In the foray of trying to understand the world of men’s fashion, the terminology can 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 entirely foreign. Like what is the difference between a notched, peaked, and shawl lapel? To be honest, they were for me when first starting to dive headfirst 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.
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, the fabric is one of the most critical components to it!
By fabric, I mean the roll of cloth 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 while wearing your suit. Therefore your suit from top to bottom will age at the same rate and look great on you for many years down the road.
Men generally should be wary of wearing their suit jackets on the weekends for casual wear. When you do this, the suit jacket will get ‘worn’ out per se and will ultimately leave you with a worn top and darker-looking trousers. Which will eventually 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, it’s often recommended to use either a blazer or sports jacket instead of a traditional suit jacket.
When it comes to the formality of all the jackets covered, suit jackets will be the most formal compared to both the blazer and sports jacket counterparts.
Regarding fit, suit jackets will be the snuggest and closest to the form of your body. They are designed only to have a dress shirt and perhaps a 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 much space for movement either. This is an added reason 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:
It is the defacto standard for single-breasted suits (we will cover the double-breasted suit in just a minute). 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 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, they still have their place for 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 will 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 and, of course, more versatile.
Shawl lapels are great if your 3rd or 4th suit jacket 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 than the sport jacket, which we will be going over in a minute.
When it comes to blazers, you will want to wear something along the lines of chino, khakis, or flannel materials, to just name a few. You can get away with wearing a dark pair of denim with double monks as well.
While we covered a few different lapel types within the suits section above, lapels for blazers are typically limited to 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 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 you wear in tandem don’t necessarily need to match.
Also, the sport jacket is that the fabrics will often 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 often 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 and give 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 additional layers of clothing.
The sport jacket is the most casual of the jackets covered so far; they are also highly 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.
However, one must be mindful of not having patterns that clash too much between the jacket and the trousers. If your jacket has a distinct design on it, then you will want to opt for trousers that are a bit plainer 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 About 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 paired with the jacket.
This ensures that the fabric wears evenly and that you consistently look between both pieces (coat and trousers).
Blazers don’t come with a matching pair of trousers and can be mixed with various 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 makes it ideal for the business casual setting and will set you apart from the crowd in looking great.
Both suit jackets and blazers come in a single-breasted (2 or 3 button variety) and 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 come in single-breasted and with either 2 or 3 buttons.
Sport jackets pair nicely with dark denim and shoes (or even loafers).
Shawn Burns is the founder and senior editor of Tools of Men. He started this site with the goal of teaching men proper grooming habits and sensible style. Shawn’s expertise includes in-depth product reviews and how-to articles. Shawn was recently featured in the Wall Street Journal for his expertise.