Sport Coat Guide: How To Wear A Sports Jacket With Style

Sport Coat Guide: How To Wear A Sports Jacket With Style 2018-06-07T13:52:28+00:00

single breasted windowpane sport coatThis article will deal with sport coats and blazers. We will cover the following topics:

What Is A Sport Coat?

A sport coat (or sport jacket) is, for all intents and purposes, any jacket that resembles a suit jacket but is not made with matching trousers. This lack of matching pants is one of the key differentiators between sport coats and suit jackets.

We sometimes use the term “odd jacket” to refer to such a coat. More on the word “odd” as it relates to clothing is below.

Sport coats are typically made in wool, flannel, wide-wale corduroy, cotton, or linen. They can be solid in color but are often made in bolder plaids, windowpanes, and stripes.

Difference Between A Sport Coat Vs Blazer

Though they look very similar, sport coats and blazers are not the same thing. With that said, one could make the argument that every blazer is a sport coat, but not every sport coat is a blazer.

The difference lies in the history of the two garments and their modern applications.

Blazers

gold blazer buttonsThe blazer has two Creation stories, either with the British navy or from British rowing clubs. We’ll start with the British navy.

In this story, the blazer is based off of the reefer jacket, worn by British sailors in the 1800’s. which is a now-defunct 8×4 double-breasted jacket that hit at the hips. The classic blazer we now wear that was influenced by this is a 6×2 double-breasted jacket with peaked lapels, side vents and gold buttons. It is said that the term “blazer” is derived from the ship on which the jackets were first worn, the HMS Blazer.

The other story is that the blazer was originally a bright scarlet jacket worn by student members of the Lady Margaret Boat Club at Cambridge University in the late 1880’s. These boating jackets were also made in bright, bold stripes and were referred to as a “blaze” of color.

No matter what creation story you believe, (menswear historian and tailor Alan Flusser claims that the latter story is accurate and that the sobering of the style in the 1930’s brought the comparison to the reefer jacket), it is common nowadays to find a navy blazer in most men’s wardrobes. They can be single- or double-breasted and may take any kind of metal buttons: gold, silver, pewter, and the like.

Though it is possible to find blazers in bright colors such as green and red, they are far less common than navy.

Blazers are typically made of worsted wool, flannel, serge, and hopsack. They fit just as a suit jacket would.

Sport Coats

The sport coat, on the other hand, has a history that’s land-based as opposed to water-based. The term derives from the original use of such clothing: they were made for sportsmen in the English countryside: horseback riding, fox hunting, and other stereotypically Anglo-Saxon activities. The Norfolk jacket is widely considered to be the first sports jacket (more on that specific jacket below).

Though they seem dressy by today’s ultra-casual standards, sport coats are, in fact, casual wear. The odd jacket and trousers combination is a rung or two down the formality ladder from a business suit, and the reason for this is in the aesthetic details we see on sport coats, such as:

  • wind tab on plaid blazer

    Example of a wind tab on a sport coat

    Elbow patches

  • Wind tabs
  • Belts
  • Pleated backs & pockets
  • Sleeve cuffs
  • Flapped breast pockets
  • Sport jackets  are offered in a wide variety of colors and patterns. Plaids, windowpanes, bold herringbones, houndstooth, and other such patterns are typical. As far as material is concerned, sport coats are commonly made in flannel, tweed, cotton, linen, Shetland wool, corduroy, and others.

Sport Coat Terminology

  • Bi-Swing Back: A sport coat feature in which there is an inverted pleat extending from the shoulder to the waistline on each side. This allows for greater freedom of movement, which is helpful during sportier pursuits. It’s typically paired with a half-belt in back, but not always.
  • Bellows Pleat: A deep fold in the side of a jacket. Provides comfort and ease of movement.
  • Bellows Pocket: A patch pocket with three sides, which allows the pocket to expand. Also known as a “safari pocket.”
  • Odd: Clothing term that refers to an item not made with a matching garment. There are odd jackets, odd trousers, and odd vests.
  • Yoke: Fabric fitted over the shoulders and joined to the lower part of a garment at the chest or, more often, the back. Quite common on dress shirts, yokes are sometimes found on sport coats.

Single Breasted Vs Double Breasted Coat

Single-Vs-Double-Breasted-Jackets

The terms “single-breasted” and “double-breasted” get used a lot. Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, we’ve outlined the differences below.

