Knowing the difference between a suit coat, blazer, sport coat and jacket can be confusing to the point that all these terms can appear to mean the same thing.
Even if much of the fuss about using correct terminology in suiting has a lot to do with conventions, here’s some information we’ve gathered to help clarify the confusion, followed by a brief commentary by our friend G. Bruce Boyer on when to use the word jacket and when to use the word coat:
The classic blazer is blue with contrasting gold, copper, or silver buttons. Nowadays though, most any button type can be used with blazers.
Blazers may be double-breasted (6 on 2) or single-breasted. Sometimes a blazer will have piping outlining the lapels, pockets and/or sleeve edges. At one time, wearing a blue blazer with white trousers signaled an esteemed “class status”.
Especially popular with established organizations, elite sports clubs and private schools, a blazer may be “emblazoned” with an organization’s crest near the chest pocket area–even the buttons can display the crest!
Note: Never wear your navy suit coat as a substitute for a blazer—It will look strange and you’ll feel much better if you buy an authentic blue blazer instead trying to turn a suit coat into a blazer
There’s a twist to this guideline–some say a blazer can be also be made of any smooth non-textured solid fabric, most notably bottle green or red.
But wait…there’s also the vertical-striped blazer, worn by British cricket (and rowing) club members at the beginning of the twentieth century, and which will be revived again in the 60s by the British mods.
Remember, the strict definition of a blazer is that it’s typically navy with gold, copper or silver buttons–as you can see above with Hugo sampling a Sciamat blazer. Yet some sources say a blazer can be made of any non-textured solid color fabric, and finally, some blazers are vertically striped.
Use the highly versatile blazer as an intermediate choice for formality that falls somewhere between a sports coat and a suit.
A sports coat (UK), also known as a sport coat (U.S.) is an odd coat worn with non-matching trousers. It’s alright to refer to a “sports coat” as a “sports jacket”, as the terms have become interchangeable (see G. Bruce Boyer’s text below).
Sports coat fabric usually has a pattern like plaid, but also can be a solid color with texturized cloth like tweed or flannel.
A sports coat is more casual than a blazer. Great with dress or casual trousers, or even jeans—a sports coat is an invaluable and very versatile wardrobe addition.
The suit coat is the most simple definition to understand since the coat always has matching suit trousers–as demonstrated above during a Dege & Skinner bespoke suit fitting.
Use the term “suit coat” and avoid the term suit jacket.
Think specific sports attire or dinner attire when you use the word jacket.
For example a shooting jacket (as pictured above) features a special suede panel sewn on the side of the chest the hunter uses to aim his rifle.
A Norfolk jacket is a loose belted jacket with box pleats, typically made of tweed, and originally designed as a hunting jacket. Because of its specific application for the sport of hunting, the term “jacket” is used to indicate a specialty.
Alternatively, a dinner jacket is a black or midnight blue men’s formal jacket without tails, single or double-breasted, and two or three-piece–widely known as a tuxedo.
A formal dinner jacket can also be white, a choice usually reserved for tropical locations.
The smoking jacket was formerly worn for smoking after dinner. These days a smoking jacket can be worn to formal occasions and can be a variety of colors including black, cream, bottle green, burgundy, midnight blue, tartan or even purple. The smoking jacket is often made of velvet, but can also be made of silk.
When should the term coat and when should the term jacket be used?
To find out, we asked our friend, world renowned style authority, G. Bruce Boyer, whom promptly emailed us with some tips to remember :
Today in English, coat and jacket are used interchangeably [e.g., “sports coat” or “sports jacket”] with the following exceptions:
1. A “coat” is a garment that is worn over another tailored garment, while a jacket is usually not.
2. A coat may be either long or short, but a jacket is always short.
3. A suit is always a “coat and trousers”, never a “jacket and trousers”.
4. Specific sports and activities attire is always “jacket”, as in Norfolk jacket, mess jacket, Eton jacket.
5. A dinner outfit is always comprised of “dinner jacket and trousers”.