Standards Maintained At Henley Royal Regatta

Unless you are reading Ivy Style under the impression that you will learn something about the various species of the evergreen climbing plants that include Hedera helix and Parthenocissus quinquefolia, you probably do not need telling that, sartorially, the world is in a race to the bottom. Ivy Style readers and their fellow travelers are fighting a valiant rearguard action but they are not, alas, statistically significant when counted against those others whose income allows them choice in the clothes that they wear. The wardrobe adopted by most of the First World (ironically, often made in the Third) is a variation on the unholy trinity of jeans, T-shirt and hoodie. To add to the anti-style, these garments are frequently dirty and ill-fitting, with much of the material they are made from likely to be a product of chemistry rather than biology.

A proportion of those who wear this ubiquitous uniform simply do not care; they wear clothes because nudity is mostly impractical and anti-social (despite its popularity on the Internet). Perhaps we should not criticise those with this mindset, they may have more sense than those of us who are fascinated by collar rolls, cuff depths and necktie dimples. More depressing are those who profess an interest in what they wear but whose dress still appears as aesthetically displeasing as the “don’t care’’ group. For them, shopping is an obsession but they seem to confuse quality with quantity, taste with fashion, and style with celebrity.

Gentlemen (possibly Officers and Gentlemen) from the Royal Military College of Canada viewing the boat racing at Henley Royal Regatta.

As I indicated at the beginning, I am “preaching to the converted”. Two years ago, I wrote a piece for both Ivy converts and for those actually born into the faith about a time and place where “a man can dress elegantly without arousing glances, curiosity, derision or scorn from those around him”. This is the so-called Stewards’ Enclosure of the annual rowing event known as Henley Royal Regatta. In Delightful While It Lasts: Inside Henley’s Stewards’ Enclosure, I noted that:

It is very telling that, from its start in 1839 until the 1970s, Henley Regatta did not have a dress code. In times now gone forever, people of all social classes could be relied upon to dress appropriately for any occasion without being prompted, directed or forced….

Perhaps the most interesting and, indeed, heartening aspect of (Henley) is the reaction of many of the high school and college rowers and their supporters from Europe and North America; they actually enjoy “dressing up” and putting on a blazer, shirt and tie. The occasion gives them licence to dress smartly without fear of being mocked by their contemporaries.

Nowadays formal rules are required to maintain standards of dress even though the Stewards’ Enclosure is a private club that should only attract as members people who wish to enter into the spirit of the occasion. However, Henley rules state:

Gentlemen are required to wear lounge suits, or jackets or blazers with flannels, together with a tie or cravat (US: ascot). Ladies are required to wear dresses or skirts with a hemline below the knee. Ladies will not be admitted wearing divided skirts, culottes or trousers of any kind.

Several people were kind enough to say how much they enjoyed my 2017 article, so here are pictures from this year’s regatta, all confirming that standards have been maintained. Enjoy!

A most chapish of chaps sporting the cap and blazer of Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club.

A spectator wearing the blazer of Westminster School Boat Club (founded 1813) and the pants of Goldie, the second boat of the Cambridge University Boat Club.

Pic 5. Abingdon School’s distinctive blazers are rarely spotted singularly.

Pic 6. My choice of pictures may give the impression that the colourful blazer is dominant at Henley. In fact, the classic blue blazer (often double-breasted) is favoured by the majority of men attending the regatta.

Pic 7. A very Henley scene.

Pic 8. A Harvard Man in, appropriately, what Americans call “a Henley” but which Brits tend to call a zephyr. They originate from the days when there was little or no specialist sports clothing and men rowed in their undershirts.

Pic 9. Two generations with one aim – to be appropriately dressed.

Pic 10. Four-times Olympic Gold Medalist, Sir Matthew Pinsent, in what the author of “Rowing Blazers,” Jack Carlson, has called “the original blue blazer.” The dark blue jackets with the dark blue grosgrain trim and discreet club buttons are awarded to those who row for Oxford University against Cambridge University in the annual boat race founded in 1829.

Pic 11. Green Lake Crew, a public rowing club from Seattle, Washington.

Pic 12. A boat as elegant as the spectators that it carries.

Pic 13. A blue blazer goes well with the cerise cap (and tie and socks) of the prestigious Leander Club. Leander does not have “Rowing” in its title as, having been around since 1818, it feels that everyone should know what sort of an institution it is.

Pic 14. In an exciting heat of the student coxed fours event, Harvard trailed Oxford Brookes University from the start until the last few strokes when the Damn Yankees took the lead, the Crimsons leading the crew in maroon home.

Pic 15. The cap is Trinity Hall, a college of Cambridge University, the blazer is of Cambridge’s Goldie crew.

Pic 16. One of the race umpires sports a Cambridge University Boat Club blazer, a Thames Rowing Club cap and the tie of Remenham, a rowers’ social club.

Pic 17. On the left, the green blazer with gold trim of the Australian Defence Force crew. The boys are from Scots College, Sydney, Australia. Henley dress rules are waived in the case of “recognised national dress”, hence kilts can be worn in place of “flannels” (interpreted as any pants that are not jeans).

