From the Mailbag: What’s the difference between a sportcoat, blazer, and suit jacket?
Originally Published 2/11/11
Above, with close contemporary relatives if applicable: Old Navy Wool Mix Sportcoat – $30.00 on sale (Current Version – O.N. Wool Mix Blazer, $49.50) , GAP Solid Navy Cotton Blazer, which needs to be pressed badly – $59.99 on sale (Current Version – GAP Pinstriped Cotton Blazer, $98.00) , Indochino Jacket – $369 for the suit.
Long time reader, first time emailer. So I’ve searched the internet far and wide but I can’t seem to find out what the difference is between sport coats, blazers, and suit jackets. To be honest, it seems like the difference is pretty subtle. I was wondering if you could shed light as to what the difference is if any? Aside from the fact that blazers tend to have gold buttons and suit jackets have matching pants.
Also, it seems like people frown upon wearing a suit jacket with say jeans or pants other than the pants that came with the suit itself. I was wondering why this is so?
Eugene asks a great question, especially when a well tailored jacket of any kind (sportcoat, blazer, or suit) can make you look 10x better than any other guy in the room without one. Here’s how it breaks down, and hang on, this gets real bumpy:
Sportcoats: L.L. Bean Signature Tweed Sportcoat – $195 | J. Crew Chino Sportcoat – $138
Usually made of thicker, rougher fabric and hearken to a time when men wore jackets while doing “sporting” activities. Pommel horse? No. Fox hunt? Yeah. But now “sportcoat” is just the accepted term for a less structured, casual jacket. Sometimes they look an awful lot like the original (the L.L. Bean). Sometimes they’re just made of free moving cotton chino and go really well with jeans like the J. Crew, or, the oft mentioned Old Navy Blazer. Yep… Old Navy calls theirs a blazer. And so does L.L. Bean, despite the fact that the dude looks like he just came from the field, & could easily be holding a dead duck in his left hand. Confused? Me too. Moving on.
Blazers: Calvin Klein Wool Blazer – $150 | Lands’ End Canvas Wool Blazer – $179.00
Once made only from wool, these traditionally are a step up in formality/dressiness when compared to sportcoats. Follow me here: “After Jeeves came in from the Fox Hunt, he’d often kiss Muffy on the cheek, go to the boudoir, and trade his tweed sportcoat for his favorite wool blazer for a casual dinner at home.” But again, that’s just tradition, and the line has gotten fuzzier over time. That wrinkled mess of a thing in the middle at the top of the page? That’s my go to blazer. It’s solid navy, made from cotton, and doesn’t have the traditional gold buttons. It’s got some structure, it’s dressy enough, and I’ll usually wear it with an outfit like this. But I’ve also worn it with jeans before, and I’ll wear it with jeans again. But if it were wool? I don’t think I’d wear it with denim.
Suit Jackets: Indochino Classic Navy – $349.00 | J. Crew Cotton Ludlow – $366.00
Almost always from wool with a few cotton and linen summer versions thrown in for good measure, suit jackets come with matching pants. Even if they’re sold as suit separates (where you get to pick your pant size, there’s no married match you’re stuck with) they’re intended to be purchased and worn together. These are usually more structured (have a stronger shape) and are made from finely woven fabric which looks too texturally different from jeans to work together. A suit jacket and jeans combo is the El Camino of the style world. It’s just tough to flow smoothly from passenger vehicle into truck bed.
Final Notes – The hard and fast rules: A suit jacket is a suit jacket. But if a jacket doesn’t have matching pants? Then most will be fine with using the terms blazer and sportcoat interchangeably. Unless it’s navy and has gold buttons. Then… it’s a blazer.
If you’ve made it this far, well done. Feedback, observations, additions, debate, etc… all goes below.