There are a lot of tailored jackets that don’t come as part of a suit, and if you’re like most men, you probably know them all by one catch-all: a blazer. But you shouldn’t, because half the time what you’re probably referring to is actually a sports jacket or ‘sports coat’, and your imprecision is making tailors sad. “These days the terms are becoming interchangeable and we’re in danger of losing their true origins,” says Simon Maloney, from Jermyn Street tailor New & Lingwood.
For all their similarities, a blazer and sports jacket are not the same, and you neither wear nor care for them in the same ways. “If you’re wearing a blazer, you would go to a restaurant and you would want the waiter to place it properly on a hanger,” says Jake Allen, founder of bespoke tailor King and Allen. “A sports jacket you could wear to a party, throw it on the back of the sofa and people could sit on it all night and it would still look good when you put it on to leave.” The difference basically being that sports jackets are tough and blazers are delicate, which is mostly down to the fabric; sports jackets tend to have plenty of texture and will often feature a patterned cloth, whereas blazers are constructed from finer fabrics more suited to formal occasions.
Hardiness is in the sports jacket’s DNA. The original iteration was the Norfolk jacket, a belted shooting coat built rugged enough to survive sideways rain on a grouse moor. “They’re typically made out of tweed, whereas blazers are often crafted out of lighter cloth,” says Campbell Carey, creative director of storied Savile Row tailor Huntsman. It’s a material that’s made to last – a sports jacket the house cut for the Earl of Cawdor in 1924 was recently brought back in for some new buttons, the rest of the jacket being as it left the shop 90-odd years ago.
But as with anything that was originally designed for practicality, the sports jacket’s been modernised over the last century. “These days they’re much more fitted, with cutaway fronts and lighter weight, high-performance wools,” says Allen. Although many of the core characteristics remain, particularly a preponderance of checks and materials that can take a (gentle) beating.
“The variety of cloth is bigger [than for blazers] with no limit on colours or patterns,” says Allen. “They’re still also cut looser, with room to fit knitwear underneath, and the cloth is often more textured so it creates a more casual look.” It’s the kind of jacket you could wear for casual Friday then take straight onto the golf course.
The Key Styles
Sports jackets were originally worn while gunning down fauna and the most traditional versions still cleave to their design. “They can be waist-belted with gun pleats and patch hacking pockets, which are ideal for carrying gloves or a scarf,” says Campbell. A tweed version made for Eric Clapton, with matching waistcoat, sits in Huntsman’s archive.
Summer Sports Jacket
Tweed’s great when you’re out in grim weather, but in the sunshine, you may as well be wearing a tea cosy. So you need a sports jacket that won’t cook you. That means unlined, in a lightweight fabric like cotton or linen. If you like to make a statement (or sell second-hand cars for a living) then consider madras, the prepster’s summer suit go-to.
The Double-Breasted Sports Jacket
It seems like an oxymoron – double-breasted jackets dress up, sports jackets dress down – but pulling one off is all about how you wear it. Some of the best tailoring is Italian and often takes the form of a soft-shouldered, textured DB that looks as good open as it does buttoned up.
The Classic Sports Jacket
If you only have one sports jacket in your wardrobe, make it single-breasted wool in tonal checks, ideally blue-on-blue. No one will mistake it for half a suit but it’s still sober enough to take you from work to a garden party to a night out, once you realise that garden parties are lame.
Corduroy Sports Jacket
Once the preserve of geography teachers, but given new life courtesy of Miuccia Prada. Corduroy is a perfect sports jacket fabric because it’s tough but forgiving and looks good with practical details like patch pockets and elbow patches. So long as you don’t mind people quizzing you on oxbow lakes.
5 Ways To Wear A Sports Jacket
All The Way Up
Sports jackets are inherently more casual, but that doesn’t mean they’re just for weekends. “To create a more formal look add a dark coloured tie, white shirt and smart, well-pressed trousers,” says Campbell. Finish with dark brown brogues, a smart nod to your sports jacket’s country origins.
All The Way Down
The beauty of a sports jacket is that you can wear it with your laziest clothes and it can elevate them, making them appear smarter than they are. “Try one with jeans, trainers and a t-shirt,” says Allen. Think of it like a hoodie that’s grown up.
Take advantage of a sports jacket’s extra inches and you’ll be covered when in-between weather does the inevitable. “It dresses up with flannel trousers, a shirt, tie and V-neck jumper,” says Allen. “Make sure you match the weight of the jacket to the trousers.”
