For decades, blazers and suit jackets were synonymous with menswear. Even when worn by women, they were often characterized as "menswear-inspired" pieces. But more recently, particularly over the last decade thanks to breakout brands like Veronica Beard and Anine Bing, the women's blazer has become a symbol of strong, put-together femininity.
Long gone are the days of standard black or navy as the only options. Today's runways, sidewalks, and window displays are rarely without a women's blazer in a bold color or fresh silhouette. The blazer is now a hero of our closet, but how did it become so popular? And what should you look for when buying a blazer of your own? To help, we're breaking down everything you need to know about this legendary piece.
The history of the blazer
Surprisingly enough, the style hasn't been around for that long. Men's blazers first popped onto the style scene in the 1800s, when rowers at prestigious English colleges like Oxford and Cambridge would wear them as part of their warm-up gear.
But the original iteration is a far cry from more modern styles. Back then, blazers didn't have darts, shoulder pads, vents, or lining in the back. Their key attributes were three buttons, grosgrain accents, and bright, cheery colors.
Of course, the blazer's influence eventually extended far beyond the confines of a crew boat. Over time, oarsmen would wear their blazers around campus, becoming as popular as the letterman jacket. In 1952, the blazer finally made its editorial debut in an article about the jackets worn by Cambridge's Lady Margaret Boat Club. Those jackets were reimagined in a blazing red, hence the nickname "blazer".
From there, the blazer made its way across the Atlantic and eventually transformed from a collegiate must-have to a wardrobe staple for various facets of our lives—starting with the office.
But this time, with women
Women have been wearing suits for about 150 years. Back in the 1870s, actress Sarah Bernhardt was the center of a lot of controversy when she wore a custom trouser suit for a painted portrait. By the 20th century, women had embraced the look and began wearing long skirts with fitted jackets. But women's suits didn't receive the fashion industry's seal of approval until Coco Chanel designed a trimmed jacket and matching ankle-length skirt in 1914.
Today's blazer made it to the mainstream when André Courrèges created the very first pantsuit in 1964. Before then, women typically saved pants for casual, private occasions. As the pantsuit became more common in the 1980s—popularized in movies like Working Girl and Baby Boomer—blazers were reimagined in different colors, prints, and silhouettes. Once the '90s and '00s rolled around, many adventurous trendsetters would ditch the matching bottoms and pair their jacket with something unexpected, making it the "third piece" of separates-based looks.
In recent years, the third-piece approach to dressing has become de rigueur for street-style icons like Miroslava Duma and Garance Doré. Particularly as casualization continues to infiltrate even the highest levels of fashion, tailored pieces are now a welcome top layer to more low-key looks.
How to buy the right blazer
First and foremost, fit is key. With a more classic blazer, the hemline should skim your hip bone and the sleeves should hit the first joint of your thumb. But above all, a blazer should fit nicely in the shoulders—this is the key to looking sharp.
Oversized blazers are a bit trickier, but there's a simple solution. When considering the three main elements of fit—shoulders, sleeve length, and jacket length—look for styles that have two of the three main elements oversized, with the third more classic. So, for example, if the shoulders are extended and the sleeves are long, balance that out with a standard hip-length shell.
As for the material, well, it depends on season and occasion. Most blazers are made from wool, flannel, or cotton, but a lightweight silk or linen can be perfect for more casual summer days. If you're on the hunt for a fashionable fall option, go for a style that's finished in a heavyweight wool or bouclé.
Thanks to today's talented crop of designers, it's pretty easy to find the right blazer for your lifestyle and budget. If you want to invest in a high-quality blazer, look to high-end brands such as Theory and Rag & Bone, who have versatile, well-made options that can last years. Want a great style for less? Most of Mural's blazers are under $100. Or, if you're looking to make a statement, Topshop has a bevy of fun colors, fabrics, and patterns.
How to style a blazer
As Instagram has made plain, there are plenty of ways to wear a women's blazer. Just because the blazer is usually associated with the office doesn't mean you can't wear it beyond the nine-to-five hustle. You can easily rev up your off-duty style by pairing a blazer with some distressed jeans, paper-bag shorts, or a slinky silk dress.
But when you are working, style the blazer accordingly. Corporate professionals should probably stick with a matching skirt or trousers. If your company is more business casual, layer your blazer over a button-down blouse and dark-wash jeans, or a midi skirt and T-shirt.