An upcoming event I’m attending is smart casual. I know I need to wear a jacket, but I’m unsure which style. Should I wear a blazer? Or can I go in my sports coat? Are they the same thing? Sports coat vs blazer? What’s the difference?
The main difference between sports coats and blazers is the style. Sports coats are casual jackets made from patterned fabric. Mostly checked, they can also be a prominent herringbone. A tweed jacket is a type of sports coat. Blazers are fitted jackets made from one solid color. Being semi-formal, they have more structure and are usually blue or black.
In this article, you’ll learn how to tell a blazer from a sports coat. You’ll also find out how they differ from a suit jacket, along with mastering when to wear a sports coat and when a blazer is the better choice.
What Is a Sports Coat?
A sports coat is a tailored jacket designed to be worn at casual events. The term originated in the 1800s when men wore a specific coat to participate in outdoor sports, which included fishing or hunting.
Because of this, sports coats tend to be made from fabric with a rougher twill weave than suit jackets. Unlike a formal suit jacket, a sports coat isn’t designed to be worn to a posh indoor celebration. It doesn’t have to shine or gleam with elegance.
The purpose of a sports jacket is to keep the wearer warm in the hostile weather conditions found out on the moors. With a looser fit than a suit or a blazer, a sports coat gave the wearer more freedom of movement. An important characteristic when you’re on the hunt for game birds or fishing for salmon.
The most famous of all sports coats is the tweed jacket. Made from durable wool, a tweed jacket kept the participants of 19th-century shooting events in the Scottish highlands warm and comfortable.
The name tweed stems from its Scottish origins. Or rather from the word tweel, which is Scottish for twill. Thanks to a misunderstanding or breakdown in communication, a merchant interested in buying the tweel misheard it as tweed. Thinking it was named after Scotland’s River Tweed, it was marketed as such.
These days sports jackets are made from other fabrics besides tweed. You can find them in softer fabrics with a wide range of patterns, from a subtle plaid or tartan to a big, bold check.
You can get sports jackets in various fabric weights and textures, making them suitable for any season. It helps them blend better with pants made from various materials too.
No longer a jacket solely used for outdoor hunting sprees, they have a new place in men’s fashion. As a casual, easy-to-wear standalone jacket, one that still embraces the relaxed vibe synonymous with fun and adventure.
That’s where sports coats come into their own. Their versatile nature and range of textiles help them coordinate with dress pants, chinos, and even jeans. They add a relaxed and casual vibe to any outfit.
What Is a Blazer?
A blazer is a semi-fitted jacket. Unlike the sports coat, a blazer is one solid color throughout, usually navy blue or black. Blazers are one step down from a suit jacket in formality and style.
They are standalone items designed to be worn with coordinating or contrasting pants. Making them ideal for a capsule wardrobe where you can mix and match items together. It’s not unusual to see a blue blazer with lighter-colored pants. In fact, that’s how they started.
Back in the 1800s, the Royal Navy decided to streamline the clothing worn by their sailors. To give them a sense of belonging and to make them all look similar. To do that, they introduced a simple dark blue blazer-style jacket to be worn over the top of lighter-colored pants, giving us the classic nautical look.
Since those early seafaring days, the blazer has become the symbol of group membership. It’s also one of the reasons we have a shade of blue called navy. But, a different kind of water transport led to the name blazer being introduced. Instead of ships on the open seas, it was boats on the River Thames.
Rowing boats, to be precise. The members of Cambridge’s Lady Margaret Boat Club are famous for wearing bright red jackets. So bright, they were described in the late 1800s as being “blazing red jackets”. They were simply ablaze with color. So much so that a new word, “blazer” was invented to describe them.
Today’s blazers have distinguishing features that give the nod to their maritime past. They have distinctive metal buttons. These can be brass, silver, or gold in color. Very often, you’ll find a nautical theme on the buttons. There will be an anchor or something similar embossed onto the button top.
Sports Coat vs Blazer: Key Points
The main difference between a sports coat vs a blazer is where you can wear them. Although sports jackets have come a long way since their hunting days, they are still considered to be casual garments, whereas blazers are semi-formal.
Knowing that difference, in theory, is one thing. But how do you put that knowledge into practice? Especially if the two jackets in front of you are both navy blue? Fear not. I’ve put together a table to help you tell a blazer from a sports coat.
