The blazer or boating jacket is generally a double-breasted jacket, first worn by men, and normally by schoolboys during the late 19th century in England. While today’s blazer can be worn by either men or women and normally is available in subdued colors, the early jacket was often striped and made of bright colors. In boys’ uniforms, one side usually had a school or house patch. Other patches like prefect badges might decorate it too.
Early blazers in boys’ schools were often worn with short pants and knee socks. Today, it’s still quite common to see them at private schools — especially boarding schools require a navy blue blazer for both girls and boys. It may also be a part of dress wear for boys and men, replacing the suit jacket and worn with twill pants. Fabrics can vary from wool flannel, to light linen.
In the late 1970s, the blazer became part of women’s fashions, especially as the movie Annie Hall popularized “men’s wear” for women. By the 1980s, the garment seemed part of every working woman’s uniform. They often came in elaborate colors, featured gold buttons and enormous shoulder pads. Wool flannel, cashmere, and wool gabardine were all popular fabrics for the woman’s version. Lighter fabrics like cotton, polyester or rayon might also be used.
In the 1990s, the blazer was definitely on its way out of women’s fashions. Especially large shoulder pads were viewed as dated. Newer blazers or jackets for women were often more fitted to women’s bodies, rather than featuring the boxlike construction of the menswear inspired versions. Various jackets have since come in and out of style. Emphasis in current women’s jackets is either short jackets, or closely fitted pieces. The longer, hip-covering blazer is harder to find, but there’s little doubt that some designer will ultimately “invent” it again at a later point.
The name comes from the bright coloring of the early versions of the jacket. Patterns, stripes and colors “blazed” in the outdoor world, evoking a festive occasion. It’s interesting that now people view the blazer as a formal garment, when its first uses were much more casual. Cricket players and boaters wore them, hence the name boating jacket, to denote the celebratory and informal aspects of recreational activities.