On a sunny, 17°C day during Paris fashion week last month, at lunch with a group of other editors, I realised that four of the five of us had dressed in an unplanned uniform of jeans and blazers with a miscellany of smart flat shoes (crucial for walking between appointments) and blouses.
It’s a simple formula, but one that’s become something of a uniform for chic French women. Emmanuelle Alt, editor in chief of Vogue Paris, rarely strays from the blazer/jean/sexy shoe combination, and she’s in good company: Ines de la Fressange, Caroline de Maigret and Isabelle Huppert are all blazer aficionados. But you needn’t stick to their blueprint. Blazers look great with tailored trousers in a contrasting color, over pleated skirts or chiffon dresses. They have all the chuck-on-ability of a leather biker jacket, but with none of the niggling fear that you look a bit try-hard.
I own six or so blazers, three of which are navy. My favourite is a two year old double-breasted style from Frame, in lightweight navy wool. Lisa Armstrong compliments it every time I wear it, which is a lot, but as it’s so simple she never clocks it as a re-wear, which is the magic of a really good blazer.
Of course, not every cut of blazer will suit every shape. The French circumvent this fact by wearing theirs open - that way, you need only worry that your blazer fits well in the shoulders, and stops at a flattering length - generally, your hip bone, or the top of your thigh if you plan to wear heels or have proportionally long legs. Sleeves can be shortened inexpensively by local tailors, which will trick appraising eyes into thinking that your off-the-peg blazer is made-to-measure.
If you plan to button your blazer, single breasted styles should button at your natural waist. I find them hard to wear with much of a bust, though, as the close is usually too low and the lapels bow out around my chest. Try doing up only the top button of a double breasted blazer instead (avoid styles that only fasten on the bottom), and leaving the lower ones loose - especially if you’re pear shaped, like me.
Navy is classic, and easy to wear for smart and casual occasions, unlike black which only really works for the former. Grey wool or tweed is also very versatile, as are checks. Bright colours and prints will date faster, but make great occasionwear cover-ups for weddings or parties: Blaze Milano do the best around, if you’re tall, though admittedly with the price tags to match; and Zara has just about every colour under the sun in store at the moment, plus a rather fab black double breasted one with rhinestone buttons (£89.99, zara.com).
At that lunch in Paris, the fifth editor, and odd woman out, was Marianne Jones, editor in chief of our own Stella Magazine. She charged me with finding her the perfect blazer. I’ve done her two better: here are my top three.
Off-white scallop jacket, £604, Frame (frame-store.com)
A white blazer might need more frequent dry-cleaning than a darker shade, but it will instantly freshen up your look as a crisp white shirt would. Frame’s update on my old faithful is this white cotton-mix blazer with a scalloped-edge collar: wear with navy tailored trousers, or over a pretty pastel skirt or floral dress for a wedding.
Drawstring tux jacket, now £160 was £229, Me + Em (meandem.com)
Single-breasted styles can look particularly smart - think tuxedo. A satin lapel in the same shade as the blazer is a great party update, or look for a fabric that gives a gentle sheen all over - Me + Em’s satin back crepe jacket looks incredibly polished, and the drawstring waist makes for a flattering shape. It comes in three shades: emerald, navy and merlot, which are all less harsh than black - but the merlot is currently on sale and still available in all sizes, which makes it my pick.
Contrast stitch double breasted blazer, £79, Marks and Spencer (marksandspencer.com)
Navy is the best choice in terms of longevity. For big budgets, try Joseph - I have two of their blazers, and despite repeat-wear across the years, both look brand new. Otherwise, I can also personally recommend Marks & Spencer, which offers classic cuts and colours alongside more ‘fun’ options. This navy is tres chic, non?