Pic 18. A crew from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, won a one-off event for armed forces crews, the King’s Cup.  It was a well-deserved win but a close-up view of their “Service Dress White” uniforms was disappointing. They seem to be made from polyester but worse was the avoidable “puddling” of the men’s pants around their ankles. In particular, I would Court-Martial the midshipman on the right for crimes against tailoring.

Pic 19. Me wearing the cap and blazer of Auriol Kensington Rowing Club. When Kensington (1872) and Auriol (1896) amalgamated in 1981, they took the green from the green and blue colours of Auriol and the pink from the pink and black of Kensington. I am sure that those responsible for this choice were completely unaware that The Official Preppy Handbook had been published a year earlier and that it had proclaimed The Virtues of Pink and Green.

Apologies to my fellow Britons. In deference to my host, I have used American English terms when they differ from those from that Her Majesty would choose (though I have used British English spelling, there are limits to courtesy). — TIM KOCH

25 Comments on "Standards Maintained At Henley Royal Regatta"

  1. This is an interesting and informative post. I know very little about the sport of rowing and would not attempt to emulate authentic attire at the Henley, Head of Charles, or anywhere else.

    My one encounter with real rowers was a brief one at the Potomac Boat Club in Georgetown decades ago. The venerable Club was established in 1859, along the banks of the Potomac River.

    I had purchased an Alden Ocean Shell from its late founder, Arthur Martin, at an Annapolis Boat Show back around the late 1970s. The reason for buying it was to do some recreational rowing for exercise and fun.

    I found myself living in Georgetown post-college in the early 1980s and thought it might be fun to bring the Alden to row on the Potomac. A friend mentioned the Potomac Boat Club as a palace to keep it and row out of.

    I’ll never forget stopping by the Club on a summer Saturday morning to check the place out. I started a conversation with a guy wearing a Dartmouth shirt, getting ready to launch a single shell. I casually mentioned that I had a boat and was looking for a place to keep it. He asked me with an inquiring tone where I rowed in college. I mumbled something while looking around at the various racing shells. Then politely I excused myself, never to return. It did not seem a place for non-collegiate recreational rowers.

    I won’t be taking up even spectating at rowing regattas, or ordering a rowing blazer ever. But, I enjoyed reading the post and accompanying photos.

    Thanks, BC

  2. Loved your 2017 article and this was equally great. Thanks for the dispatch!

  3. Andrew Rogers | August 26, 2019 at 2:12 pm |

    A very pleasant surprise to see members of Green Lake Crew, sporting Cascadian colors, in this excellent collection. I used to watch them practice when we lived in Seattle.

  4. The midshipman on the far right indeed is out in uniform disarray and should be counseled back in the barracks for it. However, the insignia over his ribbons shows that he has jumped out of a perfectly good airplane five times and completed the rigors of Army jump school one summer instead of loafing around.

    Also, sadly, the author is right: Our military dress uniforms are made out of polyester. But they do look good.

  5. I love the staying power of (neo) Edwardian dress standards among the British upper classes at iconic
    events such as Henley and Ascot. For those who enjoy Edwardian style I recommend the film: Those
    Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965)

  6. Charlottesville | August 26, 2019 at 4:27 pm |

    Thank you, Mr. Koch. Much like BC, other than as a spectator at a Georgetown regatta on the Potomac in Washington decades ago, I have no personal connection with the sport, but enjoyed your article and accompanying photographs immensely. Your observations regarding those who “seem to confuse quality with quantity, taste with fashion, and style with celebrity” rings at least as true on this side of the Atlantic and would describe roughly half of the men who work in my office.

  7. I had the pleasure of attending Henley with some friends from University and spectating from the Stewards’ Enclosure back in 2014 as a guest of my friend’s uncle. It was a great experience, especially as a former rower myself.

    The following year, one of my friends forgot his tie and wasn’t allowed in the Stewards’ Enclosure, so he found a mustard-stained picnic napkin on the ground and tied it around his neck like an ascot—after which he was surprisingly allowed inside.

  8. whiskeydent | August 26, 2019 at 4:50 pm |

    Looks like great fun — and a Rowing Blazers advertisement.

  9. Reppupstateny | August 26, 2019 at 8:28 pm |

    Blazer and repp tie porn for sure

  10. An interesting article. Some of the more traditional yacht clubs still maintain a dress code in the dining rooms and especially after 1800.

    I think in the US you use an expression ‘ a sharp-dressed man ‘. Sadly none of the midshipmen, or women, give the appearance of being ‘sharp-dressed’. A sign of the times, perhaps, in that race to the bottom (?)

    More likely the uniforms are all off-the-peg with the standard sizing one finds in mass production. And, their base has laid off the locally employed immigrant-tailor to cut costs. Here’s hoping they read Ivy Style and get themselves ship-shape again.

  11. Aaaa . . . tradition, history, rules and social depportment. God save the Queen!

  12. James Borkowski | August 27, 2019 at 6:55 am |

    The gentlemen in the top photograph look sharp in those fedoras. Any idea who the maker might be?

  13. Old School Tie | August 27, 2019 at 10:16 am |

    Lock & Co., undoubtedly.

