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Sport coat vs. blazer: What’s the difference (and does it matter)?

Know the difference between a sport coat and a blazer before buying

Blazer with silver buttons
Muhammad Numan/Unsplash / Unsplash

If you have been building a tailored wardrobe and have followed the four-legged stool approach or started going beyond that in building an everyday suit collection, you have likely run into a question that has stumped, confounded, or befuddled you. Do you want a sport coat or a blazer? When it comes to the sport coat vs. blazer debate, a lot of people don’t know the difference. As a matter of fact, you have likely heard these phrases used interchangeably.

However, there are some major differences between the two garments, and we will help you figure them out here. First things first, let’s look at the level of formality that these fall into; that way, you can understand their background and when to wear them. There are five major types of tailored jackets that men wear. The highest form of formality is the tuxedo jacket, an upgrade from the suit. This is followed by the suit jacket, which is characterized by matching pants made from the same patterned material. Then you have the blazer, which we will get into in a second, followed by the sport coat. Finally, there is the smoking jacket, which is never worn outside.

But what is the difference between the two middle-ground tailored jackets for men?

Man in Ralph Lauren blazer
Courtesy of Ralph Lauren

What is a blazer?

Like many garments in fashion, there are numerous origin stories for the blazer. One follows a common theme among menswear in that it has a history in the military. As the story goes, the serving captain at the helm of the HMS Blazer dressed his crew in navy-blue, double-breasted jackets with distinguished Royal Navy brass buttons to welcome a visiting Queen Victoria on board the ship. Another story is an equally familiar history in the halls of English education as the blazer was believed to have originated when the Cambridge rowing team wore their matching double-breasted jackets throughout campus. Since everyone wants to be part of a club, the look stuck, and now we have the blazer.

The blazer is the middle child of the tailored coat wardrobe. With the tux and suit jackets above it in formality and the sport coat and smoking jacket below it, it serves to bridge the gap between the levels. While many will see it as a very casual look, the HMS Blazer origin story saw it as an upgrade the sailors needed to meet royalty. Meeting royalty always requires a certain level of posh.

The blazer is noted by three characteristics.

  • The first is the fact that there are no matching pants that accompany it. This stand-alone jacket is meant to pair with dress pants and up the formality of them.
  • The second is the fabric. It is often lighter and always solid. Traditionally, the blazer is seen in navy blue (as pictured above in the Ralph Lauren blazer) or black, but like anything, it has evolved to incorporate others.
  • The third is the buttons, which are always contrasting gold or pewter. The upgrade in the buttons calls back to the Royal Navy emblazoned buttons of the sailors and gives the blazers of today a higher level of posh.
Man in vest and blazer
Rydale Clothing/Flickr

What is a sport coat?

In contrast to the formal upgrade the blazer gives the wearer, the sport coat does the opposite. It owes its beginnings to the English as well, this time to the aristocrats who needed something to dress down in (while still retaining their posh nature, of course) for hunting, fishing, or sporting. As referenced in the name, the sport coat is meant for outdoor adventure wear, sometimes with a leather patch on the shoulder where the hunting rifle would sit.

Today, the sport coat is used to dress up jeans or dress down the shirt and tie. It is characterized by some of the same aspects as the blazer, with different focuses. For instance, where the blazer is light-weight, solid colors with no patterns, the sport coat runs the gamut with fabrics like wool, flannel, linen, silk, cashmere, and anything else a suit is made out of. They also punch up many outfits with fun colors and patterns that allow you to stand out in a crowd, from checks to houndstooth; even pinstripes (although this is traditionally a no-no to wear vertical striped coats without pants) have been explored in recent years. Finally, the buttons are not contrasting, as they typically resemble a suitcoat in that their buttons are plastic and blend with the fabric of the jacket.

What keeps this coat lower on the formality ladder than the blazer is its ability to pair with jeans and casual chinos, as you shouldn’t do such things with a blazer.

A man putting on his blazer.
PeopleImages.com - Yuri A/Shutterstock

How to wear them

How to wear a blazer

The most common approach to wearing a blazer is to pair it with a pair of khaki dress pants, with light gray or bright blue as other great alternatives. While it is a more casual alternative to a suit, going too casual will make the blazer look and feel out of place. Stay away from denim or sweaters under it; stick to collared dress shirts and wool pants. Your more traditional blazers are going to be double-breasted with gold buttons; therefore, you should always treat it like it is on the more formal end of the spectrum.

How to wear a sport coat

For the sport coat, feel free to have more fun with this garment. It is the most casual jacket you wear outside the house, so dress it down with denim, sweaters, and even a t-shirt to really stand out. If you have a patterned fabric, let your sport coat do the talking and stick to solid, muted colors. This garment is going to be the perfect addition to a casual date night to elevate your look. You may not be wearing this in the woods to go hunting anymore, but it is still a great symbol of casual manliness.

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Mark D. McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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