In’s and Out’s of Outerwear

In’s and Out’s of Outerwear

Q. I have read your explanations of what is more and less formal in suits, shirts, etc., and having worked in offices for decades I am generally clear on those. My question is about light outerwear–wind-breakers, (non-blazer) jackets, sweaters, hoodies … etc.  Between lunches out,  golfing, museums, and friends’ homes, I spend a lot of time in Spring and Summer wearing different outerwear and wondering if I am appropriate.  Is there a clear scale there?

A. The truth is “no,” there isn’t really a clear-cut scale as to which specific types of outerwear are dressier or more formal than others. Actually, there is a great deal of overlapping: some jackets are much more versatile than others and will take you to a lot more places; some are very narrow in their appropriateness, and some are almost as essential to a man’s wardrobe as a blazer.   

When I began to think of all the possible outerwear garments from the dressiest to the most casual, I was surprised at how long the list was. Since your question concerns those that are less dressy than topcoats and classic trench coats, here is the list I came up with (in a very roughly approximate order of formality):

Dressy Casual — three-quarter length wool/cashmere coat, wool pea coat, leather bomber jacket;

Less Dressy — full-zip and half-zip wool jacket, fur-collared jacket, down jacket, puffer jacket;

More Informal — cotton sports-inspired jacket, denim jacket, sleeveless fleece vest, nylon windbreaker, anorak, parka, fleece zip jacket;

Informal — hooded fleece jacket, plaid lumberjack shirt-jacket, sweatshirt, sweatshirt hoodie, as well as an array of sweaters ranging from cashmere and wool to cotton and acrylic.

Each of the above has its own unique styling and uses.   

As an overall guide, dressier outerwear jackets are dark colors, have smooth textures, and are most often made of wool or leather; more casual jackets are light or bright colors, may have quilted or nubby textures, and are made of cotton, denim, or nylon. Certainly, no one man needs all of these, but he could easily want to include, and enjoy wearing, one or more in any of these categories. 

Which ones do you need? If you work in an office setting, some of the dressier ones could be essentials. But,  as for those outerwear garments that are narrowly limited to super-casual dressing, such as short nylon windbreakers, not every wardrobe needs one. On the other hand, if you are a guy whose lifestyle has nothing to do with business/office settings, you might think of such an item as truly essential.                                    

At a bare minimum, a well-rounded wardrobe might include the following: a leather jacket, a zip-front wool jacket, a rain-proof windbreaker, a fleece vest, and a couple of versatile sweaters. For today’s many informal situations, such as outdoor dining, it might make more sense to wear a jacket or sweater layered over a long-sleeved shirt rather than the navy blazer or tweed sports jacket you might have worn a few years ago. Even so, don’t go overboard and dress down in an athletic-looking fleece hoodie to a restaurant or an event where, in the past, you might have worn a suit or a blazer. Keep in mind that the specific jacket you wear reflects your taste and judgement. So, don’t make the mistake of thinking they are all alike. Take your time, and choose carefully.

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