The Odd Suit Jacket

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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.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.

Comments

  1. Adam says:

    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

  2. stephen says:

    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?

  3. neil s says:

    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.

  4. Harry says:

    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?

  5. Jermyn says:

    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!