The Odd Suit Jacket

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.

Pattern

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.

Colour

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.

Material

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.

5 Comments

  1. Adam said:

    I agree with the above, and would add that there’s no single rule to govern whether you can wear suit jackets as odd jackets. It really has to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

    Just a couple questions:

    1) Wouldn’t you also list cut / shape as a consideration? For example, I have an old suit jacket whose shoulders and lapels lend it a very formal look. I think it would pass your three criteria, but … every time I put it on with jeans it looks like I’m trying to combine work wear with casual.

    2) So in that case … can you do an article about what to do with old suit jackets? I have an old, light-grey three-button jacket whose fabric I can’t match for new pants. Is there anything to be done with it?

    Thanks,
    Adam

    September 6, 2012
  2. stephen said:

    I agree with all of these. I have also started to think that maybe DB suit jackets work a little better where a SB might fail, no?

    September 6, 2012
  3. neil s said:

    Also, a blazer’s buttons will reveal it as a blazer if they’re brass, whereas a suit jacket will look like a suit jacket with their unassuming buttons. The blazer’s buttons emphasize the casual nature of the outfit – even if the trousers and blazer are a very similar blue, it won’t look like a suit. I don’t like to wear a jacket as a blazer as somewhere at the back of my head I think ‘where’s its mate? won’t it wear out faster that the trousers?’ a blazer can be slung casually over a chair or given to the lady you’re without the small but ever-present sense of dislocation that occurs when the same is done with a suit jacket.

    September 6, 2012
  4. Harry said:

    I nearly agree with everything, but: why will pin stripes never work on odd jackets? I have a mid-weight navy pinstripe jacket (bought as an odd jacket, not a suit) which I think works well with cream chinos and worn with jeans (not necessarily blue) as a casual jacket. Can anyone expand why this is a no-no, in their view?

    September 7, 2012
  5. Jermyn said:

    I think pinstripes can work quite well on an odd jacket, although I agree that on a worsted cloth, they’d be unacceptable.

    2 examples:

    I have a tan w. white pinstripe cotton jacket with suede elbow patches and white, wooden buttons. Here the cotton, buttons and elbow patches distinguish it from a suit jacket.

    I also have a blue w. grey pinstripe DB, peak lapel jacket in flannel, with brown horn buttons. Here I think the lapels, fabric weight and buttons help.

    If you need to ‘rescue’ a light worsted jacket, the only thing you can really do is change the buttons. With heavier cloths, add suede elbow patches and nobody will realise what you’ve done!

    September 7, 2012

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