HENLEY-ON-THAMES, England (Reuters Life!) - The clouds may have been grey over Henley Royal Regatta, but the peacock colors of rowing blazers brought plenty of blinding brilliance to the banks of the River Thames on Friday.
The glittering jewel in the crown of the British summer social calendar for rowers around the world is a festival of stripy blazers in every color from conservative cream to lurid pink, along with hats and ties in wild states of disarray.
Blazers maketh the man.
Blazers in different colors mark out which club or country you might row or have rowed for. The decorative style of blazers also tell their own tales about the wearer’s rowing success.
The number of stripes on the blazers of rowers from Oxford University’s Oriel College, for example, indicate whether you rowed in the top crew or are a member of the rowing club’s committee.
Many oarsmen also follow the less-than-savory tradition of preserving the grime and stains accumulated during a rowing career as badges of honor.
“My blazer only gets sponged down occasionally,” said 33-year-old Gabriel Wright, an Oriel College alumnus.
Frans Overkleeft from the Vidar club in the Netherlands said his club owned its blazers, which were passed on from generation to generation. The more tattered and stained the blazer, the more venerable it was.
“Blazers are the property of the club,” said Overkleeft, standing near the river resplendent in his grey and magenta blazer.
For former competitors who no longer row, the blazers make it easy for them to identify members of their old crew, meet up with friends and former rivals on the banks of the River Thames over the five days of Henley and re-live the glory of youth.
“I went through pain and sweat with my crew and this is the one day of the year that I can wear this blazer and catch up with them,” said 25-year-old Londoner Simon Tomkins on the train to Henley.