Letter from the Editor-in-Chief (Masafumi Suzuki of GQ Japan on Rowing Blazers)

Letter from the Editor-in-Chief (Masafumi Suzuki of GQ Japan on Rowing Blazers)

We're honored that this month's GQ Japan "Letter from the Editor" is all about Rowing Blazers!  It's in Japanese, of course, but thanks to the dubious magic of Google Translate, here is a very rough translation. (If anyone can do better than Google, please send us an email!).

My favorite kind of jacket is the Blazer: a blazer is a thing to blaze, that is, it is a thing that shines red like a flaming fire.

A blazer is commonly known to be a navy blue single-breasted tailored jacket, with three metal buttons in the front, and possibly white grosgrain on the edge of the lapel or patch pockets. On a double-breasted navy blazer, there are six or eight metal buttons; these one can see on pilots or ships' captains.  But in any case, there is little opportunity to see a true blazing red blazer.

But the origin of the blazer - as I learned the other day, during a meeting with Jack Carlson, author of the book Rowing Blazers (Thames & Hudson, 2014) - is St. John's College at Cambridge University in England.  He described that their club uniform was a bright "blazer red" flannel jacket that was nicknamed "the blazer."  Though it was originally intended to be worn in athletic contexts, guys started to wear them all the time in daily life, casually, like today's sweatshirt.  Carlson found the first written use of this word during his research in an 1852 book called The Cambridge University Almanack & Register.  It was such a cool piece of clothing that eventually the habit of wearing blazers spread to other sports, like rugby and cricket; and, as Carlson describes, by the end of the 19th century, the blazer was an indispensable piece of any gentleman's wardrobe.  Additionally, in the process of this dissemination, the blazer began to appear in many other colors and materials besides bright red flannel: in stripes, and more conservatively in navy blue or black - but, as Carlson described (himself wearing a navy blazer with white grosgrain trim), always unlined, always with metal buttons, always with patch pockets, and always without a vent in the back.  

"The blazer is functional.  The first blazers were bright red or in other conspicuous colors, so that spectators could easily see at a glance which crew was which," Carlson described.  It's also imbued with cultural and social meaning: "Like the court liveries and armorial devices of medieval Europe, the street gang colors of Compton, and the patches and badges of the Hell's Angels, rowing blazers are tribal totems." Carlson wrote.  Like the Yakuza Dabo shirt, it's something that is understood at a glance; in a way, it's a "ceremonial vestment" of a particular social group, "worn to emphasize both community and difference: to impress, intimidate and influence."  Therefore, he argues, the blazer is "meaningful, thoughtful, provocative and cryptic."

It is not just the blazer that makes wearing clothes meaningful.  Whether it is a business suit (the uniform of the so-called "salaried worker") or the trendy tracksuit of streetwear, we proudly wear our own meanings - just as wearing a cap or jacket with the tag still attached is the latest cryptic epidemic.

By the way: the news that the principal of a public elementary school in Ginza, Tokyo, founded 140 years ago has adopted "standard clothing" designed and produced by Armani as a de facto uniform this spring has become a hot topic.  But even for children, clothing is full of meaning and thought.  So for me, at the moment, wearing an Armani suit is a revolutionary thing for elementary school children; but what kind of meaning or depth is there to it?

At least for the principal - I want you to hit Carlson's book.