Single Breasted

Single-Breasted-Jacket-Styles

Single-breasted jackets have a single row of buttons in front, and the jacket’s front panels do not overlap. This is far and away the more popular jacket model nowadays and has been for about twenty years.

The most common models are 2-button and 3-button. There is a particular style of 3-button jacket called a “three roll two” (written out as “3×2”), in which the lapel is rolled to the middle button as opposed to the top one. The top button is technically functional but not meant to be buttoned on a 3×2; the buttonhole is for show and the top button is hidden behind the lapel. This was common on early American sack suits.

One-button single-breasted jackets are necessary for tuxedo jackets and also happen to be the house model at Huntsman, Savile Row’s most expensive tailoring house. Four-button single-breasted coats exist but are really only appropriate for safari jackets and similarly casual coats.

Single-breasted jackets may take any style of lapel: notched, peak, or shawl collar.

Double Breasted

Double-Breasted-Jackets

Double-breasted coats have two rows of front buttons, the jacket’s front panels overlap, and they never take notch lapels. The last time this model was ubiquitous was in the 1990’s, and those were not well done by any stretch of the imagination. Still they are a tiny bit dressier than their single-breasted counterparts.

There are two main types of double-breasted jackets: 6×2 (“six on two”) and 4×2 (“four on two”). The first number refers to the total number of buttons, while the second number refers to the number of functional buttons.

There is a particular four-button double-breasted model referred to as a “Kent,” named for the Duke of Kent, a notable wearer of the style. It’s defined by its longer lapel that rolls to the bottom button as opposed to the top.

Double-breasted coats should only take peak lapels or shawl collars. Notched lapels aren’t dressy enough for these jackets.

How To Wear A Sport Coat

Though they’re relatively simple items, sport coats can present a lot of confusion for men. Below we offer some general tips for wearing sport jackets to full effect.

General Tips

  • Proper fit is still essential. Just because it’s not a suit doesn’t mean that you can skimp on alterations.
  • Keep them casual. If you’re going to a funeral or a job interview, you’re better off in a suit. If you’re a guest at a wedding or have a business casual dress code at work, sport coats and blazers are perfect.
  • They tend to fare better in cool weather. While it’s true that lightweight sport coats exist, when you’re in the dog days of summer, it’s unlikely that you’ll want to wear one. If you’re just starting to build a sport coat wardrobe, try a fall weight first.

Wearing Sport Jackets With Jeans

Paul Anthony in plaid sport coat

For men who live a sartorially casual lifestyle, a sport coat with denim is an excellent way to stay comfortable while maintaining a tailored, polished look without overdoing it.

No matter the season, there are two extremely important criteria that your jeans must meet:

  1. They must fit well. Baggy jeans look terrible anyway, but they look ridiculous with a sport coat. Skinny jeans are overly trendy and physically uncomfortable. Aim for a straight fit or a slim straight fit (if you’re a thinner guy).
  2. They must be free of rips, holes, and general “distress”. Though sport coats are technically casual wear, they are still prime examples of tailored clothing. While the phrase “dress denim” is a bit of an oxymoron, it’s a useful term as it relates to wearing sport coats with jeans.

There’s conflicting opinion as to whether or not your jeans must be dark in shade to be paired with a sport coat. While we certainly agree that dark jeans are always a smart move with a sports jacket, it’s not necessary for your jeans to be dark for the look to work. Light denim works well in spring and summer, grey denim pairs wonderfully with navy sport coats that would otherwise look off with dark denim, and so on.

There’s a formality continuum with the denim-and-sport-coat ensemble. At its most formal, it involves dark denim with a tie, a dress shirt, and dressy shoes. At its least formal, it can be light denim, cotton jacket, lightweight sweater, and moccasins with no socks.

A great day-to-day middle ground is sport coat, denim, brogues or boots, and a dress shirt.

With Tailored Trousers (Odd Jacket & Trousers)

man in odd jacket and trousers

Sport coats and blazers with non-matching slacks is a classic sartorial trope referred to as an “odd jacket and trousers.” In the menswear world, “odd” refers to any jacket, trouser, or waistcoat that doesn’t have matching garments. You can wear a suit with an odd vest, for example.

The key to a successful odd jacket and trouser combination is color contrast. More to the point, you want a discernible degree of contrast to occur between the jacket and trousers. This allows the viewer to see that you are clearly not wearing a suit, whereas a low contrast combination would make you look as if you tried to cobble a suit together from mismatched items.

