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What's the Difference Between a Blazer and a Sport Coat?

7 min

If you have ever wanted to know the differences between sport coats and blazers, you have come to the right place. In this article, I cover everything you need to know about these menswear staples to arm yourself with the knowledge to dress better and avoid common mistakes.

One of menswear's most confusing and aggravating subjects is the difference between blazers and sport coats. In many cases, blazers and sport coats are often conflated despite their technical differences. What's equally daunting is that many fashion-forward brands have marketed their products in such a way that confuses their customers, which certainly doesn't help.

Despite this subject's pretentious nature, it is necessary to understand the differences between these classic menswear pieces so that you look your absolute best while dressing well for the occasion.

By the end of this article, you will understand the critical differences between these pieces, know when and how best to wear them, and some common mistakes to avoid.

THE BLAZER

blazer is the most specific of these garments in that, technicallyit must meet a particular set of criteria. Before we unravel what qualifies as a blazer, we need to understand the history behind this garment.

A QUICK HISTORY

The blazer's precise origin has been somewhat lost to time; however, the garment can be traced back to a variety of organizations:

Perhaps the most notable of origins for the blazer garment is that of the Lady Margaret Boating Club in Cambridge, England, which was founded in 1825 and is often charged with kickstarting the jacket's initial popularity (perhaps even before that of St. John's). Each of the club members was described to have worn bright red flannel jackets that were said to have been "ablaze," thus the rowing regatta blazers were born as a stylish menswear staple meant to be seen.

DEFINITION

blazer is between a suit jacket and a sport coat. It is a standalone piece with similar characteristics to typical suits, such as padded shoulders and canvas constructions (though they can also be unstructured). What makes a blazer fundamentally different is that it does not come with a matching set of trousers; it typically has contrasting buttons (much like the men serving aboard the HMS Blazer back in the day) and additional features that make it more casual.

It is important to note that if a jacket that matches all of the criteria mentioned earlier also comes with matching trousers constructed of the same colors, patterns, and weave, it would definitionally be a suit.

MATERIALS

Blazers can be made of materials such as flannel, hopsack, etc. Traditional suits are typically made from worsted wool, which is tightly woven, smoother fabric and often reserved for more formal attire due to its shinier visage. Flannel, which comes from wool or cotton, is constructed differently, is much softer, and is more casual.

Hopsack is a type of weave for wool or wool-cotton blends that is basket-like in its construction and more breathable than flannel. Due to its weave, Hopsack adds a more visible texture and is thus considered much less formal.

PATTERNS

Blazers can come in various patterns, but in the purest sense, there aren't as many pattern options for them as for sport coats. Blazers can be a solid color (most notably navy blue), striped, or even a solid color with contrasting piping along the edges. In the old days, many blazers possessed some ornamentation, such as a crest, but you won't find many left outside of private institutions.

WHEN TO WEAR

As previously mentioned, blazers are less formal than suits but still formal enough to be worn for specific occasions that warrant dressier clothes, such as networking events, business settings, dates, and even weddings (depending on the type of wedding).

Read my separate article here to learn how to style a navy blazer.

THE SPORT COAT

A flannel camel sport coat dressed down with a black crewneck t-shirt and jeans.

DEFINITION

The sport coat (a.k.a. sport jacket) is considered more casual than a blazer and is also a standalone piece. They vary in color, material, and pattern (more so than blazers) and can be dressed up or down depending on the color and fabrics.

HISTORY

Unlike the blazer, however, the sport coat has a reasonably concise history. All you need to know is that men traditionally wore this garment while sporting, hunting, or fishing in the countryside, hence the name.

MATERIALS

Like blazers, sport coats can be made from wool, cashmere, cotton, flannel, etc. A particularly sharp and classic material for sport coats is tweed, which is reasonably rugged and hardy. The patterns and designs make the sport coat fundamentally different from a blazer. Sport coats can have herringbone, windowpane, checked or houndstooth patterns, etc.

Sport coats will often have patched pockets and come unlined with no canvassing, further elevating the casual nature of the garment.

WHEN TO WEAR

The sport coat is best worn when you want to look put together without dressing too formally. Perfect for dates, reunions, nights out with friends, or casual parties, a sport coat is the quintessential casual jacket for any gentleman who wants to be the best-dressed man in the room without trying too hard (even if he secretly is).

WHAT ABOUT THE SUIT JACKET?

To learn how a suit jacket differs from a blazer and sport coat, read this article here.
Read about it here if you want to know how a suit should fit properly.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

CAN YOU WEAR A SUIT JACKET AS A BLAZER?

Some traditionalists will answer "no," but really, it depends. If the fabric is worsted wool with an apparent sheen that is commensurate with most suits, then my recommendation would be not to do so. This will look like you are trying too hard to casualize an orphaned suit jacket by mixing the formal with casual together, creating a stark contrast that is rarely appealing to the eye (trust me).

Suppose the suit jacket has an intricate pattern, and the wool is a hopsack weave or something with an apparent texture; in that case, the nature of the suit jacket is already a little more casual than worsted wool (resembling a blazer or sport coat), and therefore you could very well pull it off (but again, it depends).

CAN YOU WEAR A BLAZER AS A SUIT JACKET?

Maybe... BUT ONLY if the trousers match the blazer in fabric, pattern, and color. Again, this would be, by definition, a suit because of that fact alone. Such garments have been known to exist. In fact, many stylishly savvy individuals buy suits and select fabrics that allow them to break the jacket and trousers up to allow for additional sport coat and odd-trouser options. I personally believe this to be a wise decision and admire the foresight.

Suppose you were to take a Hopsack navy-blue blazer and pair it with navy cotton-twill chinos or dress pants. In that case, the subtle differences in the weave and color will be slightly "off" and make you appear as though you are trying to make a suit, which disrupts the harmony and consistency in the ensemble, potentially causing you to look silly (so don't go that route).

To the untrained eye, this might look like a suit. But to people who know the differences, this looks off. (Source: Shutterstock)

CAN YOU WEAR JEANS WITH ANY OF THE THREE JACKET TYPES?

Darker-washed denim trousers can look excellent with a sport coat or a blazer. Medium-wash jeans can also look great with the two, but what matters is a tasteful pairing of the garments that fit the occasion and a pair of denim devoid of destressing or holes.

On the other hand, wearing a suit jacket with jeans is a bit trickier. Again, I recommend abstaining from wearing shinier wool with jeans because mixing casual with formal very seldom works (some would argue it never does).

Navy blazer with dark jeans. Better.

DON'T OVERTHINK IT

Much of what I have just described isn't all that important. Arguing about specific terminology like this can be truly snobbish, (depending on who you're talking to). The important thing is that we understand the differences between each of these jackets so that we can ultimately dress well for the right occasions and find the garments that resonate with us and complement our tastes.

After all, knowledge is power. As long as the decisions you make are tasteful and in the spirit of good style, you'll find that there is often little to be worried about.


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