in his office. I have the blazer.
Oh. I forgot one. The blazer I probably got the most compliments on is an inexpensive, fused Lauren with brass buttons bought on sale at Steinmart. I have a small plastic baggie of nice smoked pearl buttons in one of the pockets. I keep forgetting to take it to the tailors to have the buttons changed out. They would dress up a rather pedestrian jacket quite nicely, but the jacket does fit well and looks quite good on.
I used to like it for traveling as I didn't fret over it too much. I called it my “working class hero” jacket. These days the hopsack Brooks Golden Fleece is my favorite travel blazer. I guess I have turned into something of a jacket snob.
The reason the Lauren got so many favorable mentions? Most people will never notice your jacket’s working cuffs or fully canvassed construction or pick stitching…but they’ll notice if it fits.
So buy one nice Cucinelli travel blazer and call it good, if you like--if you have the budget for a jacket that costs well over two grand. Or have one made bespoke by the usual suspects, if cost is no object.
You can get by with one great blazer of course, and I won’t quibble with that approach. But less isn’t always more when it comes to blazers. It’s nice to have options.
* I forgot one. An inexpensive Saddlebred all cotton job. That makes ten.