The age old question: What are the differences between sport coats, blazers, and suit jackets; and why are the differences important. There are several key differences you should be aware of; and you should care because as Beckett & Robb puts it: “it’s better to be overdressed than to wear ill-conceived casual.”
These are the most rugged of the bunch. When you hear sport coat think houndstooth or checked patterns. Think tweed. Think rustic. The sport coat’s heritage is rooted in the gentleman’s sport of fox hunting. So if you’re looking at a coat and it looks like it couldn’t handle being broken in a bit and given some character, it probably isn’t a sport coat.
Sport coats are typically heavier than blazers or suit coats, although spring and summer varieties have sprouted up over the years.
Can I Wear it With Jeans?
There is short answer to this question and a long one.
Here is the short version: You can wear a sport coat with jeans, but I would recommend some top-shelf jeans so it doesn’t look like you dressed yourself down to the waist and got distracted. Diesel makes a great pair of jeans that can be dressed up or down, and in the words of my brother, “they give you the ass of a movie star.” Also, when wearing coat always tuck in your shirt.
Interest in the long version of this answer? Check out our article on how you can pull off the suit jacket/coat with jeans look.
Seen in the wild: The English professor wore the same tweed sport coat with leather elbow patches every Thursday. Dave always wore his heavy wool sport coat with a plaid pattern to the office when he was about to fire someone.
The word “blazer” has gotten a bit bastardized by overuse. Much like all inline skates are referred to as Rollerblades, any men’s jacket that is not a suit jacket is referred to as a blazer. This is not the case. Blazers are solid colored jackets with a very subtle pattern at the most; generally no pattern at all.
The buttons of a blazer usually pop due to their color or material. Blazer buttons do not match the jacket, and in fact are usually metal. This military flare is due to the jacket’s nautical heritage. Blazers evolved from naval uniforms, and have retained their brass over the years, even while losing their militant tailoring and shape.
Can I Wear it With Jeans and Chinos?
You can wear a blazer with jeans following the same guidelines as with a sport coat. However, as many blazers are navy, you want to avoid covering yourself with various and potentially clashing shades of blue. Tan pants are a solid bet with a navy blazer. And if you wonder what to wear with chinos, a blazer is definitely a valid answer. Also, check our guide on what shoes to wear with chinos to complete your casual outfit.
Seen in the wild: The interns descended on Washington D.C. the same way every summer: covered in blue blazers like they were headed to a country club and not the halls of Congress. Michael Bluth; generally.
Blazers vs. Sport Coats
Due to the heavy materials with which they are typically made, sport coats tend to be a little bulkier and look more casual than their blazer cousins. Another thing to look at when deciding just how casual a jacket is: the pockets. “Patch pockets” are just what they sound like. Patches of material sewn onto the outside of the jacket to create a pocket. The entire pocket is visible on the face of the jacket. These can be found on both blazers and sport coats. So, all other things being equal if you are trying to pick the dressier of two jackets, choose the jacket with internal, pouch pockets.
Suit coats are the easiest of the lot to spot. The buttons are not metal. The pockets are not patch packets. The coat matches the pants.
Can I Wear it With Jeans?
No. Feel free to ignore the rule, but that is the rule. In case of a casual emergency: wear the suit without a tie. It’s a great look, lets people know you are relaxed yet dressed for an occasion, and unlike trying to wear a suit coat with jeans, no one will think you don’t know how to dress yourself.
Seen in the wild: That first year law student could probably pull of his father’s suit, if he would just drop a few bucks at a tailor. Worn with the matching suit pants.
Sport Coats vs. Suit Jackets
Sport coats are noticeably more casual than a suit jacket. Suit jackets look bulky when they aren’t tailored, while sport coats are bulkier generally and thus give a little leeway in the sizing department.
Suit Jackets vs. Blazers
It is true that there are some suit jackets that could be worn as blazers. In the words of Mark Twain, first you must get all your facts, then you can distort them as much as you please. If you have a navy suit coat with a top-stitch lapel that gives it a great casual vibe and you want to wear it over a Superman t-shirt with jeans and some killer sneakers, by all means. Be bold. Be daring. OR you could just get a blue blazer so when your date spills shrimp cocktail on your jacket you only lose an $80.00 jacket and not the business half of an $800.00 suit.
Some retailers have begun eschewing the sport coat and blazer labels in favor of the simpler: jacket. Linen jackets, cotton jackets, etc. The loosening of the terminology allows for some freedom when building a wardrobe, but will undoubtedly aggravate professors and real estate agents who just want to be able to find their sport coats and blazers.