Reader Request: Making Blazers Fun

Already Pretty outfit featuring longline black blazer, black and gold sequin top, distressed jeans, black ankle boots, black Madewell bucket bag

Reader Erin e-mailed me this request:

Every style blogger makes blazers look great, but I find them hard to style.  They seem so versatile on the rack, but then seem frumpy (I’m 24), too dressy/formal, or occasionally too equestrian when I try to create an outfit with them.  I’ve asked some stylish friends and several of them have run into the same issues.  Do you have any tips or suggestions for styling blazers well?

It took me a while to feel like I could make blazers work within the context of my style, so I can relate to Erin’s frustrations. Blazers get a lot of play in fashion mags and advice columns, but they CAN feel a bit challenging. Especially if you’re still exploring your own personal style while trying to embrace the flattering and eschew the formal.

Here are a few tips to help make your blazer-based looks fun and interesting:

Find a blazer style that works for YOUR figure

Already Pretty outfit featuring Eileen Fisher blazer, moon phase necklace, Rebecca Minkoff Logan

I have thrifted the vast majority of my blazers because full-priced versions can be extremely expensive. But this means that about 80% of the blazers I find on the thrift racks get dismissed out of hand. Although I do experiment with a few longer styles, generally speaking I prefer a fairly short, almost cropped style of blazer with a well-defined waist. I also prefer single button closures, which accentuate my waist even further.

Thankfully, blazers are available in several shapes and a multitude of sizes. Do you like yours long and loose? Cropped and fitted? Contoured? Boxy? Do wide lapels suit you? How many buttons look best? Do strong shoulder lines help or hinder? Try on a variety of styles – again, I recommend the thrift stores for this – and make note of which blazer features work best with your body.

Experiment with dresses

Already Pretty outfit featuring burgundy blazer, radiant orchid dress, leopard pumps, Foley + Corinna Mid-City Tote, Zara rhinestone necklace

Erin is specifically looking for ways to keep her blazer looks young and fresh, and I think the easiest way to strip a blazer of its potential stodginess is to pair it with a dress. Blazer-dress combinations are also easy to assemble and generally flattering. The dress creates a column of color or pattern along your torso, which is a great way to keep continuity within the outfit. If you’re struggling to find separates-based ensembles that look great with your blazers, try swapping in a dress.

Watch your proportions

Already Pretty outfit featuring longline blazer, McQ graphic tee, black jeans, ankle boots, arm party

Blazers have a tendency to become the dominant piece in any outfit because they are virtually always the top layer. They can also monkey with your proportions, so make sure to strike a balance. If you’re going for a boxy blazer, consider a fitted bottom. If you’re doing a snug fit, see how it looks with a flared or pleated skirt. Pay special attention to your shoulders, waist, and hips which are most likely to be enhanced or obscured by a blazer, depending on your figure and the blazer’s fit.

Go bright

Already Pretty outfit featuring yellow blazer, bird print dress, Corso Como Del, Michael Kors Hamilton tote

Another way to make blazers seem younger and hipper is to track down colorful versions. Neutrals are marvelously versatile, but bold brights are fun and funky. Taking a classic piece like a blazer and doing it in bright yellow, warm red, or lush purple is a fabulous way to punch up your style. Bright blazers look great in smart-casual looks, but can also add sass to workwear ensembles.

Add accessories

Since blazers themselves read a bit conservative, splash on a few accessories to loosen them up. Brooches may seem like a strange choice to funkify an outfit, but the right pin can really jazz things up. Layered necklaces or one big statement piece can look fabulous, and even if such showy jewelry generally intimidates you remember that it’ll just be peeking out from between your lapels. Scarves can also play well with blazers, and often introduce pattern and movement to what may otherwise be a pretty rigid look.

One final note: Most blazers are still crafted from traditional materials like wool or twill, but more manufacturers are beginning to experiment with softer, suppler fabrics. Jersey knit blazers can be tough to track down, but they’re a great alternative to more structured, lined versions.

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  • LQ

    Would you mind posting some more dress examples? I’m totally not getting my head around blazer over dress unless it’s a dress in a relatively formal/structured sheath silhouette.

    Also, have you looked at the kind of longer blazer that falls straight down to low hip or top of thigh, absolutely no cutaway in front, may have no buttons or closure at all and functions almost the way one of those long slinky drapy cardigans does to lengthen rather than shorten the torso? It’s a bit trickier but I’m not sure you couldn’t do it. You like dusters.

    • Sal
      • LQ

        See, #2 through #4 of those make sense to me, #2 because with that clean-lined winter maxi it’s kind of steampunk (not in an over the top way; I like it a ton) and #3 and #4 because they’re more sheath-y dresses — also clean-lined. I still can’t deal with #1 or the one in this post because they’re shorter, full-and-floaty-skirted and it looks like a tone or diction mismatch to me? Like, blazers want to create a pulled-together impression, even when deployed casually, whereas those skirt shapes and fabrics are all about cool airy freedom. For a short full skirt to wear with a blazer I’d want a substantial fabric with a heavier drape, and I’d still have my doubts. I actually have one I do that with in summer myself, but it’s a very thick cotton sateen and I wear it with a lighter-fabric (linen) blazer to equalize things a bit.

        aand I have NO IDEA why I am mindf*cking this. I guess your post struck a nerve: I have nice blazers and I don’t wear them enough! If you love the structure/freedom mismatch as an intentional contrast, go with it.

