The gentle weight of a snug wool tie keeps the winter chill at bay.
I shuffled along a brick sidewalk past antique Victorians that have called these streets home much longer than I have been alive, earbuds propped in place and hidden underneath my pea coat. In New England you become immune to the cold before long, it makes you strong. To the right, the cast iron fence of Harvard University basks in the glow of streetlamps as a few straggling students walk back to their dorms, hoping to make it home before the gates are locked for the night.
A quick subway ride takes me out of Harvard and into Davis Square, where a friend and colleague is waiting to meet for drinks. We have never met before, working entirely online on a collaborative project kept under wraps, if only to temper our own expectations. We aren’t the only ones either, a team of volunteers from across the country have come together to contribute content, ideas, and a build a community that drives the project forward.
We greet each other for the first time as if old friends. Aaron is a New England native and it shines through. He rowed in college, has an intellectual curiosity that can be seen as he observes his surroundings, and has a fondness for classic American culture that is both earnest and enthusiastic. He wears a glen plaid blazer with confidence and looks down the street like a lifelong Bostonian.
“I know a great place just up ahead,” he says, and starts walking down the street. Before long we’re stepping through an unmarked door (with a nod to the doorman) and descend a staircase into the basement dining room of Saloon. Dimly lit, the place carries an understated confidence. A large carved wood arch separates the main dining room from the bar. It’s stained dark and looks original, though well-maintained. I pull out one of the bar stools, they are new, but look classic, dark leather with bronze studs along the edge.
We order drinks. An old fashioned for me and gin for him. No preference on brand, we trust the bartender. I loosen my tie, it’s been a long day and I prefer to be comfortable in the company of friends. The conversation goes quickly from introductory chatter to deep thought about the project that has brought us together.
Navy Blazer started as a subsection of Reddit, a content-sharing site. It was a community that came together around the idea of celebrating the American heritage lifestyle. Some call this traditional (or trad), outsiders might call it preppy (despite the adoption of that term by many frat bros across the nation).
What makes Navy Blazer unique is a general consensus among its members that it is very much a lifestyle that reaches far beyond the clothes someone buys. It’s an attitude, a culture, a community of like-minded people. Navy Blazer members might be frequent patrons of Brooks Brothers or hold a special place in their heart for Alden boots, but they also recognize the spirit of thrift, the celebration of the renaissance man mentality, and hold a deep respect for history. And somehow they manage to do all this without being stuffy or taking themselves too seriously. Disingenuous is the man who tries too hard.
As the community grew, Aaron knew we had to reach beyond Reddit alone. He envisioned a website that could host articles, photos, videos, and essays that weren’t bound to any one platform. That’s when he reached out to me. I was an active user in the community and had gotten to know Aaron. He knew that I had built many websites in the past and had a knack for community organizing. Without hesitation, I agreed to help, and together with the founder of Navy Blazer on Reddit, Tony Ferry, our trio got to work.
Aaron has one sticking point he makes clear as we sip our drinks and rest our elbows on the bar; he needs to know that the design of the site will communicate that it is community driven and generated. “I don’t want it to simply be another blog or magazine. We need to use language and pictures that show people we are only as good as their participation makes us.” We agree that we should allow open submissions, and even feature it as a top level navigation item. We talk about which sections we want to be known for. Aaron points out that brand guides could be especially useful for young adults doing research online, I find an interest in the essays and what-are-you-wearing-today (WAYWT) photos users submit. We agree that all of them are areas that are presently underserved for our audience.
That quickly turns the conversation to the target audience. “How do you build a brand for our age group which champions a lifestyle that predates us?” It’s a difficult question to wrestle with, because respecting tradition and history is paramount, yet empowering our generation to take ownership of that lifestyle will require some careful innovation.
I suggest that it’s about the tools we use. We can utilize Reddit and Instagram and Facebook just as our predecessors used written mail and print magazines. We can, with proper discussion, carefully trim certain aspects of the lifestyle that no longer work in 2016 without changing the essence of what makes it great. Aaron agrees and suggests that the visual nature and community aspect of the site will be our greatest strengths in that regard. We even toy with the idea of hosting regional events and meet-ups for our members- but first, the task at hand.
The bar has emptied a bit. I’m leaning back against the bar stool and taking the last sips of my second (third?) drink and Aaron passes me a nondescript bag. Inside was a Harris Tweed jacket in my size which he had plucked from a thrift store just down the street. A Cambridge drug deal.
We shake hands and part ways, each having decided on tasks to complete for the website over the next week. I bundle up and head back towards Harvard, feeling motivated and excited for the project. Vampire Weekend pipes through my earbuds, part of a playlist one Navy Blazer contributor compiled entitled Vineyard Rhymes.
As I pass a boisterous group of young law students, shined oxfords clacking on the brick, my phone buzzes. Someone in the Navy Blazer group chat wants to know whether they should save up for an Omega Speedmaster or go for a Seiko diver to save money. I quickly tap out my preference and hit send.
Turning the corner I remember that J.Press, a small, yet formidable clothing establishment of Cambridge, is just down the street. Considered a trad mecca amongst many, I decide to walk by and take a peek in the windows. The store hasn’t changed in decades, a true American institution. While their staff has turned over and they’ve adopted a few new styles, their strength is in their consistency and quality; Truly something to be admired. I pull out my phone and snap a picture of their window display. A flannel navy blazer, cut in the traditional sack style, stands tall, as if standing guard over the quiet alleyways and avenues around Mt Auburn Street. Repp ties emblazoned with little mallard, pheasant, and scissor motifs adorn the windows. A few pieces of antique college sports memorabilia placed just so. With a few taps I upload it to the Navy Blazer Instagram and caption it “Made in Tradition”, borrowing a phrase from one of our contributors debut essays. Just as I put my phone back in my pocket I feel it buzz. Certainly someone in the chat has added to the watch conversation or admonished my earlier suggestion. I smile and pull my jacket collar tighter across my neck, the bitter winter air can’t dampen the satisfaction from knowing that this community has brought together a group of friends.