  14. Although the UK is not entirely immune from the rising tide of ugliness, it retains some of the tradition of fine dress to a greater extent than any other single country. In London, for instance, a man in black tie draws no notice at all.

  15. “The wardrobe adopted by most of the First World (ironically, often made in the Third) is a variation on the unholy trinity of jeans, T-shirt and hoodie. To add to the anti-style, these garments are frequently dirty and ill-fitting. . .”

    All very true (sadly). I’ll never be able to wrap my head around why in the world anyone would choose to dress as though they are falling through the cracks of society, when there are better, less cruddy options. As Giuseppe of An Affordable Wardrobe used to write, “Penury is no excuse.” It seems like most people have simply given up on trying to look presentable. Even those who are not in dire socioeconomic straits. In any case, a well-written, informative, and engaging piece.

    Best Regards,

  16. @Heinz-Ulrich

    If you view every event as just a reason to drink beer,eat from food stalls and run around yay-hooing with your raucous friends, then you want tough, cheap clothes that can go in the washer or the trash. Plus you can blather some BS about not being oppressed

  17. Charlottesville | August 27, 2019 at 1:35 pm |

    NCJack – Too true. As Heinz-Ulrich indicates, with eBay and thrift shops as available sources, in most cases looking shabby is an unfortunate personal choice rather than a matter of money. Although, even for the type of events you describe, I know of at least one contra example. A friend has two more-or-less identical, orange and blue UVA ties. The one with mustard and beer stains is for Foxfield, and the other is for everything else.

  18. @Charlottesville: I have to agree with you and Heinz-Ulrich. However, dressing well is becoming more and more of a lost cause.

    People are get more rude and nasty every day; so much that I can understand why so many people dress like slobs. This country has become the polar opposite of “A kinder, gentler America” so it’s no surprise at all that so many people dress like vulgar slobs. Dressing up has almost become a form of cosplay.

  19. Charlottesville | August 27, 2019 at 4:44 pm |

    Mitchell — It does indeed seem that the coarsening of the culture generally has gone hand in hand with the slobification of dress. People seem to be lovers of self and passing entertainments, with little connection to the history or institutions that have made up civilization. With some exceptions of course, it is not so much that they have reviewed and rejected alternatives to the present vulgarity; they have never really considered it.

    I really wouldn’t want to wear cargo shorts and crocks, even if that means I am not in sync with the mainstream. As Jay Walter said recently on this site, “The world is changing, but that doesn’t mean I have to.” And yet, it seems that at least a few people notice when we dress and behave as gentlemen. Not that I am much of an exemplar, but I do get compliments on my clothing or my manners from time to time, so maybe trying to set an example is not completely futile. Better to go down fighting, so to speak.

  20. Foster Halton | August 28, 2019 at 1:04 am |

    I get compliments on my clothing because they’re clean and ironed.

  21. Charlottesville | August 28, 2019 at 10:35 am |

    Mr. Halton – That would certainly make one stand out almost anywhere these days. I got a complement from a stranger this morning on my seersucker suit, but it may be that she was just surprised to see clothes that were clean and pressed.

  22. Thank you for the terrific article and photographs. While not a rower, as a native Seattleite I’m proud of the University of Washington crews – several NCAA national champions for both men and women, plus the men winning the Henley Grand Challenge Eights in 1977 and the famous Gold Medal Eights winners at the “Nazi Olympics” of 1936. Greenlake RC is just one of over two dozen clubs in the area. Well done Greenlake!

  23. Vern Trotter | August 29, 2019 at 1:28 pm |

    No mention of Pimm’s Cup. Just as well.

  24. Cuff Shooter | August 31, 2019 at 4:41 am |

    The (non-kilted) Aussies are wearing RM Williams, of course. Some very attractive blazers here.

  25. Frederick Giles | October 12, 2020 at 4:19 am |

    Pretty harsh on the U.S. Naval Academy and their Whites!

    The U.S. Military focuses more on fighting wars than having bespoke uniforms tailored for the Officer Class, and why we have a Navy that is about 150 times larger than the Royal Navy (but go ahead and insult our Polyester Uniforms while one Nimitz Class Carrier has roughly 50% of the RN’s entire fast jet fleet (proposed… your new carrier is flying with a U.S. Marine Air Wing of F-35’s) – Oh by the way we have 12 Super Carriers and about 8 or 10 smaller carriers as well (Our Marine Corps – the smallest Branch is Bigger than the entire UK Military.

    Don’t Mention that our Officers get paid about 2.5 times more than the UK officers or that our Retirement, after 20 Years, is about 400% greater that yours after 30 or 40. But for God Sakes those Trousers are appalling!!!

    As a 7th generation Military Officer I can speak with authority on how this went down:
    “Team: pack your bags you are going to row in this Regatta.”

    “WTF? Jim is doing a Summer abroad in Chile and Bryce is on leave for that wedding.”

    “Okay find 2 backups that have passports and get them ready we fly tomorrow.”



    ” Oh yeah I hope you all have summer whites to wear, of not you better find some”


    “FFS, is the Midshipmen Store Open?”



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