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All Hail the Casual Blazer, the New King of Formal Workwear

In a working world where no one can see below your chest, the suit has become an irrelevance

Stuck in eternal Zoom meeting ennui, my dad, ever the suit wearer, is finding himself tempted more and more by the humble sports coat. “I’m actually wearing one today,” he admits during a phone call on Monday morning. 

For the average pandemic cog, more likely to be found in sweatpants than trousers with any sort of structure, even the sports coat may seem unnervingly overdressed. But for my dad, anything other than a suit and tie is the sartorial equivalent of phoning it in. And yet, the times are changing — his slow erosion away from suits in favor of what style expert Rayne Parvis refers to as “California Cool” is noticeable to say the least. His closet, once a bevy of black, pinstripe and dark blue suits, has, over the last few years, been invaded by a strain of comfortable and “breathable” sports jackets. “It feels like I’m wearing a sweater but it’s more polished,” he says before pausing. “More professional.”

As a salesman, his need (or insistence) on appearing professional is just part of the job, even if he’s working from home. His clients, he says, “definitely judge a book by its cover.” “When I speak to people, I can’t just wear a T-shirt,” he says. “We’re not in the office but it should appear, at least for me, that I’m taking them seriously enough to wear a jacket.”

Decades ago, sports jackets — worn by men when they were participating in outdoor sporting activities, hence the name — were considered extra, a sign of wealth and luxury, with the most classic styles made from wool, specifically tweed. But these days, they’re the perfect disguise for any person who wants to feel a bit more formal as they find themselves scrutinized under the cold, hollow gaze of their laptop camera

“I’m finding men want to be comfortable but still look put together for Zoom meetings and social-distancing coffee dates,” says Parvis. At a time when athleisure has dominated all walks of sartorial life, the simple implementation of a sports coat is immediately elevating, she says. “Your pre-COVID business-casual is too formal and your at-home loungewear is too informal,” says Parvis. 

The solution? “A soft slub jersey cotton blazer you can throw over jeans and T-shirts,” says Parvis, who recommends the Downtown Soft Blazer from The Good Man Brand. (“The fabric is ultralight and moves freely with you while maintaining the tailored fit and structure you expect from a blazer,” per their site.) Parvis continues that this cotton casual version of a blazer is “a man’s perfect go-to for looking smart and dapper.” “I put this jacket in every fitting room and digital styling board, and it’s always a winner!” Parvis adds. 

Of course it is. The man in the casual blazer is the man who at least appears to be trying. In an era dominated by maintaining a facade of normal to cover up the societal equivalent of a 10-car pile-up during rush hour, a sports coat whispers, reassuringly, “Hey, I’m okay. I’m not completely incompetent. My life is not in shambles. You can trust me not to run your company into the ground.” 

Yes, they know you’re probably wearing board shorts underneath. But right now, who doesn’t want to believe the comforting lie?