  • Great post. In the past I never ever wore blazers, because I really thought they didn’t suit my style. But recently I tried them out again and absolutely love them. With some skinny jeans or skirt, a cool shirt or top underneath and maybe a scarf I can feel chic, casual, tough or nonchalant, whatever the occasion needs. Oh and those tricot blazers are wonderful. I found a couple at H&M, so if people are searching for tricot blazers, then maybe that’s a place to look.

    Have a great week!

  • Eliza

    Fantastic post! I love blazers; I would wear them every day if I had enough of them. I actually find them to be really easy to style and to go with just about everything, but I think that’s more a reflection of my personal style, which is far from casual, than anything. Even though I don’t struggle with styling blazers I still thought this was a really helpful post that reminded me to expand my blazer repertoire. I actually struggle with the acquisition of quality, flattering blazers more than the deployment. I would love to become a thrifter, and I’m certainly trying, but I have yet to find a blazer that fits and looks good at a thrift store. Oh well — I’ve heard that perseverance is key when it comes to thrifting.

  • I really like the bright options you have here. If blazers were part of my lineup, I’d really like to try some of these ideas.

  • Katharine

    One of my favourites is “layer my blazers”. I’m not generally a blazer person; too structured and high maintenance for me, in general — but of all the outfits I’ve enjoyed constructed with them, most have involved layering. You’ve got a bit of that going on in your “Watch your proportions” pic, but I’d usually take it further than that — LONG tops under a blazer, or a drapy vest, or a shirt then a cardigan then a blazer on top, all playing with length and drape.

    Feels to me that that subverts the structure and conformity of the blazer shape enough for me to feel more myself in it.

  • Great ideas here, Sal. I will esp use the “add accessories” tip, because I can look a little too stiff in my blazers. I do like to belt over them too, to de-boxify them.

  • Robin

    In the spring and fall when the temp is cooler I like to layer a zip-up hoodie under a blazer to wear it a more casually.

  • Great post, Sal, and great timing, too, because I am planning on buying my first-ever blazer – yikes! Here’s why I haven’t bought one before: nothing seems to work for my proportions! Sleeves are always too short, and women’s blazers are cut to a curve, and whatever the cut is, it always falls into the wrong place with me. And most blazers have “molds” for boobs (which I don’t really have) – I’m left with empty sacks on my chest. 😀 One option has been boxy, oversized Stella McCartney-type blazer, But I just don’t like that look on myself. I guess I just need to actively look for the right fit, no matter how difficult it might be. I’m thinking about looking for one at the men’s section next…

  • Anne

    Great topic Sally. I have acquired a collection of blazers that just don’t get as much wear as they should. I really like the idea of a dress under blazer and I love the look of a belted blazer. I think next year I will look to add one or two knit blazers to the mix. I think they would solve my one complaint about blazers that they are just not comfy for hanging around the house in.

  • Holly

    I like em with jeans and a graphic T. It’s more of the androgynous look in that case, but that’s my style, a bit formal and bit casual, a little girl, a little boy. Today I have a belted brown corduroy blazer, jeans and a purple T.

  • Blazers look great with jeans for a dressy-casual look that works in less formal offices (think high-tech or creative environments) or on weekends. Kelly at Alterations Needed has some great examples (& you don’t have to be petite to pull it off) — http://www.alterationsneeded.com/2012/01/petite-fashion-challenge-12-from-night-to-day.html & http://www.alterationsneeded.com/2011/12/preppy-esprit-contrast-trim-blazer.html — jeans, interesting tops with texture or print, jewelry, fabulous shoes & purses, & a great fitting blazer with nice details (trim, buttons), makes for a look that’s anything but frumpy.

    I also like blazers in unusual fabrics such as denim or velvet. Like bright colors, this makes the classic shape less traditional & typical.

    And don’t forget about tailoring/alterations. You may need to have the sleeves taken up (very common & inexpensive), for example. Or you can replace cheap, ugly buttons yourself with nicer vintage buttons to get a custom look.

  • I agree, blazers can really punch up and outfit!

  • rb

    That pink jacket is perfection on you.

  • This is a timely post, since I’ve been trying to figure out blazers for myself. I’ve always been more of a cardigan person because they have fewer fit issues and they’re often machine washable. But I really want to figure out blazers because I love the idea of one simple piece you can throw on to make an outfit more polished.

    I’m finding that shorter/cropped-ish one button blazers might work best for me, too. (Or rather, longer blazers with multiple buttons are just not working.) I’m surprised on the length thing, because I have a short torso and am always wearing longer, untucked tops to balance my figure. Do you have any insight in what’s so magical about shorter jackets?

