Sport Jacket: The Quintessential Casual Jacket

A sport jacket is the singular garment that will spice up your style. But we also mentioned that the sport jacket is a “casual” jacket. Now that’s a little difficult for many to follow. A tailored jacket is a “formal” garment. Or at least “dressy” by normal convention. So how can a sport jacket (which by definition is a tailored jacket), be “casual”? How and where then do we fit business suits into the formality scale?

Close up of a torso and arms of a man, displaying a blue and white Glen check sport jacket, over a white shirt. The image is completed with a contrasting dark pocket square as a visual interest.
Layering a sport jacket over your casual attire will spice up your image. This is especially important for those who don’t dress to the nines on a regular basis.
Image by @halayalex of Freepik

What’s A “Casual” Jacket In The First Place?

We have loosely shared where each class of attire sits on the formality scale here. But unlike the business suits and the blazers with mismatched trousers, attires with sport jackets span a very wide range. It starts from business casual and dressy casual on the higher end of the formality scale. And go all the way down to dressed down casual and polo-shirts and jeans casual on the lower end of the scale. You might have noticed the common denominator here as “casual”, hence the term “casual jacket”.

A confident man wearing a dark, sport jacket, open collar white shirt, and jeans with brown leather belt.
A sport jacket will spice up even a casual attire. Whilst you don’t need to be suited and booted all the time, it still helps to project a consistently confident image.
Image by @prostooleh of Freepik

Do note that when we say “casual”, we don’t mean sloppy. So no faded or torn jeans, loud graphic t-shirts, oversized hoodies and slippers with exposed toes. These are not “casual”. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at what makes a sport jacket the quintessential casual jacket.

(1) Fabric And Weave

Originating from the Scottish and Irish highlands is the rugged outerwear to protect the wearer from the harsh environment. Once relegated only to be worn in the countryside, it was considered faux pas to wear it in the city. Hence the term “country wear” was coined to differentiate it with the more delicate city suits. Of course, this notion no longer holds true, as sport jackets are worn in the cities today as a more casual attire.

A musician playing an electric double bass on stage. Here he's wearing a tweed sport jacket, over a white oxford cloth button-down shirt.
Tweed sport jacket, the quintessential “country” wear. Often associated with outdoor activities. Unlike worsted wool, which gives a smooth finish, tweed is densely woven from woollen wool, giving it a rough texture.
Image by Music HQ of Pexels

Tweed, a rough woollen fabric, is both tough and hardwearing. Being spun from thick and strong woollen yarn, then woven in dense twill or herringbone pattern, results in a relatively thick fabric. Perfect for keeping warm in the cold Scottish winter. It’s tough enough to protect the wearer even when navigating through thick brushes in the woods.

Extreme close up of Harris Tweed fabric, showing the fuzzy woollen texture and densely woven herringbone pattern.
Close-up of a Harris Tweed fabric, displaying the characteristic of multi-coloured yarn combination. If you take a closer look, you might just make out the herringbone weave pattern as well.
Image by Ron Porter of Pixabay

Whilst excellent as a winter weight jacket, it’s not exactly what one might gravitate towards in the tropics or summer. Linen, on the other hand, offers similar qualities as tweed, except the insulation. Similarly rugged and tough, linen is the tropical equivalent of tweed.

Close-up on the chest piece of a linen sport jacket, showcasing the texture of the fabric, and the loose weave which contributes to its breathability.
Close-up on the chest piece of an unbleached linen sport jacket. Note that the individual yarns of the fabric are uneven, and pretty visible through the plain weave. This leaves a lot of breathing space between each yarn, hence its breathability.
Image by Author

(2) Texture And Pattern

Suit jackets and blazers generally come in solid colours and have smooth worsted texture. That’s what we generally associate with being “dressy”. Sport jackets, on the other hand, are the total opposite. Rough textured fabric (e.g. tweed and linen) tend to “feel” less formal. Likewise, patterned fabric also tend to add a touch of casualness too. In fact, the larger the pattern and the higher the contrast, the less formal it’ll appear. Houndstooth, Glen check, gingham check, shepherd’s check, even Madras check are commonly available as staple sport jacket fabric.

Close-up on the chest piece of a cotton-mix sport jacket.
Close-up on the chest piece of a cotton-mix sport jacket, showing the lapel and the welted breast pocket. This fabric is in a grey-white-brown Glen check, with a thin overcheck in red.
Image by Author

(3) External Features

Sport jackets generally have all of the external features of a typical suit jacket or blazer. But the more pronounced they are, the more casual they tend to appear. The more features to break away from the “clean” outline, the more casual it’ll be. Here are a few typical examples :-

(3.1) Patch Pockets

Suit jackets (to a certain extent blazers too) featured internal pocket bags, with only the flaps or jetted seams showing. This enhances the clean and streamline look, emphasising its formality. So to break away from this look, sport jackets tend to favour external patch pockets. You have a piece of fabric “patched” onto the outer shell of the jacket, forming the pocket. So externally, you can actually see the pocket itself.

