A dear friend recently asked me what I believed to be the difference between a suit jacket and a blazer. “I know what the literal difference is” he smiled “I just want to know what their uses are. I mean, can a suit jacket ever double as a blazer?”
This is possibly one of the most important questions I have been asked. Chiefly because I have always advocated using clothing efficiently and flexibly; after all, we all have limited space in our wardrobes and wallets. However, despite writing about what colour and material of odd jackets and trousers are suitable together, I haven’t broached the subject of what jackets I believe are suitable to masquerade as a blazer.
‘Masquerade’ is the crucial word here. The primary purpose of any suit jacket is to be worn as part of a suit. However, it is a rare pleasure to find one that can be used with chinos, cords and even denim. The problem is that this popular pastime – pairing the smart with the casual – is very hit and miss, and more often than not it is the latter.
There are three crucial considerations for mixing and matching with suit jackets; pattern, colour and material.
Irrespective of the material and colour, there are suit patterns which work as odd jackets with casual trousers and those that don’t. A thick window check seems to; pinstripe never does. Glen Urquhart can work but the material and colour of the check needs to be right; a mid-heavy weight wool and a high contrast colourway. Louder patterns work better than smaller subtler patterns – think chalk rather than pin – as their relative coarseness makes them adaptable to casual clothing, the exception being houndstooth with which dedicated blazers are often made.
Although a mid-weight charcoal grey flannel makes a decent blazer with, say, a pair of cream cotton chinos, plain dark grey and black suit jackets are too suit-y to wear with odd casual trousers – but it is simply remarkable what a loud window check can do. Navy, mid-blue, brown and light grey are probably the most adaptable colours to work into a smart-casual ensemble.
The most significant issue I have with the use of suit jackets as separates is that, due to the popularity of lighter-weight suits, paper-thin wool jackets are being worn with thick casual trousers and it just looks wrong. Mid- or heavy-weight fabrics have the requisite denseness and lack the alien delicacy of lighter and Super Wools; if it’s casual, go coarse.