Being able to see the characteristics of both jackets side-by-side should make the differences a little clearer. It should also give you some guidance on which jacket you should be wearing at your next event.
|Appearance||Check or tweed pattern|
Can be any color
|Solid color usually either blue or black
|Material||Traditionally a rough woven twill in wool or other textured fabrics. Modern jackets can be cotton, linen, wool, corduroy, or tweed||Smooth woven fabrics including wool and wool blends, linen, flannel, and velvet|
|Distinguishing Marks||Less structure and not fitted to allow more movement|
May have elbow patches
|Structured through the shoulders and semi-fitted through the body|
Parties, informal meetings
Business meeting, business launch event
|Purpose||Standalone garment||Standalone garment|
|Cost||They can range from between $50 and $600 depending on fabric, brand, and quality||An average price range is between $50 and $600 depending on brand and quality|
|Best Used For||Looking stylish but maintaining a casual air||Looking smart and professional|
|Wear With||Coordinating pants in a solid color or faded jeans and smart jeans||Coordinating pants or smart jeans in black or dark blue|
What Is the Difference Between a Sports Coat and Blazer?
Sports coats and blazers have a lot in common with each other. Their main difference is how people think about them and what they can be used for. The accepted uses of each jacket stem back to their origins.
Blazers were originally part of a naval uniform. They are considered one step down from suit jackets and can be worn in formal settings. While sports coats have an air of casual adventure about them. Thanks to their use by the landed gentry as hunting and fishing jackets.
Other differences set the two styles apart from the material they can be made from to what they can be worn with. Let’s take a look at some of the main characteristics in detail.
One of the main differences between a sports jacket and a blazer is the appearance. Blazers are one solid color, nearly always black or navy blue.
The appearance of a blazer is one of sophisticated style. They are the next best thing to a suit and can be worn at many semi-formal events, particularly if a suit would be too dressy for the occasion. Blazers allow for a more relaxed feel, even though you still look elegant wearing one.
Sports coats are nearly always patterned. Whether it’s a herringbone, houndstooth, or check design. They can be a combination of colors or even two different hues within the same shade.
More textured and durable than the blazer, a sports coat has a look and feel of the great outdoors. It’s designed for fun and adventure and to withstand the weather. The appearance of a sports jacket is casual and easygoing.
If you want formality, then you need to choose a blazer. Its close similarity to a suit jacket can give you the same professional image. Blazers are fitted through the shoulders and shaped through the torso to provide a sleek, no-nonsense silhouette.
Sports jackets, on the other hand, lack the poise and sophistication of a suit. Their original function was as an outdoor activity coat. Because of that, they are designed to be layered. You wouldn’t want to be out on the moors with just a shirt under your jacket. There needs to be room for a sweater, at least.
Having other clothes underneath means sports jackets have to be a looser fit. The silhouette is less structured and nowhere near as figure-flattering as a blazer. Because of that, the look of a sports coat will always be informal.
Sports coats and blazers can be made from the same material. Wool is a popular choice for both, but the two diverse styles use the textile in a different weave. Blazers are smooth with a delicate sheen, while sports jackets are rugged and often have a textured feel.
This difference is provided by the weave of the fabric and the density of the yarns used to make it. The wool used in sports jackets tends to be heavier and thicker, giving the jacket a chunkier look and feel. Remember, sports coats were originally outdoor garments meant for durability and warmth.
In contrast, blazers use lighter wool yarns in a more elegant weave. The material is flatter and lacks the high loft or thickness of wool used for sports coats. Although they are still intended to keep you warm, their main purpose was to give a smart uniformity to a ship’s company.
Wool isn’t the only material the two jackets have in common. You can also find sports coats and blazers made from linen, cotton, cotton blends, and polyester.
However, there are some fabrics that you’ll only find in sports jackets. Things like corduroy or patterned textiles, for instance. Blazers are always pattern-free and devoid of any texture. So if your coat has even the tiniest hint of a corduroy rib, it’s a sports jacket, not a blazer.
One of the distinguishing marks on a blazer is the style of the buttons. These tend to be made from metal. They are usually gold, brass, and silver in color. Sometimes they will have a little anchor or some other nautical imagery on the button surface.
These days you can also find blazers with decorative buttons made of plastic. These can either imitate the traditional metal or be more in line with suit buttons. Whatever the design, the key with blazer buttons is they are functional and offer decoration.
Buttons on sports jackets are a lot more laid back. On this option, you’ll find basic, black plastic buttons or the more casual choice of leather buttons. They don’t offer a focal point but blend in with the jacket. Sports coat buttons are practical.
