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Birth of the Blazer

The decade of the 1910s produced what appear to be Princeton’s earliest Reunion jackets. Fragmentary available sources indicate that at least 8 classes designed an emblematic blazer during those years. (Evidence for such jackets in the previous decade remains elusive.) Like many Reunion innovations, introducing this snazzy attire was a patchy process.1

The earliest blazer on record was adopted in 1911 as an adjunct to a “character” costume — not a substitute. At their Tenth Reunion, ‘01 issued a blazer “in addition to the regular uniform for Saturday”; it was to be worn the rest of the weekend “for the time not occupied by the peerade.” A few other classes later did likewise at their next major reunion.

Several classes took another tack and adopted such a jacket “for off-year reunions”. Worn all weekend, it made a comfy and distinctive substitute for a costume in successive minor-reunion P-rades. But only one class in the 1910s seems to have worn a blazer throughout a major reunion — ’01 again, at their Fifteenth.

At this stage class blazers, much like class costumes, were still a young-alumni novelty. A settled pattern had yet to emerge. The most common 20th Century practice — adopting a new full costume at each of the first 4 major reunions, keeping it till the next, then getting a notionally permanent Reunion jacket at the 25th — still lay some way off.

Princeton’s Earliest Reunion Jacket

Happily, a (fuzzy) photo exists of what, on best evidence, looks to be the first official class blazer ever worn at Reunions — on June 11, 1911, by the Class of 1901.

1901.10 Blazer

Here’s the story. That Friday afternoon, ‘01 began arriving for their Tenth Reunion. A class scribe noted that the Committee came prepared to distribute on Saturday morning an ornate “Mexican bull fighter” costume for classmates to wear in the P-rade. But first, shortly after the band showed up that Friday evening:

“The Committee also hurriedly decided to distribute without further delay its ‘fatigue uniforms’, consisting of a very natty blazer with orange and black pockets, which when worn with white trousers produced a very handsome effect. These were in addition to the regular uniform for Saturday, and were worn throughout the entire reunion and were universally admired”.2

The Alumni Weekly duly took note, ending its effusive write-up of ‘01’s toreador turn-out by adding: “For the time not occupied by the pee-rade, hat-bands were provided and blazers having the class numerals upon the pocket, which proved both attractive and comfortable.”3

Off-Years & Other Times

Over the next five years before WWI, at least seven more young-alumni classes devised a uniform blazer. But unlike ‘01’s pioneering major-reunion accessory, all of these jackets appeared at off-year reunions — ‘03’s Twelfth and Thirteenth, ‘05’s Seventh and Eighth, ‘06’s Eighth, ‘07’s Seventh and Eighth, ‘08’s Sixth, ‘09’s Seventh, and ‘10’s Sixth. Several of these designs were to be worn with white trousers. Gaps in the record probably hide additional off-year instances. Sadly, no photos have yet come to light.

Notions varied about how persistently to wear the jacket. One class — ‘05 in 1912 — quickly decided on “adopting it as a permanent costume” when introducing a black-&-orange blazer for their Seventh. More typical was the approach that ’10 took at their Sixth. In 1916 (having already issued a different full costume at every one of their first five reunions!) they adopted a re-usable blazer explicitly “for off-year reunions” (black-&-white check with orange collar, cuffs, and pockets); then at their next major in 1920, they kept it on hand for “times when not wearing the reunion costume”.

Major Blazer(s)

Meanwhile in 1916, five years after creating their initial blazer outfit, ’01 went on to issue a similar ensemble at their Fifteenth — “a blazer coat of white flannel with the class numerals on the pocket, worn with white trousers.”4 Colored patch pockets did not re-appear, rendering the whole outfit almost entirely white except for a dark hatband. But ‘01’s most significant departure that year was to wear this blazer in the P-rade itself.

1901.15 Blazer

This 1916 photo stands as the first documented instance of a jacket replacing a costume as the P-rade uniform of a major reunion. It’s possible that ’05’s Tenth had already reached this milestone a year earlier by marching in the blazer previously deemed “a permanent costume”; but available sources are unfortunately silent about what ‘05 actually wore in the 1915 P-rade. At any rate, during the rest of the decade no further major reunion seems to have marched in a class jacket.

Postwar Pause

Cancellation of the P-rade in 1917-18 disrupted the pace of sartorial innovation. Then when Reunions resumed in 1919, some classes with existing off-year blazers (‘07, ’08, ’10) sprang for a P-rade costume anyway. Yet others abandoned both blazer and costume then (’06 and possibly ’03), merely dressing like older alums in ordinary civilian jackets or suits. By 1920, even ’05 had similarly forsaken their prewar “permanent” blazer.

Meanwhile, ’01 carried forward their peculiar design philosophy into the off-years, issuing new “white suits with 1901 pockets” and Army-style sleeve insignia for their Eighteenth in 1919. Yet in 1921 they shed the white-jacket look at their Twentieth and dressed like many older classes had been doing — simply having each classmate bring from home his own dark coat, white trou, and straw hat.5

As the 1920s dawned, a handful of young-ish alumni classes sporadically kept sporting a uniform blazer as a colorful and comfy way to distinguish themselves. But clear traditions about when to flaunt this emblematic Reunions attire had yet to develop.6


1 The following discussion is based largely on the myriad descriptive tidbits of jacket characteristics scattered throughout the Table of Tiger Attire for the 1910s.

2 Decennial Record of the Class of 1901, Princeton University, Published by the Secretary, Number Four, [n.p.], 1912, p. 353. (Courtesy HathiTrust.)

3 “The ’01 Decennial Reunion”, Princeton Alumni Weekly, vol XI, no 36, 6-14-1911, p.588. (Courtesy Google Books.)

4 “The Joint-Winners of the Reunion Trophy”, Princeton Alumni Weekly, Vol. XVI, No. 36, 6-14-1916, p. 856. (Courtesy Google Books.)

5 Twentieth Year Record of the Class of 1901, Princeton University, Published by the Ex-Secretary, Number Five, [n.p.], 1922, pp. 130, 134-135, 137. (Courtesy HathiTrust.) Their P-rade photo shows the whole class wearing white pants and non-uniform dark jackets; shots taken at other times show most classmates doing likewise, but a few individuals reprising their old white blazers.

6For an extensive photo display of jackets adopted in subsequent decades, see the Museum’s Bob Rodgers ’56 Reunion and Beer Jacket Collection.