How to Wear a Sports Jacket With Jeans

The sports jacket is one of the best, most versatile items a man can have in his wardrobe. The benefits of this piece of clothing are myriad. First, it enhances your silhouette, broadening and heightening your shoulders, slimming your midsection, and giving you a more masculine appearance overall. Second, it offers a good number of pockets, so you can lighten the load on your trousers and have what you need ready at hand. And third, it affords you an opportunity to be a gentleman; should a lady friend become cold, you can remove your jacket and lend her its warmth.

Thus, any way to extend the times and places in which a sports coat may be worn is a win by me. And one such way is to pair one’s jacket with jeans.

Wearing jeans and a sports coat is a somewhat controversial move; it has been called “the business mullet” (formal up top, casual on the bottom) by its critics. And it’s true that done wrong, the look can come off quite poorly.

But executed well, pairing a sports coat and jeans results in a sharp, casual look that will easily become your go-to getup for a variety of situations. The key to pulling it off is simply to choose the right jeans, the right jacket, and the right accessories. How to do that is what we’ll be covering today.

The Overarching Principle for Successfully Pairing a Sports Jacket With Jeans

business mullet wrong suit jacket casual jeans

Too formal top + too casual bottom = business mullet.

The main reason the sports coat and jeans look fails is that the two pieces are too jarringly matched. Generally, the jeans are too casual, and the jacket is too formal. And often both pieces are too baggy. The solution of course is to make sure that top and bottom complement each other well — that your jeans are a little more formal, your jacket is a little more casual, and everything fits well. Remember, fit is the foundation of style!

Choose Your Jeans

right wrong way to wear sports jacket coat jeans

Baggy, over-casual jeans (left), look incongruous paired with a sports jacket, while jeans with a more tailored look (right), complement the jacket nicely.

This is the easiest part of the equation: choose clean, dark, well-fitted, trouser-esque denim. Avoid ripped, baggy, faded, and distressed jeans. Lighter denim can sometimes work, especially if you’re Robert Redford circa 1975. But to keep it simple, go with a nice, deep indigo.

Choose Your Sports Jacket

This is the area where you’ll have to exercise more discretion.

The first question that often arises is whether one’s coat has to be of the sports variety, or whether one can pair jeans with a suit jacket or blazer.

When it comes to wearing a suit jacket and jeans, the answer is, with very few exceptions, decidedly no. A suit jacket is more structured, spare in details, smooth in fabric, and formal in appearance; thus, paired with the casualness of jeans, the resulting look is simply too discordant and jarring.

The blazer jacket sits in-between the formality levels of the suit jacket and the sports jacket. It can work with jeans, especially if it is made of a thicker, more textured fabric like flannel or serge, rather than the fine worsted wool common to suit jackets. But it can still come off as too formal to pair well with denim.

When it comes to style, most men are better off adhering to fairly simple rules, rather than delving into nuances and exceptions, so when it comes to donning a jacket with your jeans, I recommend sticking solely with the sports coat. It’s hard to go wrong with it. The sports jacket was created in the 19th century for gentlemen who needed a more rugged, utilitarian garment for active pursuits like shooting, hunting, riding, and golf. The jacket was thus constructed of thicker fabrics and adorned with patch pockets for cartridges, elbow patches for durability, and slits in the back for mobility. These rustic, casual style details are what make the sports jacket a quite fitting companion for the rustic, casualness of denim. In fact, the more casual the jacket, the better it will complement your jeans.

Here are a few things to generally look for in a sports jacket that will pair particularly well with jeans:

sport jacket coat color contrast

A jacket in a color that contrasts with your jeans (right), generally looks better than a jacket in a similar color (left).

  • Unstructured and soft-shouldered.
  • Casual, textured fabric. Linen or cotton in warmer months; tweed, corduroy, etc. for colder weather.
  • Casual style details like patch pockets and elbow patches.
  • Two buttons over three.
  • Thin notch lapels over peak lapels.
  • Well-fitted. Sports coats are cut roomier than suit jackets and blazers in order to allow for layering underneath. But you don’t want the fit to be too baggy.
  • High color contrast with jeans. Sports coats, unlike suit jackets, aren’t supposed to match your pants, and in fact look best when they form a sharp contrast with them. Thus a light-colored sports coat generally looks best with dark denim.

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