Suit Jackets, Sport Coats, and Blazers: What’s the Difference?

When you shop at a department store or large clothing retailer, you’ll often see any sort of tailored jacket for sale listed as a “blazer.” But not every jacket with lapels and buttons can accurately bear this name! Read on to learn about the distinctions between suit jackets, sport coats, and blazers.

It’s not just brick-and-mortar stores that contribute to confusion around the names of these garments. On eBay, for example, there’s no category for blazers or sport coats, only “Suits and Suit Separates.” All of these factors can lead to misunderstandings about the differences among these three different kinds of jacket. In this article, we’ll clarify the distinctions.
Sven Raphael Schneider’s jackets What is a Suit Jacket?
A suit jacket is precisely that: the jacket belonging to a two- or three-part outfit including matching pants and/or waistcoat, which together make up a complete suit. Thus, a suit jacket always originates from a pairing that uses the same exact fabric for both (or all) pieces. In other words, being made as part of an ensemble is the essential defining feature of a suit jacket.
Sven Raphael Schneider wearing a suit jacket with its natural partners: a waistcoat and trousers of the same fabric
Of course, there’s nothing to stop someone from splitting up a suit in a style move known as “mix-and-match” or spezzato, to use the Italian term. For example, you can use the gray trousers from one suit along with the navy jacket from another, and therefore inject variety into your wardrobe. This blurs the lines of definition between suit jackets and sport coats by breaking up the original unity of a suit (spezzato literally means “broken”). But let’s not get ahead of ourselves!
Spezzato achieved with matching vest and trousers from one suit and a jacket from a different suit
Before we get to sport coats, know also that there are certain common features of suit jackets that will help you to distinguish them visually from the other jacket styles. For one thing, a suit jacket is usually more formal. This is why a suit is the default for business meetings, funerals and other daytime events that require soberness and dignity. The formality of a suit jacket is reflected in its relative absence of pattern or texture, and by being generally more structured than a sport coat or blazer. The majority of suits are made of smooth worsted wool in conservative solid colors like charcoal gray or navy blue. Only a few traditional patterns are considered formal enough for a business suit, such as glen check, windowpanes, chalkstripes and pinstripes.
A chalk-stripe suit is one of the few patterns on a formal suit
Structure means a suit jacket tends to have more padding inside the shoulder area and, in some cases, more canvassing between the inside lining and the cloth. The formality provided by structure, especially in a British-style suit, combined with typical suiting fabric, makes a suit jacket difficult to wear with a different pair of pants–your upper body will appear more dressed up than your lower, and it simply looks like you’re wearing the orphaned top half of a suit. Check out the guys wearing suit jackets with jeans at any upscale suburban mall on a weekend, and you’ll know exactly what we mean.
The British tailoring in the Kingsman films displays strong structure.
The problem with pairing suit jackets with non-suit trousers is that padded shoulders and worsted wool are formal features; they’re so associated with full suits and the power they project that they instinctively look wrong when divided. There is a school of style that intentionally flauts this disconnect between top and bottom, practiced by those who wear suit jackets with torn up jeans, sweat pants, or shorts. This is certainly not classic style though, so we wouldn’t recommend it to Gentleman’s Gazette readers!
Two examples of suit jackets being daringly divided: Ralph Lauren in evening wear and jeans at left; double-breasted structured suit jacket and shorts at right. Neither of these are looks that the average man could really pull off well! What is a Sport Coat?
A sport coat is also known as an “odd jacket,” odd not in the sense of being weird–even though some sport coat patterns can be quite strange–but in the sense of being different from the pants (which can also be called “odd trousers”). Confusion can arise here, as well; look no further than someone who isn’t up to speed on the technicalities of menswear seeing your sport coat and saying, “nice suit!” This isn’t right, but accept the compliment graciously without correcting the mistake.
“Hey, I really like your suit.” “Thanks!” (Even though it’s a sport coat)
In a number of ways, a sport coat is the opposite of a suit jacket. Where suit jackets are smooth and solid in color, sport coats are more often than not made with textured weaves and fabrics; they also come in a larger variety of patterns, like a black and white houndstooth made in a tweed fabric. The obvious presence of texture and pattern is intended, on one hand, to make it explicitly clear that you are not wearing a divided suit, and on the other to emphasize the casual nature of the sport coat.