The Off-Duty Spy
Sports jackets enjoyed a resurgence in the 1970s, when Edward Sexton at Nutters of Savile Row cut Norfolk-inspired versions for the likes of John Lennon. You can channel that decade’s cool, but bring it up to date, by pairing a sports jacket with some of its other go-tos. “A polo neck jumper and chinos is a fantastic way to create a modern, casual aesthetic,” says Campbell.
Double-down on the sports jacket’s activewear roots by pairing it with other staples that have long since retired from activewear duty. A polo (long-sleeve to dress up, short to dress down) with chinos and chukka boots is the ideal kit in which to watch other people’s exertions, with a cool drink in hand.
What To Look For In A Sports Jacket
Being tailoring, you want to look for the same traits in a sports jacket that you’d look for in a suit or blazer. Namely, great fabrics, solid construction and perfect fit.
Think about where you’ll wear it and pick your material accordingly. If it’s an everyday piece, it should be comfortable in any weather and if it’s for a shooting weekend, stick to tweed.
The fit should be less restrictive and longer than a blazer – just below your trouser pockets and a taper in at the waist, but with breathing room for knitwear.
The bigger the pockets, the sportier your jacket – the other big difference to a blazer being that you might actually want to use them.
Darker colours are always more versatile, but also more conservative. Sports jackets aren’t as fusty as blazers, so they’re a chance to have fun. Pick something wild and make it a signature.
The Best Sports Jacket Brands
The Savile Row tailor has crafted sports jackets for royalty both literal and metaphoric – Queen Victoria and Clark Gable are among the names in its measurements book. As befits a tweed specialist, the best thing about a Huntsman sports jacket is the fabric, which could last longer than you. Of course, if you don’t intend to brave the great outdoors, it also cuts its sports jackets in everything from flannel to cashmere.
Founded in Venice in 1961, Barena has a typically Italian approach to tailoring – soft shoulders, fine fabrics, intricate hand-detailing – but also believes that you should be able to appreciate a sports jacket without having to get up close. Whether you fancy tri-colour plaid, mosaic prints or just something simple like crimson with barely-there checks, it’s got you covered.
Marks & Spencer
You can’t get more bang for your tailoring buck than at Marks & Spencer. The brand estimates that one-in-six British men have owned an M&S suit at some point, and for good reason – it finds fantastic fabrics at prices no one else can match. Its sports jackets lean towards town, rather than country – they’re the kind of thing you’d wear to a nice barbecue, rather than to gun down the venison – and run the gamut from goes-with-anything block colours to look-at-me checks.
The high-street colossus does a neat line in tweeds, particularly the kind that don’t make you look like your other car’s a combine harvester. Cut slim enough to feel modern without getting too directional, Next’s sports jackets are easy, well-made and don’t demand too much thought to look good.
It’s strange to think that Jeremy Hackett only founded his eponymous brand in 1979 – it does the ‘country-gent-come-up-to-town’ look so well that it feels like it’s the kind of place Edward VIII would have got his togs. As such, it’s ideal for the guy who wants a sports jacket that doesn’t blend in – if sky blue with windowpane checks is your thing, pay Hackett a visit.
Of course, for the man who thinks Hackett is a touch uninspiring, there’s Italian pattern don Etro, where the sports jacket collection starts with hot pink checks and only gets punchier. But if you can pull it off, you get sublime construction, in fabrics that will last forever. Or at least, longer than your taste for tropical paisley prints.
The preppy American brand channels classic Ivy League for its Ludlow line of woolen sports coats. Though eschewing checks and outdoorsy fabrics, they’re still the kind of jackets that you can bung in an overhead locker without too many worries. In fact, it’s the perfect week-away jacket since it goes as well with chinos as it does with jeans, so you’re basically getting two jackets in one.
The Japanese concept of kando roughly translates as ‘the power of emotional connection’. Which is the jumping off point for Uniqlo’s spin on the sports jacket, complete with stretchy, quick-drying fabrics and relaxed cuts that flatter any body shape. It’s the essence of a sports jacket updated for the modern world. Which is what Uniqlo does best.
The Netherlands isn’t known for its tailoring, but Suitsupply may well change that. Its MO is great fabrics, eye-catching patterns and prices that make you think you’ve got one over on them. Its sports jackets especially are the kind that look as good layered over a hoodie as they do a shirt and tie, which makes them perfect for the modern world of decaying dress codes and dressed-up weekends.