The merits of sports jacket style have at times been questioned. Even the term sports jacket “produces the picture of something rather shapeless in shaggy tweed”, said Hardy Amies in his 1964 book ABC of Men’s Fashion. “Women are supposed to like men in such a garment and want to snuggle up. I don’t believe it.” Amies suggested they’d prefer smoother tweeds with lambswool or cashmere. His advice is as valid today; for autumn his eponymous label has made a forest-green wool twill jacket with patch pockets (£625) in keeping with its founder’s beliefs and with the sports jackets trend.
Tweed tailored jackets intended for British country pursuits have been misappropriated since the 1920s, so for some the sports jacket never left the field of play. But now it’s re-entering the mainstream, thanks to the intersection of two current style trajectories: the taste for tweed and traditional fabrics, and the vogue for wearing tailored jackets as smart-casual separates. Designers have responded with a bevy of stylish options to sit alongside the classics.
Take Purdey, for instance. The esteemed gun-maker only uses tweeds developed exclusively for it, with many fine examples rendered weatherproof by “hard pressing”. Its new Audley house tweed is a double windowpane check that looks nobly correct cut into its three-button sports jacket (£875). This is the real shooting-party deal – half-canvas construction, hand finished and available made to measure. Special fabric properties are also deployed by sporting outfitter Holland & Holland, which has developed a jacket in cashmere treated with a “Nanobloc” finish to remain shower-proof and stain-resistant (£1,500). The tab throat fastening and compression at the waist make this tobacco-coloured jacket a stunning piece. Offerings from both brands look dapper in urban settings with dark-blue denim jeans.
The last time the sports jacket received attention from style leaders was in the 1970s, when it found its way onto rock stars and actors. Tailor Edward Sexton, then cutting with Tommy Nutter, made racy versions in bold-patterned fabrics with strong lapels. “We tended to have some fun with ours, and were inspired by Fred Astaire’s style for the ones we made for Eric Clapton and Ringo Starr,” he says. “We used two separate tweeds and blended them together – very striking.” Today, Sexton usually cuts his sports jackets (from £2,900) in less vivid tweeds, but maintains a fuller lapel and square shoulder. It makes for an elegant, masculine look; however, Sexton adds that “accessories for sportswear should, in my opinion, always be edgy and a little camp, such as pastel cashmere high-rollneck sweaters”. (The knitwear options that work best are polonecks in natural hues and berry colours.) There’s more than a touch of Sexton’s original verve evident in the jackets he has cut for Chester Barrie; the versions in Albemarle pure wool check with an antiqued finish (£650) and Broken Herringbone (£495) both retain the strong shoulders, perfect balance and longer cut of his signature work.
Thom Sweeney’s founders Thom Whiddett and Luke Sweeney are incredibly astute when it comes to fabric selection. “We saw a really good Loro Piana dogtooth fabric, had a jacket made up in it [£1,900] and put it on a stand with flat navy cotton trousers,” says Sweeney. “Guys just started ordering it as soon as it appeared. It’s pure wool, but it’s light – 300g – and not only patterned but textured, too.” The way the pair works these fabrics is what makes their jackets different. “We use smaller patch pockets – so they don’t take over the look – and soft canvas inside, perhaps with matte navy-blue mother-of-pearl buttons sourced from Italy,” says Whiddett. Sweeney and Whiddett themselves are poster boys for this updated traditional British look, taking it in a slightly European direction with their jacket length and fabrication and wearing it with neat-cut twill trousers and thicker woollen ties.
Italians, meanwhile, have their own special relationship with the sports jacket. “It’s as important [to the Italian man] as a suit is for an English gentleman,” explains Pal Zileri’s creative director Yvan Benbanaste. “It is considered as elegant as a suit. More than that, it is a better way to express personal taste.” The sports jacket is also a perfect forum to showcase Pal Zileri’s exclusive fabric creations, notably the almost 3D effects achieved in its jacket made from a Loro Piana wool, cashmere and silk fabric that has burgundy, teal and chocolate all playing in the checks (£1,140). Pal Zileri also has a double-breasted take on the sports jacket in wool and cashmere (£950), with narrow rows of buttons. Patch pockets and suede elbow pads introduce critical deformalising elements with a chic, rustic feel.
Brunello Cucinelli’s plucky brown and plum box-check wool/cashmere jacket (£2,471) is a dream to mix and match colour-wise, effectively working like a cardigan with the benefit of a bit of shoulder canvas. Indeed, this is how the Italians often layer separates so successfully: by thinking of jackets like knits. