The sport coat is more dressy than a hoodie or bomber, but less formal than a suit jacket. It can be perfect for wearing on a night out with the guys, or for a first date. With a selection of two or three sport coats, you can mix and match them for virtually any occasion.
First let’s define “sport coat.” The cut of a sport coat is similar to that of a suit jacket, but while a suit jacket is made of generally thin wool or cotton, a sport coat is constructed of sturdier fabric, almost as if made to actually help keep you warm. And although “sport coat” and “blazer” are often used interchangeably, a blazer is at least theoretically a different animal: often with patch pockets and metal buttons and perhaps a crest or monogram, the blazer is like a sport coat that joined a club. (You can find examples of both at this Amazon.com link.)
The differences between sport coats and suit jackets and blazers have blurred over the years, but what we’re talking about is a versatile jacket that can be worn over a range of clothes. The cut can vary from a two-button style to four buttons, slim or roomy, even a slim military cut with shoulder epaulets.
One of the six items of clothing every man should own is a deep blue blazer; it’s the basic piece that can tie together a dressy look, and can work with jeans and a sweater. However, you can find a broad range of materials and colors that will take your look in any direction you want it to go.
A Coat for Every Look
For example, if you need to dress well for business but can’t bring yourself to wear a suit every day, a gray textured sport coat might do the job…for your job. Combine it with a crisp dress shirt, dark slacks and maybe a tie, and you’ve got a proper work ensemble.
Another popular choice is a corduroy blazer, often in tan, worn over a hoodie sweatshirt and jeans. Or in a hotter climate, a white linen blazer over a colored v-neck t-shirt offers a put-together look while letting the cooling breeze come through.
And if you’re looking for something really wild for, say, a Vegas weekend, a slim-fitting, shiny black sport coat will make you feel like one of the Rat Pack at the dice tables. Myself, I generally prefer the feel of a velvet jacket—women love to touch it, and I love when women touch it. No more need be said there.
Lapels can be narrow or wide, rear vents can be American (single), British (double) or Continental (no vent). Many sport coats offer a special “ticket” pocket, inside watch pocket, and more. Despite these choices, buying a sport coat is easy if you follow one rule of thumb: make sure it works on you.
The vast majority of men buy sport coats off the rack, and wear them without alteration. And you may not look bad in an off-the-rack jacket. But like a suit jacket, a sport coat will really look like you were made to wear it if you have it tailored. Keep in mind that a sport coat should offer a tiny bit more room than a suit jacket, so that you can wear a sweater or other layers without looking like Pee-Wee Herman, so a good idea is to wear it with an undershirt and light sweater when you have the tailor pin it.
With the dizzying number of styles, fabrics and colors out there, you’re not going to know what’s really best for you until you try some on. If you’re looking for a strictly casual-wear jacket, try it on with a few t-shirts and sweaters. If it’s for work, have a dress shirt on so that you can see how it works with the collar line.
Most sport coats are sized by chest—if you’re not sure of your chest size, have someone in the store measure you. “Long,” “regular” and “short” lengths are also offered, but you should usually ignore them and make sure the jacket falls to approximately the bottom of your, er, bottom.
If you want a simple, classic look, make sure the lapels are between three and four inches wide, with the tip of the lapel at about the midpoint between the collar and shoulder. Two or three buttons are easier to work with than four; you should normally keep the bottom button undone.
Some of these rules go out the window if you’re looking at an unusual style—if that’s the case, just make sure it works for you, and if at all possible get a second opinion you trust.
Finally, don’t skimp on quality. There are some great bargains on well-made jackets to be had, but this should be the foundation of your wardrobe for years to come, and shouldn’t start splitting at the seams in six months.
If you’ve never owned a sport coat before, consider it a rite of passage.