On many occasions, gentlemen are expected to wear a jacket and tie. Weddings, funerals and interviews come to mind, although rules governing such things have long been in question and “Casual Fridays” have been forcing custom tailors to retire early for decades now.
Dog shows, of course, are another place where men still wear jackets. Handlers and exhibitors generally own quite a few, along with several suits that rotate in and out of the dry cleaners with great regularity. With just a few well-selected garments hanging in the closet, getting dressed for a dog show requires little more from a guy than deciding between a white or blue shirt and black or brown shoes.
For personal expression, the necktie remains the safest place to say what’s on your mind.
Though fashion trends come and go, a good jacket is eternal. When it comes to dressing the man, nothing beats a navy blue blazer for its timeless good looks and its ability to go just about anywhere. It’s the male equivalent of the little black dress, minus the pearl necklace and sideways glances.
When I began showing dogs after graduating from college, I bought myself a blazer of the navy blue variety. The year was 1983, and the movie “Flashdance” was celebrating the torn sweatshirt as acceptable outerwear. My new purchase could not have been more out of step with Seventh Avenue, despite the wool jacket’s designer label on the inside breast pocket.
For the novice exhibitor with little skill and a lot to learn, a smarter jacket could not be worn. For reasons that only Project Runway’s Tim Gunn might be able to explain, navy blue is a color with a purpose. From bank executives to the local police department, it’s the uniform color of choice for those who want to be taken seriously. I may have been a rookie exhibitor with few abilities and a novice dog, but I definitely wanted to be taken seriously. My new blazer at least helped me to look the part as I accepted yet another reserve ribbon.
As I gained experience, I gained a little weight too. Fitting into my comfortably worn jacket became a hit or miss exercise. At first the buttons began to strain, and eventually they abandoned the blazer altogether. These were easily replaced – several times – but the frayed lining and the growing spilt above the single vent would require professional care. Even a quality garment has its limitations, and there’s no better way to test its durability than for it to be worn by a dog show exhibitor.
Of all the abuses my blazer has been subjected to, perhaps none are as egregious as the treatment of the two flap pockets. Originally sewn shut to prevent mishandling, they quickly became repositories for everything from squeak toys and wire brushes to hot dogs and home-cooked liver treats. If not emptied after a show weekend, the pockets would always present petrified surprises for the local dry cleaners to discover.
The current, rather threadbare, condition of my jacket is a reflection of the many places where it’s been worn. It’s made many appearances at the Garden, and it’s been to the World Show twice. I’ve worn it to many specialty wins and to even more defeats. It’s traveled to shows from Ogden to Oshkosh, and it’s seen the inside of countless convention centers, grange buildings and banquet halls across America.
The garment has a lot of miles on it.
For nearly three decades, my favorite blazer has been a big part of my dog-showing experience. Though the fit hasn’t always been the best and some of the original parts have been replaced, it still has the ability to say, “Take me (somewhat) seriously.”