The Suit 101 – Blazer, Jacket, Tunic, and Coat Explained

It is clear why confusion plagues so many men about how they should dress when the basic nomenclature employed is consistently misused and abused. The terms ‘jacket’, ‘coat’, and ‘blazer‘ are often used interchangeably. While I enjoy the casual nature of modern life and the greater equality it affords us this laziness in language reduces a man’s capacity and his ability to be present in the world in the way he both desires and deserves.

George Orwell put it this way in 1984, “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought”.  Ludwig Wittgenstein stated in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, “The limits of my language means the limits of my world.” To this end, let us move away from a corrupt and limited world into one fashioned for a gentleman.

All of the terms in discussion relate back to the early 19th century when clothing that covered a man’s torso was either an ‘over’ or ‘under’ coat. While the term ‘overcoat’ has persisted in use, the term ‘under-coat’ has not. The garments discussed here are in the class of being an under-coat, and as such some still carry the suffix of coat.

A Brooks Uniform Co. blazer with the 1923 Princeton University insignia

A Brooks Uniform Co. blazer with the 1923 Princeton University insignia

Blazer – This garment finds its origins in the world of varsity athletics, with the Lady Margaret Boat Club of 1825 laying claim to the term. The team’s bright red club jackets were nick-named ‘blazers’ and the term later expanded to include all manner of flannel-based jackets used in gentlemens sports, such as boating, cricket, tennis or rowing. Consistent to the blazer is the use of patch pockets and brass, or otherwise ornate, buttons. A crest or insignia is often affixed to the outside left breast pocket of a blazer.

Diagram of a Patch Pocket

Diagram of a Patch Pocket

The point of wearing a blazer is to mark yourself with your connection to an activity or organization and as such may be worn in place of a dinner jacket at dinner. A special type of blazer evolved from the late-Victorian naval officer’s uniform that featured a navy double-breasted jacket with brass buttons; the reefer jacket. Please note that to refer to a pea coat as a reefer jacket is lazy and spurious.

Edward VIII in a Reefer Jacket

Edward VIII in a Reefer Jacket

Tunic – In regards to men’s clothing a tunic applies specifically to the jackets worn by members of the military. The tunic is a jacket that usually ends between mid to lower thigh and is of sturdy construction. It will use large and often brass buttons.

British Army Officer's Tunic

British Army Officer’s Tunic

The military tunic has consistently played a key role in the development of men’s jacket styles.

Jacket – A jacket is a garment that has sleeves and a front closure that is worn over a man’s shirt. It is the last layer of under-coat before donning any type of overcoat. The jacket is the broadest term for this piece of clothing and as such has many distinct types – the dinner jacket, sports jacket, riding jacket, etc. Also included are the previously mentioned blazer, reefer (jacket) and tunic. All jackets are considered under-coats, hence them sometimes being called a sports coat, dinner coat, morning coat, etc.

The jacket is considered one half of the suit, the basic mens outfit, the other half being the trousers. Hardy Amies wrote about why the suit is important,

“It is the most comfortable costume in which a man can conduct the life which modern conditions make for him. It is a second skin in which he has placed pockets. He needs the pockets to carry the paraphernalia of living: money, keys, drivers license, and a handkerchief. Deprive a man of his pockets and he will need a handbag.”

When I think of the various types of handbags and purses being foisted on men today Sir Amies words become prophetic. A gentleman uses a wallet, briefcase, or satchel – never a ‘man-purse‘ – but that discussion is for another time. The point is, that as the modern male has abandoned the jacket and its pockets, he so too has abandoned a portion of his masculinity and certainly his maturity.

Sean Connery as James Bond in a Dinner Jacket Beating the House

Sean Connery as James Bond in a Dinner Jacket Beating the House

Cary Grant in a Suit Jacket Out-running a Plane

Cary Grant in a Suit Jacket Out-running a Plane

Zach Galifianakis Not Wearing a Jacket and Not Doing Anything

Zach Galifianakis Not Wearing a Jacket and Not Doing Anything

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