Participation in sporting life has always implied wealth; it’s why sports attire is so often co-opted by luxury fashion. One garment that can claim to have crossed into mainstream style with particular success is the sports jacket, which evolved from Norfolk shooting jackets and can be broadly defined as a tailored coat, of a check pattern, that does not come as part of a suit. The latest updates, both traditional-leaning and more contemporary, remind one of the virtues of a good classic – and are a far cry from standard shooting kit.
Dunhill’s superb sports example is double-breasted, with a half-wrap, a distinct horizontal gorge lapel and an Alcantara suede-lined collar, and is cut so well it hangs beautifully even worn open. Relaxed contemporary styling with light knits, polonecks and T-shirts complete the look. A soft mulberry silk/linen/wool check version (£990) looks dandy over a taupe or red fine merino-wool roundneck.
Equally inspired fabric choices are on view at Boglioli, including a pale grey/sky blue linen-bouclé check (£900) and the richly textured linen/cotton K jacket (£1,002) in dark blue with a fawn and oatmeal overcheck. There are also jackets (£1,866) in high-performance wool with a “hand-painted” check, and a rather amazing double-breasted cut (£700) in a fabric that looks like a tartan, but is a sophisticated linen. Relaxed-tailoring brand The Gigi has similarly technically advanced fabrics. Art (£550) comes in a stretch seersucker and Angie (£550) in a plush cotton/rayon madras check in blue and black, while Degas (£595) is an unlined textured silk combining eight shades of blue in a tweed-like weave that handles like a fine silk/linen.
These checks and tartans were key style ciphers when the sports jacket evolved in late-19th-century Scotland. “Tartans identified members of the same family, no matter where they lived,” says Campbell Carey, creative director of Savile Row’s Huntsman, which has some 160 years of history in this field. “Checked estate tweeds instead identified those who lived and worked in the same area, whether related or not.” Huntsman has been commissioning its own, often bold, tweeds since the 1960s; these are showcased in the Machir (£2,100), which carries an over‑the-collar tab from the old-style Norfolk shooting jacket, as well as a step-notch lapel and half-belt with pinch pleat and bellows pockets. A similarly authentic shooting-collar tab was on display at Polo Ralph Lauren on its tawny, super-soft “tickweave” jacket (£495).
Updates also came from US outfitters Brooks Brothers. Its blue/brown multicheck jacket (£1,215) for summer comes in a light Italian cashmere blend and is cut shortish in the more modern style. There are also the fully canvassed, soft-shouldered wool designs (£1,215) in navy/red over plaid and a rust/brown check.
The fabrics used at Ermenegildo Zegna are lighter still. The new “crossover” jacket (£1,490) is an unlined, relaxed style in a wide but muted linen/wool/silk check. It’s exceptionally soft and breathable, yet feels relatively sturdy, as does another textured blend (£1,220) in a burgundy/white mélange with elbow patches. By contrast, the bold houndstooth in Incotex’s Montedoro jacket (£640), with its patch pockets and heft, evokes vintage shooting kit, but is surprisingly light and contains nylon for waterproofing and insulation.
The season’s most adventurous takes come from the original sports-jacket romancer Edward Sexton, he of legendary Savile Row house Nutters. “We first looked to the original Norfolk jacket [for inspiration],” he says, but “camped it up”, adding deep darts in the shoulders and waist for the likes of Neil Sedaka and John Lennon. These days, Sexton’s offerings are less avant-garde (bespoke from £2,000), mostly in refined “gun” checks in wool/cashmere/silk blends – but still with his signature square shoulder, leafy lapels and uncompromising verve.
It’s worth noting that the plentiful checks on display this season, even if not strictly sports jackets, can strike a similar smart-casual chord paired with jeans or chinos. Take the warm palette and contrasting patterns in Louis Vuitton’s spring collection: a notch-lapel mohair/wool/silk suit jacket (£2,400) in an earthy tartan-like check was shown with a silk patterned shirt for a boldly harmonious statement. And over at Paul Smith was a striking aqua/blue jacket (£745) in wool/linen/silk – bright, but very wearable – and a bold multicolour tartan silk/cotton jacket (£885), whose pronounced jauntiness was expertly styled down with a white T-shirt and black tracksuit bottoms. Trust Sir Paul to propose a meld of 19th-century sports-inspired garb with that most controversial 21st-century apparel item, the split-bottom track pant.