It’s also important to contrast patterns. A surefire way to look good is to make either jacket or trousers patterned, while the other stays solid. More often that not, the jacket will be patterned while the trousers are solid.

Odd jackets and trousers look particularly good on tall men, as they break up height.

Sport Coat Styles & Formality

There are many different styles of sport coats, all with differing formality levels. Listed from dressiest to least dressy, here are some of the most common styles.

Blazer

The blazer is the most formal of all the non-suit jacket jackets.

  • Classic colors & patterns: Navy or midnight blue solid, red & green bold stripes (uncommon, but the original mode)
  • Archetypical mode(s): 6×2 double-breasted with side vents and peak lapels, 2- or 3-button single-breasted with notched lapels and gold buttons
  • Ideal pairings: Grey trousers, white trousers in summer, cotton khaki pants, dress shirts, dress shoes, ties (for a more formal look)
  • Best for: Casual Friday in a business professional office, evenings out at places like cigar lounges or high-end cocktail bars, networking events

Hacking

grey wool elbow patch

Elbow patch on plaid sport coat

The hacking jacket is really what most sport coats today are based on. “Hacking” is a British English term for “riding,” and these jackets were made specifically for equestrian endeavors. They were cut a bit longer than normal and have slanting pockets (also known as “hacking pockets”) so that supplies could be easily reached by a rider while on horseback. Other than that, they generally resemble suit jackets in cut and style and are a step below blazers in formality.

  • Classic colors & patterns: Various dogsteeth, windowpanes, solids, and plaids in Earth tones such as brown, green, and blue with hints of orange and red
  • Archetypical mode(s): 2- or 3-button single-breasted stance (often a 3×2), with a deep (often 12″) center vent, notched lapels, wind tabs, elbow patches
  • Ideal pairings: Denim, corduroy, flannel trousers
  • Best for: Business casual offices,

Norfolk

The Norfolk jacket is widely considered to be the first sport jacket. Originally paired with trousers to create what one could call a sport suit, the Norfolk jacket has box pleats in the front and back, a yoke, and and an all-around or half belt. Originally designed as a shooting coat that wouldn’t bind as the elbow was raised to fire, it’s a very informal coat compared to other jackets.

belted back on sport coat

A belted back on a Norfolk-style sport coat

Made popular by Edward VII in the mid-1800’s (at that time he was the Prince of Wales), it is a rarity nowadays. The name comes from either the Duke of Norfolk or the county of Norfolk in eastern England; the historical record isn’t clear.

  • Classic colors & patterns: Tweed in Earth tones like brown and green
  • Archetypical mode(s): 3- or 4-button single-breasted closure, leather buttons, wind tab, patch pockets, center vent
  • Ideal pairings: Moleskin or corduroy trousers, thick brogues, boots, collared shirts and / or sweaters
  • Best for: Outdoor activities in typically British conditions such as cold, damp days

Safari

Safari jackets (also known as “bush jackets”) are lightweight cotton jackets with belts and four outside patch pockets. Sporting a shirt collar and epaulets, it’s extremely casual but a great option for casual springtime day wear.

  • Classic colors & patterns: Solid khaki, olive drab, or navy
  • Archetypical mode(s): 4- or 5- button single-breasted closure, shirt collar,
  • Ideal pairings: Denim, light cotton trousers
  • Best for: Extremely casual outings or very casual offices

Parting Thoughts

man in plaid jacket and jeans

A good sport coat or two are key wardrobe pieces that any man can turn into workhorses if his lifestyle allows. Start with a solid grey, blue, or brown for maximum versatility, and build your collection from there.

Curious to learn more about tailored clothing? Check out our suits homepage.

2 Comments

  1. Glen Johnson Jr. June 5, 2018 at 3:11 am - Reply

    Hi

    My name is Glen, I wonder can you wear sport coat, collar shirt with causal slack pants, guy see me in park, he think it Business causal it not business causal it is smart causal I love to wear anywhere I wear it all time occasion can you wear sport coat with collar shirt pattern, with causal slack pants?

    • Charles-Philippe June 5, 2018 at 5:01 am - Reply

      Hi Glen,

      Smart casual and business casual are very similar. In fact, they’re almost identical except that smart casual is slightly dressier. This isn’t necessarily in the choice of garments but their cut, quality, presentation and they way they’re thrown together.

      So, yes, a sport coat, collar shirt and casual slack pants could be either business casual or smart casual depending on their style individual formalities.

      Best,

      CP

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