How to buy a summer sportcoat (the complete 2020 guide)
The warm weather has arrived. So much so, that I am writing this article as I lounge at the pool. It would be nice if every office had a pool, and along with it, the flexibility to jump in whenever you wanted to cool off. But if that’s not the case, there is something else you can do: you can keep your cool by dressing smarter with a summer sportcoat. So, how do you go about shopping for one?
You see, in the fall and winter you can get away with just about anything. Want to layer a heavy cotton dress shirt with a vest and wool suit? Sure, go for it! That conference room is probably set at 65 degrees so you’ll be just fine. But in the summer you have to shed some layers. That means no vests, fewer neck ties, and unbuttoned cuffs. And while I plan to go on and on in a subsequent post on easy ways to stay cool, there is one item that I want to focus on this week: the summer sportcoat.
I can’t think of any other item of clothing that can have more of an impact on helping you stay cool than swapping out your heavy suit jacket for a lighter alternative.
That being said, I bought myself a new summer jacket this year. I wanted something versatile and comfortable. A summer sport coat that I could wear not only throughout the summer, but also in the fall. And one that would be appropriate for the daytime hours, but also double as a cocktail jacket.
So, please allow me to take you through my thought process on how I selected my summer-weight jacket.
Step 1: Summer jacket fabric selection
First and foremost, you need to select a fabric that will breath.
For summer, you are going to want either linen, cotton, or some wool blend. Otherwise, you will invariably end up with a heavier coat. That won’t necessarily be a bad thing, because it will still be a great pick for the fall, you’ll just be sweating bullets for all the wrong reasons and find yourself waiting for the cooler weather to return.
Briefly, here’s what you need to know about summer jacket fabrics:
A cotton jacket, or a cotton suit for that matter, is a great pick for summer. As you are probably well aware, cotton breathes like a pro and is easy to clean. It will be a little thicker than a linen or wool blend (maybe), but it’s a solid pick.
I know what you’re thinking – “But linen wrinkles!” Yes, it does wrinkle, get over it. It won’t be that bad. After all, you can always steam it real quick before you put it on and you’ll look and feel like a million bucks because linen breathes better than any other fabric, in my opinion. You will definitely stay well ventilated in a linen summer sport coat so it should come as no surprise that it’s a summer staple for most men.
Some fabrics will be a blend of linen and wool. This will cut down on the wrinkle factor and give the jacket a more “suit-like” look. This will make your jacket a little more versatile for say, evening events or cooler weather.
Not only is bamboo a sustainable fabric, but it’s super comfortable and smooth to the touch. An excellent choice for allergy prone skin, bamboo is breathable and an all-around great option for warm climates.
By the way, here’s a handy Daily BE episode that compares the look and feel of two seemingly very similar fabrics:
Ryan’s pick: I chose something in a blue so that I could wear it with virtually anything. Regarding fabric, I went with a linen/wool blend. I got the versatility of a wool blend and the great textured look of a linen jacket. This was a good pick for me because I wanted a jacket that I could wear into the cooler months. Yes, it may be a little warmer in the summer than a pure linen would have been, but I had a plan for that…
Step 2: Construction
Something that not everyone knows is that suits have varying levels of construction. And by that I don’t mean quality (although indeed they do!), but that the canvas and lining can vary in their coverage of the jacket fabric.
Regarding summer sportcoat jackets, you’re going to want to go with something that is “unstructured.” What this means is that the canvas that usually covers much of a suit is now gone; you’re going to stay a lot cooler, after all, it’s one less layer that you’re wearing.
However, this doesn’t mean that the shoulder is completely unpadded. There will still be padding there, but it will be noticeably thinner than what you may be used to wearing. Again, this reduction in material will help to keep you cool.
With most unconstructed jackets, the lining goes away entirely. However, here at BE, we use what’s called a “1/8 lining” or “butterfly” lining. This means that the lining is only around the upper back and around the arm hole because we want our jackets to still have a little protection from sweat, and also for aesthetic reasons. The resulting shape resembles a butterfly, hence the name.
Ryan’s pick: Unconstructed and with a butterfly lining (matched to the suit fabric, of course). I wanted to eliminate as much fabric as possible so that I would be comfortable sitting on a coffee shop patio in 80 degrees.
Step 3: Style
Here’s the key thing to remember about the style of any summer sportcoat: it’s going to be inherently casual. For instance, with a fabric like linen or cotton, that means silk ties are out because the fabrics will clash in texture. Consequently, you’re going to want to carefully choose your style details. You’ll need to be mindful that the jacket is somewhat casual by default, but also realize that you can bend the rules a little.
