By Mark Byrne
Illustration by Levi Hastings
Late one evening, not all that long ago, I walked up to a celebrity-magnet hotel bar in a posh AF neighborhood in London and tried to talk my way in. It was a long-shot. I was not, for instance, accompanied by models. I'm not famous. I don't look like I could be famous. My name is the only name I have to drop, and it doesn't tend to ring any bells. (David Byrne: no relation.)
But what I do have – and always have, whenever I travel anywhere – is a solid, simple, unstructured navy blue blazer that fits me like it was stitched onto my torso. In fact, I have two, and I've never boarded a plane without one folded into my carry-on. Which is to say, when I go out, just about anywhere, the way I'm dressed is never a mark against me. In fact, to a doorman, more often than not, what I'm wearing allows him to easily visualize me in the space: at a barstool, blending in with the crowd, not drawing any attention, negative or otherwise.
Look, for some people, this isn't enough. I know men who would rather die than blend in. More power to them. I'm not advocating for head-to-toe discount bin business casual. Nor am I saying it's sufficient to repurpose the gold-buttoned number you wore to a stuffy family thing once, or take the top half of a suit and leave the trousers in the closet. The blazer's got to fit. It has to look good. Ideally, it should be a soft shoulder and minimally lined. It should have a slim lapel and two buttons. The blue should be damn good blue. Does it have to be blue? It doesn’t even! It can be grey, or beige, or some kind of herringbone or plaid. There are options. The idea here isn't to eschew fashion, it's to handicap it against variable tastes. A simple, well-fitting blazer is indisputably acceptable. Its enemies are charlatans.
I got into that snooty bar in London. For nearly a decade, it has been a requirement of my occupation, as someone who writes about travel and drinking, to be able to do just that. I have talked my way into packed clubs and swanky restaurants and douchy, invitation-only establishments on five continents. I am not being coy or modest when I say that a full 75 percent of my capacity to do this has been blazer-related. (The other 25 percent is a trade secret.)
An unstructured blue blazer plays well in nearly any room – it is the ideal garment for keeping your options open. To lawyers and fathers-in-law and trust fund types, it's comfortingly traditional. To people who attend fashion shows, it just needs to fit perfectly to check the right box. To dates, men or women alike, it looks like you took the occasion seriously.
The thing is a neutral palette. It's one thing with an oxford, a completely separate thing with a t-shirt. It can stand up to a denim shirt as well as it can a Supima cotton one. With an air-tie or a knit tie or no tie. Dark jeans or white chinos. It elevates everything without ever calling attention to the elevation.
This is its power; like a Milford alumni, it is neither seen nor heard. Yes, sometimes, it's necessary to be loud. For these occasions, you have a tuxedo, or the color green, or good chambray, or a t-shirt that cost more than a t-shirt should cost. You have sneakers. You have random things with big, sans-serif logos on them. But if you're stepping out of a hotel, somewhere far away, maybe alone, maybe without a clear idea of where you're going to end up, I have but one piece of advice and it's this: nail the blazer and the rest of the night will fall in line. At the very least, you'll encounter fewer closed doors.