How Do I Distinguish Between a Suit Jacket, Sports Jacket and Blazer ?

As a kid growing up in the mid-nineties, I marvelled at how my dad dressed for various events such as weddings, funerals and dinners. To date, he has quite a number of jackets, which I imagine to have been collected over time. Now that I reflect on it, I don’t recall having any formal jackets of my very own back then. In fact, my very first formal jacket was my blue blazer which was part of my high school uniform. At that point, my curiosity had already gotten the better of me as I started comparing my school blazer to the plethora of formal jackets in my dad’s wardrobe. In my exploration, I found all sorts of interesting looking jackets; from the more formal suit and tuxedo jacket all the way to the more casual sport and hunting variety. For now let’s make a distinction between three types of jackets for any would-be purchaser of formal attire. Namely; the suit jacket, the sports jacket and the blazer.

Suit jacket
To put it simply, this is the most formal jacket, which is easy to identify as its accompanying trousers are made from the same swatch fabric. Depending on your age, this jacket should fit quite snuggly on your body and is made from fabrics which include various wools, velvets and linens. If you feel the need to layer up in harsh weather conditions, it may be time to invest in a coat instead of trying to squeeze a jersey under a slim-fitting suit jacket. A word of warning for gents that pair a suit jacket with jeans or chinos in an attempt to pull-off a more semi-casual look. Over time the jacket starts to fade differently relative to the trousers. Moreover, while the jacket is known to have longevity, I for one always recommend that my clients order a second pair of matching trousers on every suit purchase. This is because gents tend to hang their jackets up and walk around the office in just the trousers. Inevitably these trousers will experience more wear and tear relative to the jacket. In most cases, once the trousers go, the jacket becomes redundant. If you’re a newbie to suit wearing, start with solid colours such as black, grey and blue (see Rebuilding your wardrobe: Three formal jackets every man should own, xxx 2018) before moving on to stripes and patterns as you add more variety to your wardrobe. Depending on the occasion, one should try to wear the suit with a formal shirt that compliments the suit. Other than the classic white, light blue, pink or even a checkered shirt, stay clear of bright-coloured shirts as they may demean the complete outfit. As for the choice of shoes; since the garment is formal, try to pair it up with brogues, oxfords, derby’s, monk straps, and dress shoes for tuxedos. As an aside; I prefer to have a tailored waistband on my trousers, complete with side adjusters, because I absolutely abhor how a normal belt breaks what should be a seamless look of a suit. For those wearing off-the rack suits, the trousers normally come with loops so remember to always match the leather of your belt with that of your shoes.

Sport jackets
In South Africa, at the very least, this jacket was made famous by lobola negotiations. Jokes aside. Without a shadow of a doubt, the sport jacket is by far the most common in today’s discussion. As far as fit is concerned, this jacket should have a slightly looser fit relative to the suit jacket. This enables layering in winter with a classic pullover or turtleneck. What most people don’t know is that this jacket has its origins in outdoor land-based sporting activities such as shooting and hunting, its design was developed on the back of the Norfolk coat. Named either after the county of Norfolk or the Duke of Norfolk, this jacket was made famous by the likes of the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII. This particular single-breasted jacket has distinct features which include box pleats in the front and one down the middle of the back. It also has a belt around the waist which prevented the jacket from binding when raising the rifle to shoot. At a later stage, during the 1920’s to be specific, the sport jacket was developed and it came in a variety of fabrics from herringbone and houndstooth to tweed. If we fast-forward to a scene in the 2007 movie American Gangster, during a clay pigeon shooting exhibition between the characters Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and Dominic Cattano (Armand Asssante), in the scene, both gentlemen were wearing “shooting jackets”. These are a type of sport jacket with a leather/suede patch on the shoulder to prevent the jacket from wearing out from the gun recoil as the butt rested on the shoulder when shooting. While originally serving as functional jackets, sport jackets became fashion statements that are easily paired with jeans, chinos and various other types of trousers. The rule of thumb pertaining to sport jackets is to wear them with contrasting trousers. In other words, avoid wearing them with similar coloured trousers in an attempt to make it look like a suit. For the dandies out there, these jackets look fantastic with horse riding boots, chinos and a newsboy cap. For the more conservative gentlemen, like the distinguished economists I used to work with while I was a banker, these go just as well with brogues, monk straps or Chelsea boots.

Thinking back to my school days, I noticed that all the blazers from different schools had metal buttons. What I didn’t know was that these naval style buttons came from jackets worn by members of boat clubs. Moreover, the term “blazer” actually referred to the bright red jackets of the Lady Margaret boat club from St John’s College, Cambridge. While they started out in red, trends have changed with blazers now being designed in a variety of colours. Meant for the outdoors, blazers have been known to be made from more durable fabrics. Unlike sport jackets, the blazer is more formal with a hugging fit much like a suit jacket. They are also quite versatile as they can be worn with jeans or with more formal trousers. My personal favourite look is the navy blue double-breasted three-by-six naval gold button piece worn with a crisp white shirt, preppy college tie, with grey flannel trousers and brogues. On a less formal occasion, I would take off the tie and wear it open with my tailored ivory/beige chinos and Belgian loafers.

Whichever of these jackets one needs to add to their collection, the key is to understand;

  • How to coordinate it – there’s nothing worse than getting to an event and wearing the wrong outfit. It’s not only disrespectful, but it can be expensive if you had spent money in preparing for that event.
  • How it should fit – No matter the cost, a bad fit can significantly impair the elegance of your outfit.