Building a Basic Sport Coat Wardrobe
We breakdown the elements of building your basic sport coat wardrobe, including the classic navy sport coat.
Starting a Basic Sport Coat Wardrobe
In an increasingly casual world, where even tucking your shirt can make you look dressed up, it can be hard to wear tailored clothing without standing out. When George Frazier singled out AJ Biddle as the best dressed man in the United States in a September 1960 issue of Esquire, readers were surprised to find that Biddle’s wardrobe was relatively monastic. The then Adjutant General of Pennsylvania mostly relied on suits – a total of seven in his wardrobe – which were then supplemented with some formal wear, outerwear, and a couple of Harris Tweeds.
Few men today can get away with a suit heavy wardrobe, but tailored clothing remains one of the most flattering things a man can wear. Unlike casualwear, which is typically made with just a shell fabric, tailored jackets are built up from multiple layers of haircloth, canvassing, and padding. This allows a skilled tailor to give the wearer the illusion of a more idealized figure.
So then, what’s the solution? If you feel suits are too formal, consider sport coats. They give you all the benefits of a tailored jacket without making it look like you’re heading into a Monday meeting. They can be dressed up with a tie and tailored trousers, or worn more casually with chinos or jeans. They work just as well for the office or weekends. And in softer cuts, they can look relaxed and semi-casual. Sport coats are also a fantastic option for travel, and our uncanvassed Model 7 was developed with travel specifically in mind.
For a starting wardrobe, consider getting five sport coats in unassuming fabrics and versatile colors – saturated blues, chocolate browns, sandy tans, and possibly a bit of olive green. The fabrics should be textured or come in more casual patterns to distinguish them from suit jackets, but they should also be low-key enough to be worn multiple days a week without anyone remarking. You can achieve different looks with the same coat by varying your choices in shirts, ties, and trousers.
Depending on your lifestyle and climate, we suggest starting with one staple navy sport coat, then two coats for Spring/Summer and two coats for Fall/Winter.
The Staple: A Navy Sport Coat
After a dark worsted suit, a navy sport coat is one of the most useful items you can own. It can be worn with a pair of grey flannel trousers, a semi-spread collared shirt, and a rep striped tie to the office, but look just as appropriate with a pair of jeans and an open-collared button-down on weekends. It can also serve as your travel jacket, carrying you through client meetings, bunches, and even local sightseeing.
Your first sport coat should be made from a textured wool, such as a hopsack. In a mid-weight 10 to 13 ounce cloth, such a coat can be worn on all but the warmest or coldest of days. Plain colored, textured fabrics such as these will distinguish your sport coat from more formal worsted wool suit jackets, so you don’t look like you accidentally spilled something on your suit trousers and had to change out of them.
Spring/Summer Sport Coats
There are three main fabrics for Spring/Summer: tropical wool, linen, and wool-silk-linen blends (or slight variations thereof, such as silk-linen or wool-linen).
Tropical wool is a type of high-twist, open-weave fabric that allows body heat to easily escape. Long ago, spinners found they could create more resilient yarns by twisting the fibers one or two more turns. When woven into cloth, these high-twist yarns were also wrinkle resistant, which makes tropical wool garments not only supremely comfortable in the heat – thanks to that open-weave – but also excellent for travel. A softly tailored, tropical wool sport coat, made with minimal structure and lining, would be perfect for those dogged days of summer and long flights.
Linen, on the other hand, is the opposite. The flax fiber wrinkles easily, but that’s also part of its charm. Linen sport coats look relaxed, carefree, and casual. Broadly speaking, Scottish linen tends to be slightly denser and heavier, which means they rumple more than they wrinkle. Italian linens, on the other hand, are often lighter in weight and have a more porous weave. They’re terrific on warmer days, but crease easily. A linen sport coat can be a good choice if you plan on wearing something more casually on weekends, although they can be too informal for some offices. Consider them in colors such as navy, tobacco brown, and olive.
Finally, a wool-silk-linen blend gives you the best of all worlds. Wool adds drape; silk sheen and strength to the yarns; and linen a bit of crunchy texture. These blends are often livelier and more unique than the pure-fiber counterparts, and they can be a great way to add some texture to a casual summer outfit.
Fall/Winter Sport Coats
Fall and winter are really about tweed, one of the oldest – if not the oldest – of British textiles. Prickly in texture and earthy in color, they go well with cavalry twills, flannels, whipcords, moleskin trousers, chinos, and jeans.
When shopping around, you’ll find an endless variety. Shetland and Cheviot tweeds are named so because the fabric is woven from the wool of Shetland and Cheviot sheep; Harris and Donegal tweeds are called such because they’re woven in the Harris and Donegal regions. There are also hundreds of patterns, many of which are referred to as district checks because of how the plaids were used to identify people from specific sporting estates. The word “glen,” for example, is Gaelic for valley. So members of the Glen Urquhart estate used to wear what’s known as Glenurquhart check, which today has been simply shortened to glen plaid – the name for that simple criss-cross check often seen on business suits.
For a starting wardrobe, consider getting two mid- to heavier-weight tweeds in dark brown. You can add olive or gray to your wardrobe, if you’d like, but two dark brown tweeds – possibly a solid colored Donegal and conservatively patterned Harris – can be worn easily across a range of trouser options without anyone noticing.
If traditional British tweeds are too warm and prickly for you, try a worsted tweed – or what’s sometimes called a town or city tweed. These are smoother, worsted wool fabrics made with rustic tweed patterns. They’re excellent for those who love the British country look, but live in a warmer city. They can also help you transition into and out of colder seasons, giving you the look of autumn without any of the insulating bulk.
You can expand a sport coat wardrobe from here in any number of ways. For Spring/Summer, consider cheerier plaids and brighter colors in lightweight fabrics, possibly even madras and seersucker if your tastes lean American. For Fall/Winter, there’s corduroy, flannel, and serge. A fuller sport coat wardrobe may include five or six coats per season, so a man can realize a bit more variety in his appearance, as well as give each garment time to rest and recover its shape between wearings. But five is a good figure to start – your staple navy sport coat, then two more for each season.