Buyers Guide to Men’s Sports Jackets

 Sports jackets - absolutely no man should be without one (or several). This versatile jacket can be worn for smart or casual occasions (or for those perplexing ‘smart casual’ invites) and is the perfect way to frame your look.
Whether you’re looking for a classic navy sports jacket or something a little more exciting, we’ll talk you through how to select a sports jacket that is perfect for you.

Where did the sports jacket originate?

Firstly, let’s clear something up – a sports jacket is neither a blazer nor the top half of a two-piece suit. It is in a class entirely of its own.
Blazers are far more delicate and require more care than a sports jacket. You could throw a sports jacket on a chair behind you at the pub and not worry whereas a blazer needs to be hung up carefully. This hardiness comes down to its origins as an outdoor piece of clothing.
Originally the sports jacket was known as a Norfolk jacket. It was a hip-length belted jacket with large pockets to hold accoutrements for shooting and fishing. Outdoorsy country gents needed a jacket made of a hardy fabric like herringbone or tweed with a single-breast and box pleats at the front and back for ease of movement when wielding a rifle or a fishing rod.
The sports jacket’s combination of practicality, style and comfort made it hugely popular and soon versions were created for a range of sporting and leisure activities – hence ‘Sports Jacket’.
Sports jackets became a way for men to liberate themselves from wearing a traditional dark and restrictive suit for informal day wear. As a wider range of colours and fabrics became available, pairing a sports jacket with contrasting trousers allowed men to show a bit of personality in their outfits.
As the sports jacket moved from the country to the city, the design became more streamlined. The cut was slightly more tailored, the belt and box pleats disappeared, and elbow patches became a fashion statement instead of a practical necessity.

Why should I wear a sports jacket?

A sports jacket is the simplest way to make any outfit a little smarter. Yes, even a t-shirt can be dressed up (but please make sure it’s crisp and tailored without any logos).
The sports jacket was originally worn by country gents shooting fowl. Today, it’s worn by men around the world from plumbers to bankers who want to look smart (but not forma) for occasions as varied as birthday parties to product launches, and even the office.
Sports jackets bridge that tricky fashion gap between formal and casual. They’re the fashion equivalent of taking an umbrella when you aren’t sure whether it will rain. If in doubt, take one out (of your wardrobe) and you’ll look impeccable regardless of the situation.

How many vents should a sports jacket have?

A vent is a vertical slit that rises upwards from the bottom hem on the back of the jacket. They were originally created so that a rider’s jacket could drape over their thighs rather than bunch up around their waist.
Different continents have different rules about the number of vents that a sports jacket should have, and generally these rules are based on the formality of the occasion you plan on wearing it to. However, in UK the general rule of thumb is:
  • A sports jacket with a single vent should be worn for casual or informal events.
  • A sports jacket with double vents should be worn for a more formal, elegant look.

How should a sports jacket fit? 

Today’s sports jackets are designed to wear over shirts, sweaters, and t-shirts so they are intentionally made with a little room to spare. However, ‘room’ need not mean a baggy jacket with excess fabric: a sports jacket can beautifully cut without looking shapeless.
When investing in quality pieces, the most important element is the overall fit of your sports jacket. With that in mind, when you try on your jacket be sure to pay attention to the:
Shoulder seams – You want to achieve a perfect right angle. The shoulder seam should gently hug, but not strangle your shoulder or look as if it is trying to get away from you.
Waistline – The jacket should give your waistline some definition. This doesn’t mean the jacket should fit tightly around your waist, it just needs to be tailored enough to give you some shape.
Button positioning – The top button of your sports jacket should sit at your belly button. Why? Because this is the most flattering position and creates an illusion of slenderness, no matter your shape or size. If the button is placed too high, the jacket will look boxy. If the button is too low, it can make your jacket lack structure and look sloppy.

How many sports jackets should you own?

Every man should have at least one sports jacket – the classic navy. Ideally, you’ll have a selection of high-quality sports jackets that includes classic pieces and a few that have a little personality.
Different occasions call for different styles of sports jacket, but before you purchase think about your lifestyle, what you like to wear, what suits you and where you spend most of your time. If you take a more formal approach to dressing, then we recommend investing in pieces that are timeless rather than style-driven and then throw in a playful option for the weekend. If your lifestyle permits a more creative approach to dressing, then you’re likely to need fewer formal choices but have an eclectic, yet classic mix of styles in your wardrobe.