Houndstooth tweed with overcheck
As the name suggests, these jackets were originally made for “sporting” in the British countryside, which meant gentlemanly leisure pursuits like shooting game birds. It can be useful to think of the sport coat as having country origins, while a suit is best suited for city wear. Nowadays, the sport coat is still something to be worn on informal occasions–weekends, parties, picnics, and so on. Of course, the sport coat is hardly considered casual today, in comparison to the usual hoodie and jeans or t-shirt and chinos that every other guy is wearing–but it is still less formal than a suit.
Shooting and hunting contributed strongly to the origins of the sport coat
As evidence of this, a sport coat will usually lack the architectural structure of a suit jacket. Natural shoulders (without padding) are common, and summer sport coats are often shirt-like in their absence of any internal canvas or even lining. Yes, there are casually styled suits that have some of these features, but they are more abundant among sport coats.
Clark Gable in 1941 with grey diagonal twill sport coat with three patch pockets
Interestingly, the casual aspect of the sport coat is also clear from its pockets. While suits usually have either flapped or jetted pockets, you’re more likely to find patch pockets on sport coats, which are relaxed in appearance. This can include the breast pocket, which in a more formal garment would be welted rather than a patch. It’s true that you can find suit-style pockets on sport coats too, but they are more rare, and in our opinion, somewhat more incongrouous.
What is a Blazer? A unique navy blazer can work to give you a second jacket without looking too similar to a suit jacket
Technically, a blazer is the most specific of the three jacket types–and also the rarest–because it has to fulfill certain criteria to be defined strictly as such. For example, a blazer can come in a solid color (most often navy blue), or incorporate features like a contrast piping or a striped pattern. All other patterns, speaking most technically, disqualify a jacket from being a blazer.
Full canvas vintage rowing blazer made in England with red knit tie by Fort Belvedere
A common additional ornamentation on a blazer, however, is a crest of some sort, testifying to the blazer’s origins as a jacket that identifies the wearer as part of an organization, such as a school or a club. You won’t usually find a crest on a sport coat or a suit jacket. Lastly, a blazer’s buttons usually contrast strongly with the jacket fabric; you might see gold buttons with anchors on them, or white mother-of-pearl, among others. As an example, Ralph Lauren usually sells blazers that possess these typical features.
Blazer buttons in gold, silver, gilt or enamel with crests, anchor & heraldry
Whatever their specific details, blazers are intended to be bright; “ablaze” with color, as their name suggests. The original blazer, created for members of the Lady Margaret Boating Club in Cambridge, England, started the trend, being made of red flannel. Subsequently, they have appeared in other bright hues like green and yellow. The striped versions, which are called boating or regatta blazers, are likewise quite bold. Even the standard navy blazer will command some attention if it has bright brass buttons. Therefore, a man wearing a blazer ought to be somewhat extroverted, or in a place where such jackets are being worn by everyone, such as in a nautical setting.
Rowing blazers (with blazer stripes) worn with plain trousers – Henley Royal Regatta, England
In a certain sense, blazers exist somewhat in the space between suit jackets and sport coats. Like the latter, a blazer is a single piece worn with differently colored pants; however, traditional blazers are true to their British tailoring origins, are generally more formal than a sport coat, and can possess some of the structural components of a suit jacket, especially a more padded shoulder. Nowadays, however, you can also find less-structured blazers (influenced by Italian style), which venture into sport-coat territory.
Tennis blazer and club blazer in green tweed with crest & white flannel trousers & white buckskin shoes from the 1930’s Conclusion
Everyday language often fails to recognize the differences when defining suit jackets, blazers, and sport coats. And while there are certain distinctions among these three forms of jacket, the endless options offered for sale today feature a great many hybrids, as well. There are casual suits with unstructured jackets that fit like sport coats, and blazers that fit the same way too. These reflect the prevailing trend for more relaxed and less formal cuts, blurring the lines in the process. Even so, those who appreciate precision will want to ensure that they’re using the proper terminology.
Were you aware of all of these differences? Share with us in the comments below. #Clothing #Wardrobe #Sportscoats #Suits #SportCoat
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