One thing you will never find on a blazer is the addition of elbow patches. These extra pieces of leather are sewn onto the elbow area to add strength and durability. Only a sports jacket will have them. They are way too casual for use on a blazer.
Other distinguishing marks include the style of the pockets. A casual sports jacket can have patch pockets. In contrast, blazers are more likely to have inset pockets with flaps. Or maybe even welt pockets.
Although you can wear a sports jacket or a blazer to some events, the one you choose will depend on the invite you receive. Many events have a dress code that is determined by the level of formality the occasion requires.
If it’s an informal or casual event, then the sports jacket with its casual persona might be the better fit. For an invite that states formal or black tie, you have to go with the blazer. A sports jacket will look out of place at a high-end event.
Some situations don’t warrant a dress code. They are laid-back casual gigs like a night out at the pub or a backyard birthday party. You can wear either a blazer or a sports jacket to those. Your choice will be down to the impression you want to make. Smart and sophisticated or fun-loving and down-to-earth.
The purpose of both a sports jacket and a blazer is the same. They are both intended to be used as standalone garments. Able to mix and match with other items in your wardrobe to complete an outfit.
Although, their historical purpose does differ slightly. Both blazers and sports jackets date back to when gentlemen would wear different jackets depending on the situation.
Sports coats were worn for excursions out on the moors. For shooting parties or weekend fishing trips, while blazers were used to define club membership. To give a sense of consistency throughout the group or troop.
To a certain extent, this definition still rings true today. A blazer’s purpose is to make you look smart, professional, and in control. A sports coat’s function is to boost your personality as a carefree individual.
When it comes to cost, there is little to choose between blazers and sports coats. You can find cheap options and more expensive alternatives. Both styles of the jacket can cost anywhere between $50 and $600 depending on where you buy them and their brand. You can even find them priced at over $1000.
Both garments are tailored up to a point. The number of tailored features within each will impact the price of the jacket.
Blazers have a slight edge on the level of tailoring used, so you would expect them to be more expensive. These jackets are designed to stand in suits, so you need to look at the part. They are also made from higher-quality fabric.
However, just because sports coats lack the finesse of a blazer, it doesn’t mean they will cost less. What you gain in using less tailoring or lower quality weaves, you lose the cost of the actual fabric used.
Sports coats tend to be textured and made from heavier materials. They can also be patterned, meaning there can be more yarns woven into the fabric than there are in a lighter, plainer textile.
Best Used For
Blazers and sports jackets can be used for similar situations. But, their design and fabric content give them characteristics better suited to some occasions over others.
For instance, blazers are a step below suit jackets. They offer a formal appearance and can uplift your outfit to the level of a business professional, even if you wear smart, black jeans.
Your sports jacket can take those same black jeans and dress them down. Now, your look is more in tune with a backyard birthday party or a casual night out with your friends.
You can wear blazers and sports jackets with any style of pants you have in your closet. There is only one exception to that. Neither style of jacket will look good with suit pants. Your suit pants are best reserved for your suit jacket!
Other than that, both sports coats and blazers can be worn with jeans, chinos, and dress pants. The rule is to match smart with smart. So, for blazers, you should keep smart jeans in either dark blue or black.
Chinos and dress pants can contrast with the blazer. They can even be a lighter color. But don’t go drastic. A navy blue blazer isn’t going to look good with bright red pants.
Sports jackets can be worn with lighter-colored jeans, light chinos, and darker shades of pants. It all depends on your sports jacket. As they can come in various patterns and shades, how you wear them depends on their style.
Patterned sports jackets should be worn with plain pants. Too many different patterns can cause an overload on your visual senses and make your outfit look busy. This goes for check patterns and textured patterns like tweed.
Are Blazers and Sports Coats Interchangeable?
Yes, sometimes you can interchange a blazer for a sports coat and vice versa. However, it depends on the function you are attending. It also depends on the style of the jacket you intend to wear.
Blazers and sports coats are both distinctive and designed to be worn for specific reasons. Sports jackets are casual, while blazers bridge the gap between smart/casual and the formality of a suit.
There is a sweet spot between casual and smart/casual where the two jacket styles can overlap. But, it is a very fine line. Blazers don’t dress down easily. Which means they are going to look out of place with rough-looking pants and jeans. By that, I mean light blue, faded jeans, or any kind of pants that have a lived-in look.
You’ll have a similar problem with sports jackets. Some sports coats can look smart and fit for wearing to the office, particularly if they are made from a smooth weave rather than a rugged tweed. Others will struggle to give you a professional image. Simply because they ooze so much laid-back, casual flair.