What different styles of sports jacket are there?

The classic sports jacket is navy and can be formal with metal buttons or a laid back in an unusual fabric with contrasting buttons for some pizazz.

Classic navy sports jacket

This is your ‘go to’ sports jacket. If you don’t already own one, this should be your first purchase as it will suit most occasions.  Choose a mid-weight wool or flannel version for a classic look, or for a modern take try a hopsack or a mesh fabric which have quirky weaves that make the jacket a little more interesting.

Tweed sports jacket

A tweed jacket is a great choice if you live in the country or fancy a laid-back look for the weekend. There are hundreds of fabric choices for tweed jackets from a classic (but a little scratchy) Harris Tweed to lambs wool to smooth wools with a country style. Let your personality guide whether you choose a plain style or a bold check.

Cream or tan sports jacket

This style is more versatile than you think. It works well with either a crisp, white shirt or a blue shirt to give the jacket a lift. It can also be worn with neutral knitwear.
Choosing the colour will require some thought as it’s important to find the right shade for your skin tone. The paler you are, the warmer the colour of the jacket. If you have a warm skin tone, you can choose a cream. However, as we always say – try it on and experiment. Sometimes, a style and colour will pleasantly surprise you.

Check sports jacket

Checks are a great way to inject some personality into your look. If you’re the outgoing sort, try abold check in a contrasting colour, or go subtle with smaller, tonal checks like blue on blue. What type of fabric here? Flannel or wool?


This style harks back to the original Norfolk jacket and may still have a belt with box pleats and large pockets. Shooting jackets aren’t particularly popular now with the decline in hunting. They are often made in a heavier wool or tweed and are best suited to long country walks.


Similar in vein to a cream or tan jacket, sports jackets in lighter colours made with cotton/linen blends worn over a crisp white shirt are ideal for warmer evenings when on holiday. Avoid sweltering in your jacket by ensuring the lining is in a natural fabric as polyester will make you perspire.


While we don’t offer these, they have become popular again in recent years. You can avoid looking like a history professor by staying away from olive or brown tones and elbow patches and opt for rich reds, burgundy and even navy.
Should I choose a single-breasted vs double-breasted sports jacket?
Double-breasted designs are generally more formal while single-breasted designs tend to be more informal. There are no hard and fast rules here, however a single-breasted sports jacket will give you more versatility.
Single-breasted designs are also less cluttered and allow you to play a little more with texture and accessories.
What sports jackets should I choose for a casual look?
If you’re going for a casual look, sports jackets made in pure cotton, seersucker or fabrics with a blend of cotton and wool are perfect. You’ll want a fabric that moves and that looks better as time goes on.

How should I wear a sports jacket?

How you style an outfit with a sports jacket really depends on how formal, or casual, the occasion is. That said, there are a few classic combinations to try.
  • For a more formal look, pair a sports jacket with flannel trousers, a plain shirt and tie. If possible, match the fabric weight, or thickness, of the jacket with the weight of trousers.
  • For laid-back cool, pair with knitwear (we love a fine Merino sweater) and dark jeans.
  • For a quick dash to the pub or out and about on the weekend, pair a sports jacket with a crisp t-shirt and jeans.
  • For an evening date or a trip to the theatre, a white shirt with colourful sports jacket and dark trousers is perfect.

What accessories should I wear with a sports jacket?

