For many men trying to up their formalwear game, a significant stumbling block can hit pretty early in the process: what am I even supposed to be shopping for?As menswear styles and traditions have developed over the course of hundreds of years, the “rules” for what constitutes capital-F Formalwear and what exists in a potentially confusing liminal space between casual and formal have gotten more and more blurry
A lot of men’s suiting and sportcoat options can look really similar to an untrained eye. And to make matters more confusing, some retailers and brands mislabel sportcoats as blazers, suit jackets as sport coats, and on and on.
So if you’re confused about whether you should be shopping for a sport coat, a suit jacket, or a blazer to complete your next outfit, don’t feel bad: it’s a perfectly valid question.
Fortunately, with a little bit of background knowledge, breaking down the differences and figuring out which is the most appropriate doesn’t have to be too difficult. Read on to figure out which of these menswear options is the best fit for you.
If You’re Going Formal, You Need A Suit Jacket, Period
This should hopefully clear up a significant amount of the confusion surrounding mens’ jackets right out of the gate: suit jackets are the option for formal occasions, and except in extremely rare cases, sport coats and blazers are probably not appropriate.
Why? Good question -- unexpectedly, it comes down to pants.
What differentiates suit jackets from blazers and sportcoats is the fact that suit jackets are made out of the same fabric as a pair of formal men’s pants -- and you should always wear them both together.
If you wear your suit coat separately from your pants, as a result of laundering, staining, or general wear, your coat and pants can stop looking like an identical pair. And if they stop looking like a pair, you’re going to start looking...messy.
So if you’re trying to go formal, wear both a suit jacket and the matching pair of pants. Blazers and sportcoats, on the other hand, can be worn with a wide variety of pants (even jeans, in some contexts), so they’re always going to be less formal than a suitcoat.
So how do you know whether a blazer or a sport coat is more appropriate? Here’s where things start to get marginally less clear-cut.
Sport Coats Are Called Sport Coats Because Of Sporting
Sport coats were developed as a garment for gentlemen who participated in sporting activities, such as hunting. Original sport coats were typically made out of thicker materials, such as tweed.
Things have changed over the years, but contemporary sportcoats maintain a lot of similarities to these predecessors.
Today’s sport coats maintain the aesthetic of a men’s jacket, but with a few key differences: they’re typically cut from thicker fabrics than other types of jackets, with a lot more opportunity for creative and eccentric patterning, the fit is typically slightly larger than other jackets, and they’re the least formal of the trio covered in this article.
With this in mind, the opportunities where sport coats are a great choice start to become clear: semi-formal occasions where you’d still like to look put-together, where you’d prefer to explore a more rugged type of fabric or some more experimental and exciting patterning opportunities. Additionally, sport coats might be a better fit in colder months due to the weight of the fabric typically used.
For Everything Else, There’s Blazers
If suit jackets are the most formal option and sport coats are the least formal option, it only makes sense that blazers fit somewhere in the middle: they’re definitely not as casual as sport coats, but you should still probably avoid trying to wear one to an upcoming formal event.
Traditionally, blazers are blue jackets that were adorned with silver or gold buttons, but traditional blazers come in many different colors and styles. You’ll probably find that most blazers are made from thinner, less rugged materials than sportcoats, and will fit more like a traditional suit coat.
Blazers also probably won’t offer the same variety of unique fabric and pattern choices as a sport coat, but you’ll still be able to find more experimentation than with formal suit coats. And as previously stated, blazers can be paired with a wide variety of pants styles as well.
Blazers are a highly versatile men’s jacket option that can add style and sharpness to many outfits and occasions. For most men looking for a jacket option for less-formal contexts, I’d be willing to bet that a blazer is the right choice more often than not, but men looking to up their fashion game should feel encouraged to experiment with sport coats as well.
Overall, once you break down the differences between these garments, understanding which men’s jacket is the right fit for your wardrobe isn’t as challenging as it might initially seem. Armed with this knowledge, you can choose a men’s jacket option that’s the right fit for you, and with Hellman Clothiers’ hand-curated selection of excellent American and European brands, you can select an impeccably crafted jacket that lasts you years and years.