This weekend, the Philadelphia rowing community will gather to celebrate a piece of fashion history at Undine Barge Club. Eccentric and outlandish blazers have become a staple in modern fashion, seen in collections of American designers like Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers.
Even the preppiest of fashionistas may not know this trend has roots in the century old sport of rowing, and one book has recently come out to set the record straight. Rowing Blazers, written by American rower Jack Carlson, chronicles this history and showcases these stories of rowing blazers from around the world.
We had the opportunity to chat with the forces and organizers behind the book and event, where proceeds generated will be donated to local nonprofit Philadelphia City Rowing. We spoke with Paul Garberson of Undine Barge Club, Philadelphia City Rowing's Executive Director Terry Dougherty, and Rowing Blazers author Jack
Carlson to find out more about this special collaboration.
What is special about the Philadelphia rowing community?
Paul Garberson: Philadelphia is often referred to as rowing mecca in the US. The shear density and closeness of the boathouses is very unique. Although the clubs are competitive with among themselves, they have consistently worked together to maintain the tradition of rowing in the city for over 150 years. The clubs are loosely bound together by the Schuylkill Navy, the country's first amateur athletic league (since 1838, I think).
What is the importance of the rowing blazer in the Philadelphia rowing community?
Paul Garberson: Philadelphia rowers (and the US rowing community in general) are more accustomed to solid blazers with a club seal/crest on the pocket and possible piping along the lapels and trim. Striped blazers are more of an international tradition. The striped blazer worn by Undinians may be the only striped jacket of any US club. In Philadelphia, athletes often receive blazers when making a trip to race at Henley-on-Thames in the UK and others are given to club members to show unity.
How has the rowing blazer influenced preppy style? Or has preppy style influenced the rowing blazer?
Jack Carlson: Blazers have had a tremendous impact on popular style. Far more so than most of us probably realize. That navy blazer hanging in your closet has a rowing pedigree, and so does the word "blazer."
The earliest blazers were relatively unstructured single-breasted flannel jackets with patch pockets, soft shoulders and no back vent; they came in a wide variety of bright shades and were sometimes bound with ribbon in contrasting colors. They were made to serve entirely practical functions: to keep oarsmen warm during chilly rows, and to help spectators on distant banks tell which crew was which. It was one of these lurid jackets that introduced the word "blazer" into the English vocabulary: the vivid scarlet boating coats of Lady Margaret Boat Club at St. John's College, Cambridge, were nicknamed "blazers" on account of their "blazing red" hue. The first known use of the word to refer to an article of clothing appears (in quotation marks) in the 1852 Cambridge University Almanack.
The blazer has been a staple of the classic American "preppy" wardrobe since the early twentieth century when piped and striped blazers began appearing on college campuses from Cornell to Princeton, a look adopted directly from the college oarsmen at Oxford and Cambridge.
Today, the relatively sober dark blue blazer is a sine qua non for people of all ages, genders and professions; but an evergreen obsession with "Ivy style" has also kept outlandish stripes, bullion pocket badges, and contrast grosgrain binding in vogue for both sexes. We've seen especially delightful and highly literal riffs on the traditional rowing blazer from Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne, AMI, Brooks Brothers Black Fleece, Gant, J. Crew, Sacai, Hackett and J. Press York Street in recent years (while bona fide American oarsmen continue to order their Henley jackets from the Andover Shop). The non-rowing community's love for this look only seems to be growing, and colorful vintage rowing blazers sell for obscene prices in the U.S. and East Asia.
Tell me about Philadelphia City Rowing, the local non-profit who will be benefiting from sales at Saturday's event.
Paul Garberson: Philadelphia City Rowing is a first for the City of Philadelphia. Despite the city's great tradition of rowing, there has never been (to my knowledge) a public school rowing team until PCR was set up four or five years ago. The program draws public school students from all over the city to the Schuylkill River where the PCR boat yard is located behind Loyd Hall. The program is not funded by the public school system, but the generosity of its donors.
Terry Dougherty: Philadelphia City Rowing is a privately funded, nonprofit organization that empowers urban youth through a multi-faceted program built around the sport of rowing. Competitive rowing combines endurance, strength, coordination, and grace. The sport instills life lessons of discipline, perseverance, and teamwork. PCR believes that by combining mentoring, enrichment, and academic support in conjunction with a highly structured athletic program we can help young people gain skills and habits to close the achievement gap, stem the Philly drop-out epidemic, put more young people on the path to higher education, and inspire them to reach their full potential, leading full, healthy lives.
We strive to provide an atmosphere that encourages excellence, teamwork, accountability, and sportsmanship. All aspects of the athletic programming offered by PCR—coaching, equipment usage, race entries, uniforms and academic support—are provided entirely free of cost to participants. Our programming leverages staff, volunteers, sponsors, donors, and community partners from various disciplines to provide all PCR student-athletes a wide variety of services and opportunities for development.
As we conclude our fourth year of programming, PCR continues to serve more students each year. Our recruiting actively targets at-risk middles and high school students, in order to reach the student-athletes who have the most to gain from our programming. PCR also works to ensure that all our student-athletes benefit from a team environment that reflects the rich racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic diversity of Philadelphia. We believe our commitment to diversity is essential to meeting our mission.
How did local men's boutique Duke and Winston become involved?
Paul Garberson: When it came down to all the retailers who would be selling Jack's book locally, Duke and Winston just seemed it might be most at home setting up shop in the trophy room at Undine. Duke and Winston has a wonderful preppy aesthetic with the obvious nods to the English born culture of the rowing blazer. It was also important to team up with a locally based business who had a growing presence in town and along the East Coast. Seun Olubodun, owner of Duke and Winston, has a great story that can easily resonate with what PCR teaches their athletes. Starting a business and building a brand is not an easy task, it takes discipline, perseverance, and teamwork, all concepts that PCR tries to instill in its athletes. When Duke and Winston heard that the event would be supporting PCR, Seun offered to design a custom T-shirt for PCR to sell that night and in his store with all proceeds going to the team. In return, we hope to give Duke and Winston some exposure to the rowing community here in Philadelphia and beyond.
The Rowing Blazers Book Signing is scheduled for Saturday, October 25th at Undine Barge Club (#13 Boathouse Row). Doors at 6:00pm. Regatta attire is encouraged.