Blazers vs. Suits

Blazers vs. Suits

Q. Can I wear blazers with trousers of the same color (when they are not suits)? I have two black blazers, one new and fashionably cut and one somewhat older with a thin windowpane plaid. And I have a gray, also slim-cut, blazer that looks like a ’60s Beatles style. Is there any reason these cannot be worn with solid or pinstripe black and gray trousers respectively?

A. The answer to your first question is “no.” Do not wear a blazer with trousers that are the same color — but not the identical fabric — as the jacket. In men’s tailored clothing, a suit is defined as a set of garments made from the same cloth, consisting of at least a jacket and trousers. Suits are traditionally worn with a collared shirt and necktie; currently, they are also often worn with an open-at-the-neck dress shirt and no tie. Both ways of dressing are on the dressy side.

Instead of a matched suit, you are asking about wearing a blazer or a sports jacket with what the clothing industry refers to as “odd” (unmatched) trousers. This is a step down in formality from wearing a suit. There are several correct ways to wear a blazer or sports jacket and trousers, and a few ways not to. The most definite way not to combine a blazer or sports jacket is with a pair of pants that are so similar to the jacket that the result looks like an almost matched suit. The big problem is that word, “almost.” What you do not want to do is create an almost suit because it is sure to end up looking, not almost like, but definitely like, a mistake. It comes off as if you picked the wrong pieces out of your closet or one piece was damaged and you tried to sneak another in; essentially, it looks like you’re trying for “dressy,” but not willing to buy it.

So, what trousers are appropriate to wear with your various blazers? My advice: Never wear pinstripe trousers except as part of the pinstripe suit they came with. Such a look does not work as anything other than a costume. Here are a few thoughts for your solid black blazer. You could wear it with dark or light gray trousers, with khaki or camel trousers, with a pair of patterned dress pants such as a subtle gray glen plaid, with jeans, or in summer with off-white wool pants or pure white cotton jeans. Your black blazer with the windowpane needs contrasting solid-color pants. They should probably be gray, beige, khaki, or off-white.

As for your gray blazer, if you actually mean the no-collar dated Beatles’ style, that is extremely casual and really is “night out” wear, not workwear. If, however, you just mean a light-to medium-gray sports coat in a Mad Men era cut, the thinking is the reverse of the black blazer. Here you would wear odd trousers in solid dark colors such as black or navy. This is one of the few times when dark blue dress pants could look good.

Regarding blazers versus suits, occasionally you can break up a suit, but you must consider a few “ifs.” One is if you do not care that the jacket will get more wear than the trousers and may, therefore, become unwearable as a useful suit. Another is if the fabric is appropriate as a sports jacket. Such solid colors as dark blues, dark grays, and black can work as separate sports jackets. So, too, can tweeds, checks, and plaids. But boardroom-correct suiting fabrics such as pinstripes, chalk stripes, and shadow stripes are too dressy and too elegant to be used in a sports coat. Here is a trick that may help you decide. While I am not recommending that you make a habit of wearing a blazer with jeans, still, if your sixth sense tells you not to even consider combining your jacket with a pair of jeans, then the jacket should probably only be worn as part of the suit it came with.

If you are wondering what constitutes a blazer and what constitutes a suit jacket, the buttons and pockets are often (but not always) giveaways that a jacket is not part of a suit. A suit has matched buttons and inset pockets. A blazer/sports coat may have contrasting buttons (metal on a blazer or leather on a sports coat) and often has patch pockets. Blazers and sports jackets may be brighter and bolder in color and pattern than would be appropriate in a suit. A suit jacket tends to be a closer and tighter fit than a blazers/sports jacket because it is not meant to be layered. These subtle differences affect the degree of formality. Understanding them will help you know what to wear so you don’t find yourself wearing a sports jacket to an event that calls for a suit.

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