Although you can interchange blazers and sports coats, make sure you pay attention to the style of garment you’ll be wearing them with. For casual pants, go with a sports jacket. Smart pants will match a blazer.
Can You Wear a Sports Coat as a Blazer
As we discussed above, yes, you can wear a sports coat like a blazer. But it depends on the style of your sports coat and the event you are going to.
If you are attending an event with a dress code that asks for a blazer, the chances are it will be semi-formal, verging on the formal. You need to look smart and elegant. Especially if it’s an important business meeting and you need to look like a confident professional.
Sports coats come in a whole host of different patterns and prints. Some patterns are too bold for formal occasions. They stick out like a sore thumb as being meant for a casual event. Professional or business casual asks for somber and dark colors like navy blue or black. Your red and green checked sports jacket isn’t going to meet that brief.
That’s the main difference between sports coats and blazers. Sports coats are meant to be fun and worn on more relaxed occasions. Some are just too “busy” to be taken seriously. Wearing such a sports jacket at a semi-formal event will lower your image from professional to wanna-be in the blink of an eye. You’ll struggle to be taken seriously too!
You can wear a sports jacket to an event with a more relaxed dress code. But even so, you should try to stick with subtle patterns or prints and somber colors. Replacing your blazer with a sports jacket is not the time to go orange.
Blazer vs Sports Coat vs Suit Jacket
Blazers, sports coats, and suit jackets all sound like the same. Unfortunately, they are not. As seen earlier in this article, blazers and sports jackets may seem very alike, but they have different levels of formality. So too, does the suit jacket.
Sports jackets are the most casual garment of the three. Ideal for relaxed events and chilling with friends. Next, come the blazers. They have a semi-formal persona that can carry you from a day at the office to a business reception. Both these jackets are meant to be worn with contrasting or coordinating pants.
Finally, you have the suit jacket. This is the most formal of all the jackets you can wear. Designed to be worn with pants made from the same fabric, a suit jacket is one part of a top-to-toe ensemble.
A suit jacket fits well and is highly tailored. When you wear a suit jacket, you are the epitome of a smart, professional, businessman or entrepreneur. You wear a suit jacket when the occasion demands pomp, ceremony, and decorum.
Can I Wear a Suit Jacket Instead of a Sports Coat?
Not really, no. You can’t wear a suit jacket instead of a sports coat. Suit jackets are meant to be worn as part of a suit.
Suit jackets are fitted and have a level of structure far superior to the more casual sports coat. They are meant for formal occasions where you need to look your absolute best.
That’s not all. Their shape and design are intended to be streamlined through the body and down the legs. This means they only look good when you wear them with matching pants. A suit jacket is not a standalone item. It’s part of a set.
Due to their high formality, suit jackets are too dressy for casual pants. But then the same goes for suit pants and a sports jacket. The casual sports jacket will be overpowered by the formal cut of the pants.
Unfortunately, replacing a sports coat with a suit jacket is not a good idea. Your outfit will look mismatched and incongruous.
Can You Wear a Sports Coat or Blazer With Jeans?
Yes, you can wear blazers and sports coats with jeans. Either will look great, although it rather depends on the jeans.
Regular or straight-cut jeans in dark blue or black look best with blazers. Especially if they are free from any sign of fading on the legs, remember the key to styling any outfit is to match smart with smart. As blazers are semi-formal, you need to keep your top and bottom half to the same level of neatness.
That means you should avoid wearing your blazer with distressed jeans. You’ll want to give acid-washed jeans and bleached denim a miss too. None of those types of jeans will look stylish, teamed with a blazer.
You have a little more freedom with sports coats. As they tend to be more laid-back than blazers, you can get away with lighter-colored jeans. Even faded denim can look good with a sports jacket, although you will have to watch the color of the jacket and the style of the pattern.
Whether you wear a blazer or a sports jacket, you’ll want to stay away from overly ripped jeans. While jeans with gaping holes in them are a look, it’s not necessarily one that goes well with tailored jackets. Not even ones as casual as a sports coat.
Blazers and sports coats are very similar. Their main difference is the fabric they are made from and the level of formality they portray. Sports jackets ooze casual fun and adventure, while a blazer can lift your outfit to a semi-formal style.
Which jacket will you be wearing to your next event? Will you choose the formality of the blazer? Or the freedom of the sports jacket? Let me know in the comments.