Rowing Blazers

ROWING BLAZERS, the monumental new book by Jack Carlson, featuring original photographs by F.E. Castleberry and others, looks at the authentic striped, piped, trimmed and badged blazers still worn by oarsmen and -women around the world today, and at the elite athletes, esoteric traditions, prestigious institutions and historic races associated with them. If you're in the US, pre-order a signed copy here, and if you're outside the US, order the UK edition now.


My blazer journey began in 2004. My crew, it was announced, would be crossing the Atlantic to race on the hallowed waters of the Thames at the world-famous Henley Royal Regatta. After a training session one sunny day in May, we all walked to the Andover Shop — the most traditional of New England tailors — so that we could be measured for our blazers. We approached the occasion with disproportionate solemnity and smugness. That smugness quickly wore off at the regatta itself, when we were knocked out in the first round. But our elimination did leave us plenty of time to study and admire the bewildering array of club blazers swanning about the regatta’s enclosures.

The experience imbued me with a ravenous determination to win Henley and a fascination with the pageantry of rowing blazers. Nearly a decade later, and with rowing-inspired blazers enjoying a renaissance in contemporary menswear, I found myself ideally placed to investigate these bizarre vestments in depth as a doctoral student at Oxford University (spiritual home of the boating jacket and one of the few places where rowing blazers are still a perfectly ordinary sight).

Thanks to the enthusiasm of hundreds of rowers, I was able to arrange photoshoots at clubs around the world and with some of the most prominent oarsmen and -women at these clubs. I recruited a number of excellent photographers to accompany me, including F.E. Castleberry, the celebrated photographer of “prep” culture; Adrian Krajewski; Urša Mali; Jory Cordy; and Matt Burrard-Lucas.

We photographed the world's most decorated Olympic rowers and college crews in historic boathouses and on prestigious campuses from Eton to Exeter, New Haven to New Zealand. We heard the secret histories and esoteric traditions behind the blazers. We jumped over burning boats in Oxford, slept on strangers' couches in Wisconsin, and witnessed beer-soaked blazer rituals in the Netherlands.

I hope that this book serves as an introduction for the uninitiated into an otherwise arcane world and brings the rowing community in touch with our sport's colorful heritage. And I hope readers have as much fun perusing the book as we did making it.

 - Jack