In the foray of trying to understand the world of fashion and to be more specific, men’s fashion, the terminology can really start to make your head spin within the first minute of reading any sort of article.
You will hear all sorts of terms that just seem completely alien to you. Like what is the difference between a notched, peaked, and shawl lapel? To be honest, they were for me as well when first starting to dive head first into the world of fashion.
However, I tried to make the learning process as easy as possible by including a TON of pictures on the little nuances between the different types of formal jackets for men.
In fact we will go over the difference between a suit jacket, blazer, and the most casual one: the sport jacket.
Exploring The Suit Jacket (and the differing lapel types)
What is a suit jacket, and how does it differ from the blazer or sports jacket?
Really when you break it all down, fabric is one of the most key components to it!
By fabric, I mean the roll of fabric when the suit was initially made.
You see, suit jackets are unique from the other types of jackets in that they always come paired with a matching set of trousers (i.e. pants), and sometimes a vest as well (as seen below):
You see when sourcing all the fabric at the same time for the three pieces, it ensures that you have an even wear in the fabrics while wearing your suit. Therefore your suit from top to bottom will age at the same rate and therefore look great on you for many years down the road.
Men in generally should be wary of wanting to wear their suit jacket on the weekends for casual wear. When you do this, the suit jacket will get ‘worn’ out per se and will ultimately leaving you with a worn top and darker looking trousers. Which will ultimately not make you look your very best.
Instead, if you want to wear a jacket with khakis or jeans to give a less formal/relaxed look, its often recommended to use either a blazer or sports jacket instead of a formal suit jacket.
Now when it comes to the formality of the all the jackets covered, suit jackets will be the most formal when compared to both the blazer and sports jacket counterparts.
Regarding fit, suit jackets will be the most snug and closest to the form of your body. They are designed to only have a dress shirt and perhaps sweater vest being worn beneath the jacket. Therefore there isn’t much room for other fabrics.
Unlike a sports jacket, suit jackets don’t have a lot of space for range of movement either. This is an added reason on why they are worn only for formal occasions and not leisurely about on the weekends.
Lapel types for Suit Jackets
Regarding the lapels for the suit jackets, you will typically see three distinct types a notched, peaked, and shawl lapels.
Notched lapels as seen here:
Is the defacto standard when it comes to single breasted suits (we will cover the double breasted suit in just a minute). Actually, you typically will never see this type of lapel on a double breasted suit.
Instead, on double breasted suits, you will see what is called the peaked lapel, as seen here:
Generally speaking, peaked lapels and double breasted suits are considered a little bit more formal than their single breasted counterparts (but not by much).
Last but not least will be the shawl lapels:
Shawl lapels are less formal than the notched lapel, however, still have their place when it comes to formal events. A staple for weddings and galas, the shawl lapel on a suit jacket is great for evening wear. However if you are still considering your first ever suit jacket, the shawl lapel is going to be your last bet given its place in the wardrobe.
You see, if you are first getting a suit, you will want to get one that is either a notched or peaked lapel as they are typically a bit more formal in nature and of course more versatile.
Shawl lapels are great if its your 3rd or 4th suit jacket that you are purchasing since they are much more specific and less versatile than the others listed above.
The Blazer Jacket
Unlike the suit jacket made from the same roll of fabric, blazers are made individually without a matching pair of pants/trousers.
With the jacket by itself, you have a wide array of trousers to choose from when pairing with a blazer.
Typically I would recommend keeping trousers not too sloppy as a blazer is still a bit more formal that the sport jacket which we will be going over in a minute.
When it comes to blazers, you will want to wear something along lines of chino, khakis, or flannel materials to just name a few. You can definitely get away with wearing a dark pair of denims with double monks as well.
While we covered a few different lapel types within the suits section above, lapels for blazers are limited to typically a notch type for the single breasted and the peaked lapel for the double breasted cuts – shawl labels are largely absent in this jacket variety.
Last But Not Least The Sport Jacket
Sport jackets have a rich history in English heritage where they are a less formal versions of the suits or blazers and were often worn during more casual events such as shooting and watching outdoor sports.
When wearing a sport jacket, the trousers that you were in tandem don’t necessarily need to be matching.
Also to note on the sport jacket is that the fabrics will often times be in much bolder and thicker materials than the other jackets covered thus far.
Therefore expect to see corduroy, denim, tweed, leather, and a multitude of other fabrics.
In addition to heavier fabrics, sport jackets typically will also have elbow patches (however these oftentimes don’t serve a purpose and are strictly there for show and a nod to their heritage):
The same goes for ticket pockets as well:
Sport jackets often may have pleats in the back as well giving a man the ultimate range of movement. This extra room within the jacket would allow for traditional weekend hunting along with comfort and wearing a few extra layers of clothing.
Being that the sport jacket is the most casual of the jackets covered so far, they are also extremely versatile in the clothing options that you can pair with them.
With a sport jacket you can comfortably wear denim jeans and boots as the bottom end of the fashion scale upwards to a nice(er) pair of trousers and loafers.
One must be mindful however of not having patterns that clash too much between both the jacket and the trousers. If your jacket has a distinct pattern on it, then you will want to opt for trousers that are a bit more plain in detail so you don’t look too busy with patterns.
Being that sport jackets are the most casual, they will often be single breasted and have either 2 or 3 buttons with a notched lapel. While double breasted sport coats do exist, they aren’t that popular in this category.
What Did We Learn Abouts Suits vs Blazers vs Sport Jackets?
Suits are by and far going to be for the formal occasions in your life and will have a matching pair of trousers that are paired with the jacket.
This ensures that the fabric wears evenly and that you have a consistent look between both pieces (coat and trousers).
Blazers don’t come with a matching pair of trousers and can be mixed with a variety of bottoms. You never want to try and match trousers to a blazer – they will never be as close as what you would get with a suit jacket and trousers.
Blazers can give you a terrific formal look that make it idea for the business casual setting and will set you apart from the crowd in looking great.
Both suit jackets and blazers do come in a single breasted (2 or 3 button variety) and also double breasted.
Lastly sport coats are the most casual and are great for weekend wear. They are likely going to be made of heavier fabrics and bold designs.
They often times come in a single breasted and with either 2 or 3 buttons.
Sport jackets pair nicely with dark denim and shoes (or even loafers).