In menswear, few decisions are as complicated as deciding what to wear on top of a shirt and underneath an overcoat. Some situations call for a blazer. Others require a suit coat. Whereas a sport coat works best in some scenarios.
Complicating matters is that the terminology itself is confusing.
Is there, for example, a difference between a suit coat and a suit jacket? No. There is not.
A suit coat is a suit jacket. And a suit jacket is a suit coat. Similarly, a sport coat is a sport jacket, and vice versa.
However, a sport coat is most definitely not a suit coat. Nor should a suit coat be worn as a sport coat. Also, although the correct terms are sport coat or sport jacket, some folks prefer the plural and call them sports coats or sports jackets.
And, finally, a blazer is a different thing altogether. Confusing, right?
So let’s dive deep into the language and styles of the sport/suit/jacket/coat/blazer world and figure out what you can wear as you get ready for your week.
The difference between a sport coat and suit jacket
Let’s start with the easy one: the suit jacket (or suit coat.)
A suit jacket, by definition, is part of a suit. It will usually be of a single color or simple pattern and is paired with a pair of pants of the exact same color or pattern. A suit jacket, in other words, is one of the items in a two-piece suit. If there’s a matching vest, the suit jacket is part of a three-piece suit.
A suit is for semi-formal occasions. It’s suitable for weddings, non-causal offices and dinners in expensive restaurants.
Nicole Gibbons, a stylist at Taelor, said it succinctly. “It’s a suit jacket. It literally comes with pants,” she said. “It’s a matching set and it’s usually very nice, sleek material.”
A sport coat, by definition, comes from the world of “sport” – particularly the formal hunting rituals of Europe. It’s the sort of thing you’d wear to go shoot stags or waterfowl someplace in the United Kingdom after WW1.
A sport coat is usually a patterned jacket that is worn with coordinated, but never matching, pants. A sport coat can be made with materials like tweed, houndstooth, leather or camel hair – materials that would rarely be used in a two-piece suit.
A sport coat can be one of the more versatile items in a guy’s closet. Sports coats come in multiple patterns, colors and fabric weights. Throw one on top of casual-office attire to look more sophisticated and head to the after-work cocktail party. Wear a sport coat in offbeat colors or patterns to showcase your personal style on a first date. You can even wear a sport coat with jeans.
“A sport coat – it has the word ‘sport’ in the name – that says a lot,” according to Scott Shapiro, another Taelor stylist. “It’s obviously not sportswear, but it's a little more casual and so that's why you find tech-ier fabrics in sport coats.”
“A sports coat can be more casual, it's not going to match your pants,” Nicole says. “It's going to be in a fun print and made with more of a casual cotton or stretch material or twill or something that's unexpected.”
Generally speaking, a sport coat is single-breasted and may feature patch pockets (a holdover from when pockets would store shotgun shells.
The difference between a sport coat and blazer
A blazer is in a class by itself. A blazer is generally a solid color and usually features something you won’t see on any other type of jacket: metal buttons.
Blazers still look much like the clothing items from which they descend: the coats of the 19th century British Navy. In fact, those metal buttons often feature nautical motifs like anchors or boating knots.
A blazer is often used to turn a semi-formal outfit into something more formal. Worn with dress slacks and a well-crafted button-down shirt, a blazer is the perfect choice for restaurants that require a jacket, business meetings at a college club, or, of course, dinner at the yacht club.
A blazer adds elegance to an already-classy outfit.
“A blazer would be something you would buy on your own, not as part of a suit or with matching pants,” Nicole said. “It’s more formal than a sport coat and can be worn to work in any office.”
Bonobos is one of Taelor’s featured brand partners, and we regularly add in-season merchandise to our stock. Visit our Bonobos Collection to rent the right jacket and more timeless pieces for your day. If you find anything that interests you that is not in the collection, feel free to text your stylists and let us know.
by Paul Conley