Notched lapel versus peaked lapel
If you need a refresher on the differences between notched lapels and peaked lapels, take a look at one of my older articles on the topic, here. In summation of that article, notched lapels were versatile and commonplace, whereas peaked lapels were reserved for formal and/or bold occasions.
So what should you choose for your summer sport coat? Well, a notched lapel is the obvious choice. It’s going to be casual and versatile. But what about peaked lapels? Is that to say that you can never wear a peaked lapel in a summer coat? No, of course not. But you just need to be mindful that it’s going to look a little flashier and be more challenging to pull off.
Ryan’s pick: Notched lapel. A peaked lapel was just too formal for me. If I had a cocktail perpetually in my hand, OK, peaked lapel it is. But for the occasions that I saw myself wearing this jacket in, a notched lapel just made much more sense.
2 buttons versus 1
Similar to the lapel choice you need to make, the number of buttons on your summer sportcoat will reflect its level of formality.
1 button: A single button jacket is more or less a cocktail jacket. It’s cool and sophisticated in all the right ways. And because of this, it’s also less versatile. Many of my meetings are at coffee shops and folks’ places of business and so I think a single button jacket may look a little out of place. However, my next sport coat will definitely be a single button (and peaked lapels!).
2 button: Your more versatile pick.
Ryan’s pick: 2 button for its versatility. And remember, never button the bottom button!
I suppose there is some truth behind having better ventilation with 2 side vents versus 1 center vent. But I usually err on the Italian side, and so I opted for the single center vent on this summer sport coat. Just go with what feels comfortable to you.
How many cuff buttons?
Admittedly, this is a minor thought for some people. But for those of you that really want to take advantage of the power of bespoke, I encourage you to give some thought to how many buttons you have on your cuff. Four is standard, whereas anything less shows that you put some thought into your clothes.
Ryan’s pick: 2 buttons on the cuff. I wanted it to be clear that this was a sophisticated summer jacket. As if to say, “I’m all dressed up, but don’t take me too seriously.”
Step 4: Summer jacket details
Now is the time to have some fun. Summer sport coats mean that you can have a little more fun with the details than you would with a more conservative business suit.
Button hole accents
You’ll notice that I opted for a light blue accent on both the lapel button hole and the cuff button holes.
Regarding the cuff button holes, I was originally kicking around the idea of making each buttonhole a different color. If memory serves, I was going to go with one blue and the other white. But after thinking about it more, I couldn’t help but think that the multiple colors would end up being distracting, so I settled on just the blue.
And on the topic of button hole accents in general, when building a jacket, be sure that the jacket can stand alone without any of the colorful accents. In other words, a great looking jacket should look awesome without anything else and it should look even better with the accents. It’s sometimes easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you “need a pop of color,” and then you end up with something that is downright distracting.
Also, bear in mind that colored accents should always refer to your wardrobe. What this means with the subject sport coat, is that I choose a light blue color to refer to the fabric itself, and also knowing that I was likely going to wear a blue pocket square with this jacket more than any other color. Therefore, the accent stitching helps to integrate the whole look.
I chose besom pockets for their nice clean look on this particular summer sport coat. Even though this jacket is meant to be a casual summer coat, the besom pockets give it a sophisticated touch. I think it’s in great contrast to the textured linen/wool fabric. They are also slanted because angled jacket pockets are one of the tell-tale signs of bespoke menswear.
It’s worth noting that with these besom pockets, you’ll be wise to not use them. The reason being is that since they are of the besom design, if you start packing them with your car keys and your phone, they will eventually “open up” and then they won’t lay nice and flat like you want them to. So keep them stitched up and they will look great.
And remember, you have tons of pockets on the inside of your jacket. With the obvious exception of your chest pocket (hello, pocket squares!), your inside pockets are where you should be storing your things.
Wrap up: summer sportcoat
That covers the basics on how to choose a summer sportcoat. As you can see, there are some smart things you can do to ensure that your coat becomes your seasonal favorite. Just so long as you stick with a breathable fabric and you request the unconstructed option, you’ll stay nice and cool.
One note on how you wear these jackets. Because it’s summertime and it’s hot outside, don’t forget that you wear your clothes, not the other way around. For instance, it’s perfectly acceptable these days to scrunch up your jacket sleeves for a short time (not all day long, fellas). And when the thermometer climbs into the red, loosen up the buttons on your cuff to promote ventilation.
I hope this article helps to shed some light on how you can create your own seasonal jacket. And if you’re still wearing the same suit year round and sweating your way through the summer, then hopefully now you are enlightened.
By the way, here’s our guide on how to shop for a full summer suit.
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