Above: Colin Smith, OUBC, by FE Castleberry. See below for more Rowing Blazers images.
Reviewed by Mark Blandford-Baker
‘The unwritten sartorial code of the blazer exists not to attract potential mates, but rather to let other rowers and cognoscenti know what one has achieved in the sport and where one’s loyalties lie.’ This ‘magic of the rowing blazer’ is the essence of Jack Carlson’s research and his beautifully produced book. This is both a coffee-table tome and a piece of diligent research. Every page brings us a picture of an oarsman or woman in a blazer. We find out the how, the when, and why it matters.
It is rare enough for a student to write a book; to do so with such care and dedication, while studying at a top university is some commitment: Carlson (Clarendon Scholar, Brasenose, 2011) submitted his DPhil Images, objects and imperial power in the Roman and Chinese Qin-Han Empires in December and awaits his viva. In Rowing Blazers he explains the roots of his fascination with the blazer and gives us an insight to its origins. He is not afraid to demolish myths (the red of Cambridge’s Lady Margaret Boat Club has nothing to do with blood) but encompasses widely the history and stories of this most distinctive of jackets.
Carlson’s photographers — principally FE Castleberry, Adrian Krajewski and Urša Mali — have done him proud. He has been careful to find models who are members of the club and to have them pictured in their native habitat. We learn who they are and something of their club and its blazer — just enough to give a flavour of the institution and its origins. Sir Steve Redgrave is there in his Marlow Rowing Club blazer; so, too, is a college oarsman who took up rowing only a couple of years ago. Facts are expertly tailored to give us a sense of the clubs they belong to. The blazer may be British in origin but true to the author’s roots, we have a healthy spread of images from the USA; and more besides from the Netherlands, Australia and elsewhere. The language of the blazer is universal.
As some noted after the London Olympic Games, what would you do with your official blazer now if you weren’t a regular at Henley? In any other sport it would be redundant. Out the blazers come for that pinnacle of the rowing season, for club dinners and official photographs, and also for the occasional wedding or funeral.
Rowing is the ultimate team sport and club colours matter: we bond around the blazer. It is perhaps remarkable that this is the first substantive work on the topic – many top clubs, schools, universities and national boating jackets make their way into the 250 pages, but there is room enough for another volume as big again.
Thames & Hudson had the genius to launch this book in the Ralph Lauren flagship store in London and in time for last year’s Henley Royal Regatta. The perfect surroundings for a book that excites the eye, informs and entertains. It is an essential companion to any rower’s bookshelves.
Jack Carlson completed an MPhil in archaeology with an Allbritton Scholarship at Brasenose in 2011. He raced in Isis-Goldie in 2010 (losing) and the Oxford lightweight blue boat in 2011 (winning). He captained Brasenose in 2010, and coached Oriel’s men’s 1st VIII in 2012 and 2014, winning the Headship in both years. In 2013 he won the Britannia Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, the lightweight trophy at Royal Canadian Henley, and the Governors Cup at the Head of the Charles Regatta. He also represented his native United States in the World Championships in 2011 and 2014.
All images from Rowing Blazers by Jack Carlson (© Carlson Media Inc. All rights reserved).