A side-by-side image displaying the more formal flap pocket against the less formal patch pocket of the sport jacket.
A more dressy flap pocket (left) elevates the formality of this sport jacket, whilst a patch pocket (right) gives it a casual flair to the linen sport jacket. Note that the casualness of the patch pocket is further elevated by introducing a reverse box pleat down the centre of the pocket itself.
Image by Author

Again, the more elaborate the pocket design, the more casual it tends to be. Sewing the fabric flat onto the outer shell of the jacket body is the dressiest option. You have the option to go down the formality scale even more by incorporating more features and details to the pocket. Pleated pocket, flapped patch pocket, pocket with bellows, bellows with contrasting fabric, etc., the options are almost limitless.

(3.2) Elbow Patches

When worn regularly, points of contact tend to wear out faster than the rest of the garment. And on a sport jacket, the elbows are the highest points of contact. Hence, the elbows tend to wear out pretty quickly. So to address that issue, one simply patches it up with hardwearing material, like suede. Originally designed as a way to reduce the wear and tear of the shell fabric. Or at least to cover up the wear and tear.

A compound image of the back and front of a linen sport jacket, showcasing the contrasting elbow patch.
Contrasting elbow patches reduce the formality of the sport jacket even more. Originally designed to prevent or to repair the wear and tear on the elbows. The elbows suffer high abrasion as the jacket ages.
Image by Author

These days, the elbow patches serve more as a reminiscence of the bygone days. They no longer serve their original purpose, as modern fabric are more hardy. Besides, nobody wears their sport jackets when crawling through the bushes anymore.

(3.3) Contrasting Buttons

Suits (specifically suit jackets) tend to favour buttons of similar colour as the shell fabric. This low contrast projects an air of formality in the overall clean look. Hence, less formal jackets tend to go the opposite direction. Shiny metallic buttons emblazon blazers as a way to stand out from the regular suit jackets. Likewise, sport jackets tend to opt for similarly contrasting buttons too.

Close-up of an unbleached linen sport jacket, showcasing the dark coloured contrasting buttons. Also displaying the three front patch pockets, popularly known as "three patches".
Contrasting buttons are another way to tone down the formality of a sport jacket. Note the patch pockets on both the hip and the breast pockets. This feature is also known as the “three patches”, a very casual design.
Image by Author

Horn, corozo and coconut shell buttons tend to have a naturally darker tone. Perfect for lighter shade sport jackets. Whilst mother of pearl, bone and seashell buttons tend to have a lighter hue. These are more suited for darker shade sport jackets. You can opt for plastic buttons too if budget not permitting. Besides, plastic buttons offer something that natural buttons don’t – consistency in colour and pattern.

(4) Other More Advanced Features Of The Casual Jacket

There are also other lesser-known features to make the sport jacket even more casual. Examples like patched right shoulder (for right handed people) reminiscence of shooting jackets is one such example. Then there’s also the extended buttoned up collar to protect the wearer’s neck from the cold wind too. This extended button latch can extend visibly from the jacket collar, or hidden away underneath it. Half-belt, reminiscence of the Norfolk jacket with an external belt. Basically speaking, the more visible features the sport jacket has, the more casual it tends to be.

Why Wear A Casual Jacket?

Everybody has a personal brand, whether or not you choose to actively curate one. And that often stems from the first impression you project, which usually means your attire. If you’re like most people, you probably don’t need to wear business suits regularly. So what happens if you have a chance meeting with a potential client, or even a potential mate? Will you be projecting a reliable and trustworthy image right there and then?

Side-by-side comparison between business casual and dressy casual. Business casual by matching a sport jacket with dress trousers and tie. Dressy casual by matching a sport jacket with mock-neck t-shirt and jeans.
Opposite ends of the casual dress spectrum. Business casual (left) is business appropriate simply by matching with dress trousers and a tie, even a casual knit tie like in the image. Dressy casual (right), matched with a mock-neck t-shirt and medium wash jeans, is comfortable enough for you to spend a night out with your mates, perhaps in a pub, enjoying the football on the big screen there.
Image by Author

Simply layering with a sport jacket will immediately elevate your image. Even over just a simple polo-shirt and jeans, you’re essentially projecting a different image. One that’s two notches above what you’d otherwise look like without the casual jacket.

You can choose to wear a tie with your sport jacket for a more business appropriate image. Or opt for open neck shirt for a less dressy occasion. You can even wear it over a polo-shirt and jeans, and you’ll be the best looking man in the pub or restaurant too. In short, there really is no reason not to wear a casual sport jacket, regardless the occasion or the location.

Are You Ready To Build Your Personal Brand?

People judge you by your external image all the time. That’s a given. The phrase “Never judge a book by its cover” doesn’t hold any water these days… It probably never did… So don’t let others decide your personal brand. Take control of your own personal brand, and curate it exactly the way you want others to see you. And if you need somebody to help point you to the right direction, go get in touch with Solarex Imaging. Brand consultation works not only with corporations, but also with individuals too.

In the meantime, do share your thoughts. Leave your comments at the end of the page, and don’t forget to vote in the poll below.

Do you own and wear sport jackets?
3 votes

About CHOW Wei Ming

Brand consultant, photographer, creative director, storyteller, and a true believer of the power of visual communications. Outwardly expresses a friendly disposition, but hides a perfectionist nature deep inside him.

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