    • Sal

      I think shorter jackets often work better as waist-highlighters. They nip in higher and tighter than other styles, and that can be flattering. Not sure about how they work on your long torso, though … are you doing skirts on the bottom? If so, you may still be creating some balance with a longish hemline. Pants, I imagine, would make you look all-leg. But maybe not!

      • My skirts are usually knee length. But now that I think about it, I suppose you can’t see as well where my legs meet my torso as well in a skirt. I’m not sure about pants. I think blazers work better with pants when I layer them over a longer shirt, if that makes sense.

        Today I’m wearing the tall version ponte Gap blazer from your Insomniac Sales Pics and the hem of the jacket is an inch or two above my crotch. Between the length and the 2 buttons I feel like I’m wearing a LOT of jacket. When I unbutton it it’s kind of floppy and not as structured. I’m not sure if it’s too big or if I should have not ordered the tall size and dealt with too short sleeves or if I need to keep trying different styles. I’d like to figure out the right style for me and then work on sewing something with a perfect fit.

  • Jen

    Oh, Sally.

    “boyfriend”-style blazers make me look like I’ve got a set of linebacker pads on my shoulders and tiny little centipede legs sticking out below.”

    This made me laugh out loud right at my computer screen. Haha! Such a great mental image!

  • Kate K

    Great post Sal–I’m currently wearing a blazer over a wrap dress! Timely 😀

    I struggle with wearing blazers with pants (even jeans) because it just feels like there’s so much structure happening and I start to feel uncomfortable. I usually wear my blazers with flowy, less structured dresses: jersey dresses in winter and more cottony dresses in summer. As an example: in Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig character wore quite a few summery dresses with structured blazers and I absolutely loved the look. She was a huge style inspiration to me last summer.

    http://our3sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/bridesmaids-movie-fashion-011.jpg

  • Kate K

    Also, Sal, I always struggle mightily with actually *finding* blazers. Perhaps you could do an Insomniac Sale Pick post on blazers? (I do love a good theme :))

  • I’ve been wearing a lot of knit blazers, and have almost decided that I shouldn’t even bother with anything else. They fit well enough to keep me from looking huge and blocky, while being much more comfortable than a non-stretchy “shrunken” blazer. And they’re a little more casual — they fit better into my work environment than formal jackets do.

  • Val C-MN

    I LOVE blazers and own a lot of them (from wool, tweed, leather, denim, woven, appliqued, printed, cotton/knit blends and in a variety of bright/muted/neutral colors). My love with that style of jacket began with my love of suits or sheath dresses that came with a blazer which I liked to break up into separates to mix with other skirts, dresses or pants. Later, this served me well since I work in the business environment. Most of my blazers come from JCPenney (Worthington, ANA, Sag Harbor, Liz Claiborne) or else QVC (Susan Graver, Dialogue, Denim & Co., and Isaac Mizrahi). I know that Coldwater Creek, JCrew, Spiegel, White House/Black Market, Chico’s, New York & Co, The Limited, and Lane Bryant have lots of blazer options.

    I agree with Sally and Trystan’s suggestions on wearing blazers. I would also suggest playing with patterned or printed blazers or blazers with an applique (scattered sequins, flowers, soutache, satin-trim, woven/waffle treatment) for an interesting look. You can let the jacket be the main focus of your outfit due to the texture or else use a color within that pattern to coordinate a shell/tank/blouse or to coordinate/contrast jewelry colors.

    Play with different necklines under that blazer as well: try square neck, v-neck (my personal favorite), drape/cowl neck (2nd fave), deep scoop-neck, “keyhole” center design, bow-tie neck, etc.

    Play with the fabrics you are layering under the blazer. Instead of a silky charmeuse, try traditional “sweater” knit shell/tank, a matte top with little sheen, a scattered sequined top, a tissue knit top, a tee-shirt cotton top (like the St. John’s tops from JCPenney’s that can be used dressy or casual with blazers, pants, jeans, or workout pants – this makes your blazer more casual or else can be trendy/rocker/utility depending on the accessories you pair with it). Wear jeans or khakis or knit pants with the blazers to soften the structure as well.

    Go to different stores and try on varying styles (instead of traditional, you may like military, utlility, crop, swing style, double-breast, single-breast, buttoned/unbuttoned, mandarin collar, 3/4 length or full sleeved, etc.)

    Remember to have fun..there is no defined “wrong” way to wear a blazer – just experiment.

  • I’m a huge fan of the dress with blazer approach — it’s by far my favorite “suit alternative,” and it works well for a huge variety of body proportions. I was surprised, but it’s worked well in both my pregnant and non-pregnant states of long-torsoed shortish-leggedness.

    I also really like (at least in concept, sometimes this one is hard in practice) the funky-shaped blazer, for both casual and business wear. Sometimes something a little more offbeat, a little less “interview suit,” can be a great option!

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