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Blazer of glory: how to dress for the Boat Race

The Boat Race, which celebrates its 161st year this Saturday, is a sporting institution. Style-wise, it is equal parts tradition and trend – after all, it gave us the blazer, the staple of smart/casual dressing that is equally at home in the boardroom and on a boating lake. If you’re planning on watching it this Saturday, here are the rules.

Wear a blazer

Coco Chanel in one of her designs, 1960. Photograph: Archive Photos/Getty Images

Initially a practical item to keep the rowers warm, Oxbridge teams soon began peacocking in their blazers on dry land, and an immortal wardrobe item was born. In the world of fashion, it was Chanel who made the blazer her own. An initiator of countless nautical trends, blazer suits featured religiously in her collections from the mid-1950s.

Stripes and belts: models on the SS15 catwalk for Chanel. Photograph: Antonio de Moraes Barros Filho/WireImage

AE Clothier in Cambridge and Walters of Oxford will fit you out with your own blazer, depending on which university you support, or you could grab an authentic original from the Vintage Showroom. If the Butlins Redcoat look isn’t your thing (it’s totally my thing), then look to Preen or J Crew, which offer preppy elegance with multiple layers to stave off the bankside chill. Karl Lagerfeld has updated the classic Chanel boucle blazer, or for top-to-toe coordination see his striped knitwear with matching knee-high boots.

A model in stripes on the Preen SS15 catwalk. Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Pick nautical colours (but don’t pick a side)

Jack Carlson, a professional rower and the author of Rowing Blazers, warns against donning racing colours: “You want to get into the spirit of things, but don’t show up in something that looks like an Oxford or Cambridge blazer if you didn’t row for those clubs.” To avoid the ultimate boating faux pas, consider styles with a nautical touch for spectating without the shame. The maritime influence has been de rigeur at society boat races since Princess Alexandra wore a sailor-inspired suit to Cowes yachting week in 1884. JW Anderson’s subtly naval collection ticks all the boxes, complete with oversized hat for dodging April showers.

If you wear a hat, go vintage

If the weather’s good, or you’re watching from the comfort of a pub, you could fully embrace the moment with a ship headpiece, á la vintage Philip Treacy. He took his inspiration from the concoctions of 18th century Parisian women who were celebrating victory over the English in a battle at sea. For something smaller but no less fun, try Piers Atkinson. If you’re watching from the bank, practicality will win the day. Carrier Company do a waxed cotton hat that is the perfect accompaniment to a Barbour jacket.

Navy and cream perfection at JW Anderson’s SS15 show. Photograph: SIPA/REX Shutterstock/SIPA/REX Shutterstock

Don’t break the law

Etiquette for watching the Boat Race is more relaxed than at its more formal younger brother, the Henley Royal Regatta. A couple of handy tips should see you through with ease:

Do: be a woman! This year, the Newton Women’s Boat Race is being broadcast live by the BBC for the first time.

Don’t: question hegemony! In 2012, Trenton Oldfield was jailed for six months for causing a public nuisance by swimming in front of the rowers. Oldfield claimed it was an act of protest against elitism and government cuts. The judge called it prejudice.

Wherever you’re watching the Boat Race this year, make sure you enter with a splash.

‘Nautical Chic’ is out now

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