When it comes to accessorising a sports jacket, let your personality shine!
Pocket squares are a great way to dress them up a bit and are a great way to introduce extra colour. We also love seeing a beautiful dress watch peek out from underneath a sleeve.
If you love neckwear and you’re feeling particularly dapper, add a cravat or a nice silk scarf for evening wear.
When you’re on holiday, a straw trilby or panama also looks quite fitting when worn with a cotton-linen blend sports jacket in a light colour.
Should I choose a peak or notch lapel on a sports jacket?
The lapel is the piece of fabric that sits just under the collar and is folded back on the chest.
What is a peak lapel on a sports jacket?
A peak lapel is where the top of the lapel juts up and out past the collar, creating a peak. They are a bold, sharp look for more formal occasions on a single-breasted blazer.
What is a notch lapel on a sports jacket?
A notched lapel is sewn onto the collar at an angle, creating a triangular notch or wedge between the collar and the lapel. These are the most common type of lapel and are great for casual occasions.
A notch lapel is the classic choice for a sports jacket – it’s a timeless look that will last you for years. However, considering your own style personality is the most important thing so if you want to add some edge then choose a peak lapel.
What other features of a sports jacket should I consider?
Once you’ve decided on your fabric and style it’s time to pay attention to the finer details on your sports jacket.
Stitching – We love using a 1mm stitch around the edge to add the finishing touch to a polished sports jacket. However, if you're hoping to create a casual look, opt for a sports jacket with no stitching around the edge or a 5mm stitch (which sits literally 5mm from the edge of the jacket).
Pockets – The style of the pockets says a lot about whether a sports jacket is suited to casual or dressier events.
  • Patch: This is literally a patch of the same fabric the jacket is constructed from is sewn on to the jacket. These are very simple and because they are so visual, they generally used on casual jackets. They can sag so it’s best not to put heavy items on them. Some have a flap over the top of the pocket.
  • Flap: Slightly more formal than a patch pocket, the pouch of the pocket is inside the jacket while a flap sits over the top of the opening on the outside of the jacket. We prefer these and use them on our ready-to-wear sports jackets.
  • Ticket pocket: This often takes the form of a third flap pocket above the pocket on the right-hand side of the jacket. It was originally created for men to store their train tickets and it was assumed that most men are right-handed, hence the location on the right side. You’ll find this style on our Tweed sports jackets.
  • Slanted: This style is perfect if you need somewhere to rest your hands and can aid to visually slim down your waistline.
  • Jetted/Welted: The most formal pocket style, the pouch sits inside the jacket while the opening is reinforced with a line of stitching (the welt). You’ll usually find Jetted pockets on formal suits and evening wear.
  • Breast pocket: This is placed on the left-hand side and is nearly always welted for a clean and classy look. Occasionally patch pockets are used on the breast to give the jacket a preppy look.
At Alexandra Wood we favour minimal details and focus more on creating a flattering cut so use welted breast pockets. We also place our waist pockets on a slight slant to flatter the waistline. For a tweed, shooting style sports jacket we often add an outside ticket pocket, too.
Shoulder design – there are a variety of shoulder styles available, but we tend to use a softly structured shoulder line, as we feel it flatters all shapes and sizes.
  • Softly structured: This style has shape but offers a slightly more comfortable look and feel which is ideal for sports jackets.
  • Rope: ‘Roping’ indicates that the top of the sleeve is slightly raised so it sits above the shoulder and forms a ridge. It’s quite common on Savile Row designed jackets and gives the jacket a more formal appearance.
  • Structured (English): This style is quite rigid and has significant canvassing and padding, which tends to be more ideal for business suits rather than sports jackets.
  • Unstructured (Italian): This style uses minimal canvassing to create a softer, draped look with plenty of movement. It’s generally considered an informal style and works well with an unconstructed sports jacket.
  • Neapolitan: This is similar to the Italian style, but it has slight puckering or shirring on the cap of the sleeve where it joins the shoulder. It’s generally considered elegant but relaxed.
What fabric should you choose for a sports jacket?
When shopping for a sports jacket, you’ll know instantly if you prefer a smooth elegant fabric or something textured or patterned with a little personality. Ideally, you’ll have a selection of both, but if you favour one over the other, then buy accordingly.
A word about comfort – textured fabrics don’t have to be itchy. If you are put off by tweed or textured wool, try one of our mesh versions which give you texture and personality without the scratchiness.

Smooth, elegant fabrics include:

Flannel, cashmere, super 120’s or 130s+, wool or a linen/cotton mix.

Textured fabrics include:

Hopsack, mesh, wool/cotton mixes, seersucker, corduroy and tweed.
About the Alexandra Wood sports jacket
Our range of ready-to-wear sports jackets will take you from casual dinners in summer, to informal parties in winter.
We like a high-quality yet minimal look, so we keep pockets and buttons streamlined and use the highest-quality fabrics available. But don’t be fooled, our playful side comes out with limited edition colours and linings.  
If you can’t find exactly what you are looking for, why not have your ideal sports jacket made-to-measure or completely bespoke?