It's always a sound idea to have at the very least a few suits in your possession to enhance the mileage on your wardrobe, but it's also equally important to consider adding sport coats and blazers to your fashion repertoire. A sport coat can enhance your personal style for occasions that don't quite require a full suit, and they can also add a degree of professionalism to casual dress where a full suit might be inappropriate. While it's sometimes difficult to determine what falls in the grey areas of semi-casual and semi-formal attire, sport coats will almost always help and never hurt your personal style.
While the terms sport coat and blazer are often used interchangeably in current fashion parlance, this usage is technically incorrect. For all intents and purposes, this is merely a matter of semantics that is ultimately trivial, but it's still a good thing to grasp the subtleties in differences between the two terms. We'll get to the finer details later, but a sport coat is usually made from a sturdier fabric and fits loosely enough to accommodate multiple layers of clothing while a blazer is very similar to a suit jacket, only without a matching pair of trousers and a slightly more relaxed fit. In any event, both sport coats and blazers are great articles of clothing to enhance casual dress where a full matching suit would look a bit out of place. While it is better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed for most occasions, there are times when a full suit would be considered overdoing it just a bit. With sport coats and blazers, you have options, especially in situations where a dress shirt and tie are not necessarily required. Adding an extra jacket never hurts, and it's especially useful when the weather gets colder.
The term sport coat originated in the late 1800s and comes from the type of jacket used in outdoor sports such as shooting and hunting. Shooting and hunting parties were common during this time in Great Britain, and the sport coat was designed to withstand the outdoor elements in a manner that was far superior to anything that would be worn at formal or indoor occasions. Over time, the sport coat became more associated with everyday casual wear, and in spite of this many styles still alive and well today have remnants of Britain's rich hunting tradition.
Blazers trace their origins to the same jacket type that spawned the double-breasted suit jacket. The double-breasted pea coat was characteristically worn by sailors in the British Navy toward the end of the 19th century, and from this style came the single-breasted coat that over time became associated with rowing clubs and casual daytime affairs. Unlike suit jackets with buttons fastened from the same material as the coat, the buttons on blazers were and still are often metallic. This is perhaps one of the easiest ways to distinguish sport coats and blazers from suit jackets, as buttons made from a different material than the jacket itself indicates appropriateness for more casual settings. Another distinguishing feature is that blazers and sport coats are generally shorter than suit jackets to give the appearance of longer legs when no matching trousers are present.
While suits are usually spun from wool, cotton, linen, and wool/cotton blends across the board, there is a bit more variation in the materials used for sport coats and blazers.
Tweed, while made from wool, has a rougher appearance than the wool used for most professional suits and has a slightly softer texture due to the fabric being more closely woven. If the wool is dyed before it is woven, this can give tweed its characteristic subtlety in color changes, especially if it is woven with a herringbone or twill structure. The more casual and laid-back appearance of tweed jackets is popular with sport coats, in particular with styles worn in autumn and winter. The warmer look and feel of this fabric will keep you comfortable in more casual settings while still giving your personal sense of style an edge.
Suede is another popular material, and while it is almost never used for full suits, wearing a suede sport coat is a great way to stand out in a crowd. Unlike standard leather, suede is made from the underside of animal skin, usually that of deer, goat, sheep, or cattle. It's a bit pricier than other jacket materials, and suede's usefulness is occasionally limited by its superior properties of absorption. It was in fact an episode of the popular sitcom Seinfeld that illustrated this major drawback of suede jackets, as the entire half-hour block centered on a jacket becoming immediately ruined when it started to snow. Exaggerations for comedic effect aside, it's good advice to avoid suede sport coats on particularly rainy days or periods of heavy snow. At the very least, an overcoat might also be in order if you choose to go this route.
Corduroy is arguably one of the most recognizable clothing materials in current use, and while it has waxed and waned in popularity over the years, it still remains a rather common material for casual sport coats. Made with a heavier structure than other materials thanks to its fustian cotton construction, corduroy is a prime choice in winter for those chilly nights to give you some extra warmth absent with lighter jacket materials such as linen or standard cotton. A corduroy sport coat is acceptable for casual outings, but we would caution against wearing one for any event where varying degrees of formality—however small—are expected.
