For i-D Fashion Features Editor Osman Ahmed, the blazer offers the perfect balance of suave and subversive. Here, he celebrates its slow burn appeal
If there’s one thing I know about fashion, it’s that what goes around really does come back around, including, it turns out, my school uniform. If you grew up in Britain, you probably had a similar one: flimsy white shirt, black Teflon trousers, a striped tie, and a gaudy, scratchy blazer with some sort of embroidered crest. Little did I know back then, in the throes of teenage rebellion, that the very outfit I was trying so hard to personalise (at the cost of many a detention), would, decades later, cost a fortune in warmly-lit boutiques on Bond Street (albeit a much more grown-up version: black wide-leg trousers, crisp white shirts, and — most importantly — a perfectly-tailored blazer). The combo has become the backbone of my wardrobe, a failsafe uniform that uncomplicates the daily rigmarole of getting dressed. Teenage Me is horrified at such conformity; Grown-Up Me couldn’t be more thrilled when The Row’s opulently banal tailoring arrives in store, ready for me to try and convince myself I need another pair of black trousers.
I’m not alone in this approach. Almost all of my fashion colleagues have adopted a uniform not dissimilar to those they wore at school, and most often centred on the tailoring that we once fought so hard to reject in favor of expressions of individuality. It’s funny, isn’t it? We spend weeks upon weeks watching the most fabulous clothes gliding down the catwalk, only to wear the same thing day after day.
I’ve come to the realization that individuality needn’t always be worn on one’s sleeve – especially when it’s the sleeve of a razor-sharp, wide-lapelled, double-breasted cashmere blazer. I know, I know — as a fashion editor, I should be championing kitchen-sink creativity and all things bright and bonkers. However, there is value in timeless, pared-back clothes that let your personality and well-groomed face take precedent. While I have the utmost respect for outrageously individualist dressers, when it comes to staring down the barrel of my wardrobe and sobbing “I HAVE NOTHING TO WEAR”, I take great comfort in grabbing a tried-and-tested combination that I know will always have my back.
In fact, combing through my wardrobe, I can count more than 20 of them. Some are parts of suits, like shields of armor ready to be worn to combat the tribulations of everyday life, while others are more idiosyncratic interpretations of a classic. That’s the thing about blazers or suits — they have arguably been the backbone of fashion since the 19th century, which could render them terribly old-fashioned, but instead it is what makes them the bar by which any great designer must pass, like a Michelin-starred chef tasked with turning a simple omelette into something extraordinary. The best designers always find ways to make them interesting because they recognize them as blank canvases for experimentation. The more traditional associations with formal dress codes, corporate environments and even school uniforms make tailoring deliciously ripe for reinvention and subversion.
Take Yves Saint Laurent, who borrowed from men’s tuxedos to create one of the sexiest looks of the 20th century: Le Smoking – the last word in dark, sultry seduction, subverting what it means to be “feminine”. Or take Comme des Garçons, where Rei Kawakubo regularly breaks a blazer down to its very core and rebuilds it with her infamous fearlessness — I have one that resembles a medieval suit of armor, simply by the way it’s panelled and overlocked on the seams. Balenciaga has taken them to giant, swaggering proportions — almost like caricatures of blazers, which has made them just as relevant to a generation of streetwear-obsessed sneakerheads. And then there are designers like Gucci’s Alessandro Michele, who, despite his emphasis on glittering gender fluidity, is still equally obsessed with the classicism of Thin White Duke-style suits. The best thing about them all? They feel just as comfortably familiar to wear as the clothes you wore to school. That, and there’s quite literally one for every occasion.
Blazers help too when it comes to blending into dress code situations because they stop you from looking underdressed. There’s something about them that feels proactive, like you’re making a conscious decision to step into the world with intention. For some, it’s to do business; for others, it’s to convey power; and for many, it’s to feel put-together enough to face what the day throws at you. In more casual settings, they can set you apart from the crowd as that well-dressed guy (a welcome title in any environment). It can be what gets you that last-minute table at the overbooked restaurant you’ve been meaning to try, or perhaps that promotion at work. After all, you need to look the part. And nothing says it better than a blazer.