Long gone are the days when thousands of spectators would pack onto observation trains to ride along the shores of Connecticut’s Thames River for the Harvard Yale Regatta. While the sport’s profile has risen in pop culture recently thanks to exposure from Cross Fit, The Social Network and Frank Underwood’s basement rowing machine, crew remains outside the mainstream- the domain of overly tall Ivy Leaguers, Oxbridge Blues and The Boys in the Boat.
And yet, perhaps no other sport has had more influence on the way we dress.
The blazer, that ubiquitous staple of every man’s wardrobe, has its roots in rowing. In the nineteenth century, rowers donned the first wool blazers as a way to keep themselves warm on the water. With the evolution of the sport and the rise of events like the Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, Royal Henley Regatta and Harvard – Yale, the blazers transformed into colorful and powerful status symbols for boat clubs, colleges and national teams around the world.
Jack Carlson, an Oxford Ph.D candidate and U.S. National Team coxswain, traces this history in his new book Rowing Blazers. A true labor of love, he spent years traveling the world with photographers (including the “Unabashedly Prep” F.E. Castleberry, Adrian Krajewski; Urša Mali; Jory Cordy; and Matt Burrard-Lucas) to capture rowers, and their blazers, in their “native” habitats. Historic boat clubs and ivy-covered gothic towers make perfect backgrounds for the fashion on display – everything from the classic navy blazers of Oxford men (modeled by the Winkelvii) to the distinctive striped coats of the UK’s Wallingford Rowing Club and the un-mistakable red of Wisconsin. Rowing blazers don’t just belong to the men. Case in (shameless) point: US Olympian, Taylor Ritzel, models the Yale blue and white blazer I designed in 2009 for our trip to England’s Royal Henley Regatta. Henley is the rowing world’s most iconic race and the one week of the year where rowing blazers are donned in full-over-the-top-force (indeed – men in the exclusive Steward’s Enclosure are not ever allowed to remove their blazers, barring special dispensation if it gets over 100 degrees. Most men will leave them on, even then.)
Style wise, even if you are not a six-foot-five Olympian, there are a few things you can learn from how rowers wear their blazers. Some pointers:
- Play it cool: There's a level of insouciance that has to be admired in the way rowers don their blazers. Take for example the men of ASR Nereus, a Dutch Club, who proudly don blazers passed down by generations - whether they fit or not. In non-rowing life, there’s a time and a place for a perfectly pressed blazer (like your wedding or court). But why not embrace some deliberate dishevelment? Roll your sleeves loosely, rock a blazer with patches, or throw one on over a tee-shirt.
- Have fun with color: At Henley, the shores are awash in men who think nothing of stepping out in a bright pink blazer, or a full blue and black striped three-piece suit and matching tie. While this look may be a little wild for the streets of Boston, play with more subdued colors and combinations. Try a red blazer with grey chinos or a navy blazer with subtle contrasting trim.
- Make it your own: Rowers don’t stop with their blazers – from matching caps, straw boaters, ties and other “flare” (think boat club pins – not Applebee’s) – the blazer is a jumping off point for other sartorial adventures. Play around with a traditional navy blazer by adding your own embellishments - patches, monograms and pocket-squares can all add the level of personalization that makes rowing blazers unique and coveted.
With the Head of the Charles a little more than a month away, you’ll have plenty of time to nail down your own blazer game. See you on Weeks Footbridge? I’ll bring the Pimms.
Lee Glandorf is a native Bostonian and a proud alumna of Yale Women's Crew. A self-proclaimed "reformed fashionista," she is know for her preppy and eclectic style.