IF THEY COULD TALK: clothes stories
ELLA’S 1968 BLAZER THAT’S NOT A TIE
I was dressed for my high school’s senior prom, wearing a short purple dress I’d bought in New York. My group of friends hadn’t pooled enough cash for the traditional limo so we took photos in my living room before driving ourselves to dinner. It was a breezy Oregon night and I angsted over my outerwear until my dad emerged with a navy and white-striped blazer. I wore it over my shoulders outside of the dance and a piano-playing skater boy complimented my style.
I’ve since worn it for a job interview at Paris Vogue and many a first date. In the winter, it’s a layer of warmth under my Barbour duster. During summer I wear it over shorts and a collared shirt during the day or an LBD at night. I love that my most versatile and frequently-worn item of clothing was once my dad’s. It’s oversized and ink-stained, carefully silk-lined with ample pockets. As I’ve just graduated college, it seems fitting to tell the story of the blazer now. Graduation time generally comes with a desperate grabbing of memorabilia. We scour the student store for class rings and shot glasses. Parents purchase photos of the graduation handshake and proudly display their progeny’s tangled tassels.
At Harrow, a boarding school in England, boys typically leave for Oxford and Cambridge with an Old Harrovian tie, a marker of graduation and lifetime Harrow membership. In my dad’s words, “It shows you’re part of this elite club of privileged folk.” But my dad has never taken to ties, and he couldn’t see himself wearing one. So in the spring of 1968, he visited one of the tailors on the Harrow hill (still in operation today), Stevens, Billings & Edmonds, to find an alternative. “They found some cloth that was the same blue and white stripe of the Old Harrovian tie and I got them to make me up a jacket,” he remembers.
This choice was representative of his entire time at Harrow. Though my dad’s family required his participation in traditional, elitist education, he never felt part of the in-crowd: “Being told what to do and not being told why I needed to do it has always been a difficult thing for me. And much of the education was about that: ‘Just do it because we’re telling you to.’”
So rather than wearing a tie, my dad made the only Old Harrovian blazer. And I, an American woman with no allegiance to the British public school system, get to wear it.
My dad says he’s “not really a rule-follower.” I’m proud to continue that tradition.
Ella Riley-Adams does editorial and social media at Makers.com: women’s stories in video form.
Photos by James Neiley, shot at Gentry NYC