There was once a time, and not all that long ago, when dressing ‘smart’ for a man meant one thing: a tailored jacket. There are still certain Neolithic men’s clubs and fusty restaurants that to this day require a blazer, but they are living relics, comfortably stuck in a twilight zone of tradition and nostalgia. Good luck to them, we say.
For the rest of us, the ‘smart’ jacket wrestled free from the shackles of the blazer some years ago, as menswear silhouettes once thought to be casual were elevated by designers incorporating luxury fabrics such as suede, leather and cashmere.
Don’t get us wrong, we love a tailored jacket, but there are times when you want your off-duty looks to have a polished edge without being in the least bit formal. We think the following styles tick all the right boxes…
The closest iteration to the classic tailored blazer, you can think of the knitted blazer as a pseudo cardigan with notch lapels and front patch pockets to lure in cold hands. Completely unstructured, and typically with a squared-off hem, it’s smart enough to be worn to the office but casual enough to be layered over an OCBD and jeans at the weekend.
It might not be suitable for sartorial purists, but you can’t deny its warm, comfortable embrace and versatility. As a rule of thumb, the chunkier the weave, the more casual it will be.
Pure wool, merino and cashmere options tend to be the holy trinity, with Italian brands such as Lardini, Eleventy, Doppiaa and Tagliatore all coming up with the perennial goods.
The overshirt has long been considered an item of workwear, most commonly in the form of heavyweight cotton flannel styles. A mainstay of the Americana aesthetic, they typically come in check patterns, most notably the instantly recognisable Buffalo check.
More recently however, the overshirt has enjoyed something of a tailored renaissance, appearing in fine wool yarns, suede and summer-weight linen, as well as the more common cotton varieties.
Construction-wise, the overshirt is a sort of hybrid of a regular shirt and a chore jacket, featuring two chest pockets (and no hip pockets) and a buttoned front with a placket. It’s a super-versatile layering piece you can wear over a tee with chinos, jeans or tailored trousers.
You’ll find great examples all along the price scale, with notable designs from the likes of Oliver Spencer, Drake’s, Suitsupply and Mr Porter’s own label, MR P.
Cropped to finish at the hips and with a classic turn-down collar, the tailored blouson is a beautiful menswear silhouette, and a distinct upgrade from a regular bomber or Harrington jacket, usually because of the luxury fabric it’s cut from, which in most cases tends to be wool, suede or leather.
Smarter than a chore coat but more casual than a blazer, the blouson is the perfect contemporary go-between. It references vintage military flight and bomber jackets, but has evolved to become less rugged and more refined over the years, thanks in part to brands such as Valstar, the Italian suede specialist which has perhaps done more for the popularity of the suede blouson than anyone else.
Suede Trucker Jacket
While the traditional trucker jacket has always been associated with denim, contemporary iterations cut from suede have helped elevate this icon of Americana from workwear staple to something altogether more sophisticated. With the addition of a shearling or faux-fur collar to contrast the smooth suede nap of the jacket, the trucker becomes a tactile, textural blouson that you can wear to dress up a casual pair of jeans or cotton twill chinos.
An excellent place to look is Mr Porter’s own label MR P, which has crafted a number of suede jackets in a variety of tones at price points that belie the quality. If cared for well, this timeless silhouette will last you a lifetime so think of it as an investment.
This underrated jacket defined by its mandarin collar gets its name from the former Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, although he never actually wore the style himself (he preferred a traditional longer version called an ‘achkan’). It didn’t become popular in the West until the mid 1960s when it started popping up on the shoulders of John, Paul, Ringo and George during their hippie period.
Although it’s state dress in India, the collarless aspect of it has aligned it more with workwear in the West, giving it the status of something more akin to the chore coat, but smarter.
You can find velvet styles of the Nehru at the likes of Favourbrook, but you’re more likely to come across cotton twill versions in khaki or neutral tones that you can wear with casual weekend outfits. The lack of a structural collar makes it a breeze to style with tees or layered over a crew-neck jumper.
What has always been thought of as an outdoorsy outer layer for warm climates, the safari jacket has morphed into a much more widely adopted sartorial option thanks to a number of high-level tailoring houses redefining the silhouette through luxury fabrics, not least cashmere and suede.
The safari jacket is defined by its turn-down collar, four patch pockets (two at the chest and two bellows pockets at the hips), mid-length cut and, more often than not, a belted waist. Born out of utility but evolved to become a sophisticated sartorial jacket, it feels more like a belted overshirt, and that’s how it should be worn.
Alfredo Rifugio has some killer hand-cut options in buttery-soft suede, while the likes of Rubinacci and Brunello Cucinelli deliver the cashmere goods. In the summer months, linen styles look extremely chic and can instantly elevate a pair of tailored shorts or chinos for that sophisticated Mediterranean aesthetic.
A minimalist treat from the East, the Kimono jacket is a shy animal rarely seen outside of esoteric fashion circles, which is a travesty given that it’s an easy-to-wear layer that can add a unique silhouette to smart monochrome looks.
The short cropped styles you can find today by the likes of Uma Wang, Ambush, Songzio and Issey Miyake are actually more closely related to a Japanese jacket called the haori, which is traditionally worn over the kimono.
Woven from cotton, silk or linen, the clean angles of the kimono jacket can bring a sleek sense of minimalism to a pair of wide-leg trousers.
Suede Sports Coat
It’s amazing how rendering a classic sports coat or blazer in suede rather than wool can completely alter its entire raison d’etre. The buttery-soft nap of a good suede hide instantly elevates a tailored silhouette, turning it into a luxury outerwear piece with subtle texture and tactility. It looks like money, in every sense of the phrase.
You’re most likely to find this gem of tailored mastery in autumnal tones such as tan, beige, navy and grey, and typically in a two-button, single-breasted configuration. It’s perfect for wearing with similarly earthy hues, such as chunky cream knits, off-white selvedge denim and tan boots, for example.
Needless to say, you’ll need to dig deep into your pockets – brands such as Tom Ford and Ralph Lauren Purple Label are good places to sniff out suede blazer options, but for a real treat head over to Neapolitan leather specialist Alfredo Rifugio, whose handmade designs are frankly peerless.