Monday, May 22, 2017

What ho, rowing blazers!

Well, today would have been my father’s birthday. Since if he were still alive he’d be turning 105, he’d likely be dead by now. Still… Birthdays are birthdays, and even though my father has been dead for nearly 50 years (gulp), my thoughts today are turning to him.

My father was both a natty dresser (other than his beachwear, a topic that will be addressed tomorrow) and an athlete. So today’s subject – the preppy blazer for those who crew -  is fitting.

No, Al wasn’t exactly a preppy, a category that didn’t exist, at least in our world, while he was alive. And rowing wasn’t one of the sports he excelled at, as rowing was a category of sport that didn’t exactly exist in our world, either. Nonetheless…

Jack Carlson, on the other hand, is a prepster rower, and he’s put his prepster rowing background (and, I guess, his PhD in archeology from Oxford) to use by becoming a clothing designer, focusing the work of his eponymous company, Rowing Blazers, on rowing blazers.

 “We’re bringing the blazer back to its origins,” Carlson says, in pitch mode. “The original blazer was kind of like the hoodie of its day,” he continues, explaining that the garment, which originated as casual warmup gear, made a shift from pure function to nonchalant fashion in the 1800s.

The sport coats at Rowing Blazers are inspired by the traditional jackets worn by the members of venerable boat clubs. Although these jackets are the antecedents of the navy blue blazer in your closet, they’re vastly more expressive. Think of big crests on breast pockets and bold stripes of team colors. Imagine endless fathoms of grosgrain trim. (Source: Bloomberg)

Here’s Doctor Jack wearing a rowing blazer, flanked by none other than the Winkelvoss twins, similarly garbed. And let’s face it, one never gets tired of Preppry blazersseeing the Winkelvoss twins. What a brand those bros have got going. Even though nerdy Mark Zuckerberg got to be the Facebook ka-billionaire, I’m quite sure that he never rowed for fair Harvard. So, while he might be able to afford one of these rowing blazers, he is really not entitled to wear one.

If you’re wondering what Doctor Jack is holding, it’s his book Rowing Blazers. (Hey, when you’ve got a good thing going, keep going.) While it’s hard for me to imagine that there’s a book’s worth of reading to be had about rowing blazers, I’m admittedly not an elite oarsman such as the Winkelvi, nor an elite oarswoman for that matter.

From a business perspective, Preppy blazer twoit’s equally hard for me to imagine that there are enough elite oarsmen and oarswomen, plus wannabes, to grow and sustain the Rowing Blazer business. These blazers are not the understated, collar up, prepped out boringness that Ralph Lauren has been flogging for decades. Never in style, never out of style. Bland. Blend in sorts of clothing.

But rowing blazers?

I’m not a big fan of the word, but these blazers, to my eye anyway, seem ultra-douchey, even if they were (and I’ll take Dr. Jack’s word for it) the hoodie of their day.

That said, I can understand the allure for those who have rowed. You really can’t live in Boston, a 2 minute walk from the Charles River, and not develop some appreciation for those whose sport is crew. Rowers, from what I can see, work really hard. They’re jock-y, they’re clubby, and if they want to wear something that screams “white privilege”, well, they’ve earned it.

But is there a business here?

Okay, now that I’ve said that, maybe there is. After all, more than one fellow showed up at Pippa Middleton’s wedding in tartan pants. 95887120Tell me these blokes wouldn’t be happy in a loud blazer with piping and a big old crest on the breast?

Anyway, Dr. Jack does get that the rowing blazer biz is somewhat tongue-in-cheeky. He uses a bee motif on his labels and brass buttons.

It’s a symbol of industriousness that Carlson connects with two fictional social organizations he admires: P.G. Wodehouse’s Drones Club and Wes Anderson’s Rushmore Beekeepers.

I don’t know much about Wes Anderson, but, ah, yes, the industrious Bertie Wooster and his Drones Club, home of all those feckless, upper-crust, between the wars Brits. I can just see Jeeves holding a rowing blazer out to Bertie, and brushing off his master’s shoulders with a tiny whisk broom.

The rowing blazers don’t come cheap – $550 to $1100. But they’re made in the USA. The line also sells button-down shirts for $175 that appear to be pre-frayed. And $150 ties.

Some folks may be thinking w.t.f. But I’ll borrow a line from Bertie Wooster: What ho!

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