When it comes to sport coats and blazers that fall somewhere in between a casual night out and formal business meetings, wool, cotton, wool/cotton blends, flannel, and linen are common fabric choices. As these fabrics are in widespread use for making full suits, your style will be able to project a sense of formality without being overly dressy. Blazers made from these standard suit materials are ideal for brunch outings or everyday office attire if your company's dress code isn't quite so rigid. As casual office dress is becoming more of the rule rather than the exception in today's business world, a sport coat or blazer can add a tinge of extra professionalism to your outfit in situations where a full suit might come across as overly flashy. And as much as all of us here at Enzo Custom love the look of a full suit, there are times where it isn't always necessary.
As sport coats and blazers have a broader array of fabric choices, the same is true for colors and patterns. Since they are not expected to be worn with an exact matching pair of trousers, the range between subtlety and boldness is a little wider than it is with full suits.
Solid colors are ideal if you want to achieve a subtle, minimalist style. Navy blue is a common choice for sport coats and blazers as it pairs nicely with most types and colors of pants. We would caution, however, against wearing a navy blue jacket with black pants. The color contrast between the jacket and pants never looks quite right, and you're better off choosing khaki, olive, or grey trousers even though some people might be able to get away with the former.
Pinstripe jackets can also complement your own personal style quite well, but we would advise that you pick a pattern with narrow stripes and subtle contrast between threads just as we would with a pinstripe suit. If the stripes are too big or the color gradient is too severe—think red and white, for example—you might stand out in a not-so-good way. Pinstripes should be complementary to your outfit, not detract from it by being ostentatious and gaudy.
While we've seen our fair share of terrible plaid patterns in our day, it's not always something to be completely written off. Plenty of plaid jackets are tasteful and subtle enough to look dignified—dare we say even debonair—in the context of events or places that lean toward the informal side. Even with more conviction than our recommendation against pairing black pants with a navy jacket, it's safe to say that you should never wear a plaid jacket with plaid pants, especially when they are not designed to match. Even when people do it inadvertently in the most casual settings that only require a shirt and a pair of shoes—say, for example, wearing a flannel shirt with plaid shorts—it's something that usually doesn't go unnoticed. In the case of plaid jackets, keep in mind that less is always more.
Once universally frowned upon not long ago, nowadays it is commonplace to see many people wear sport coats, blazers, and even suit jackets with jeans. This trend gained more acceptance in the early 1990s and has since remained a common wardrobe pairing. While this would not be considered appropriate for most weddings, funerals, proper formal office attire, or job interviews, a sport coat or blazer matched with a nice clean pair of jeans is yet another way to give your casual style sensibilities a little extra pizzazz. It's also a way to give yourself a little extra warmth at night when the temperature begins to drop without having to layer with sweaters or shirts that might be too thick for the conditions outdoors. While some fashion purists may still look down upon the practice of wearing jeans with a sport coat, the trend certainly isn't going away anytime soon.
Shoes, Shirts, and Flexibility
As far as what shoes to wear with a sport coat or blazer, it's best to follow the same fashion guidelines that you would when wearing a full matching suit. Patent leather, oxfords, or any other dress shoe will do just fine, and as a general rule, make sure to match the color of your shoes with the color of your belt at the very least. Just as it goes for suits, avoid any sort of athletic shoes or sneakers, as this pairing will stand out in a way that may come across as unrefined.
The great thing about sport coats and blazers is that your shirt choices are far more varied than they are with a normal suit. While you can never go wrong with a button-down dress shirt, you can also consider wearing a turtleneck, polo shirt, sweaters, or even solid T-shirts underneath a sport coat or blazer for more casual outings. When in doubt, it's always best to dress up a little more than it is to dress down, but ultimately it's a judgment call depending on your own personal style and what you feel comfortable wearing.
In contrast to suits, sport coats and blazers can give you a wider window of flexibility for casual and informal settings. As Enzo Custom offers both full custom suits as well as jackets of different varieties, feel free to browse our website or visit one of our showrooms so you can give your own personal wardrobe a leg up in unmatched style and versatility.