According to Art Lewin, a master designer of bespoke suits who has been in the tailoring business since 1989, there’s one question he gets asked more than any other: What’s the difference between a blazer and a sport coat?
In fact, earlier this year, in a piece I wrote about how the casual blazer is the new king of formal workwear, I used the terms interchangeably. Which again, per Lewin, is fairly common. Albeit, wrong. “That comes up at least once a day with my clients,” he tells me. “Nobody knows the difference.”
What may explain the confusion is that both the blazer and sport coat originated around the same time in England. In the case of the blazer, it first emerged in 1825 with the red “blazers” of the rowing club of St. John’s College. The team’s club jackets were termed blazers because of their — surprise, surprise — distinctive bright red cloth.
As for the sport coat, Lewin tells me it was born out of English hunting culture. In particular, it was initially worn at shooting parties on the estates of the Duke of Norfolk in the late 1800s, according to The Gentleman’s Gazette. Made of tweed, the Norfolk jacket originally featured a belted waist and gussets to alleviate the stiffness of a normal jacket. It also came equipped with large, functional pockets for holding cartridges and provisions. (The gussets, belted waist and large pockets were all gone by the 1920s, though the tweed has obviously lived on to see another century.)
Here’s where things become really confusing, though. Lewin says the main difference between a blazer and a sport coat is that a blazer is one color while a sport coat is two or more colors. The thing is, the blazer wasn’t historically just a single color. Case in point: The jacket was further popularized in its infancy by the crew of the HMS Blazer, whose captain dressed his men in blue-and-white striped jackets. A hundred years later, in the 1960s, the striped blazer was re-popularized by British Mod culture — namely, The Who, The Stones, The Beatles, etc.
Nonetheless, today, the sport coat maintains its reputation as a multicolored jacket, while the blazer, which Lewin says is typically considered more formal attire, is the term for any single-color jacket with a lapel. “Brooks Brothers made it the jacket to go to when you’re not wearing a suit,” Lewin explains. But he also admits, “You could still wear a blazer with jeans or khakis, too — just like a sport coat.” (Cue the confusion all over again.)
There is one clear differentiator for him, however: In terms of his sales at least, the sport coat is much more popular than the blazer. “Blazers tend to be a little stuffy and older,” Lewin tells me. “The sport coat leaves a bit more room for personality.”
Well, that solves it.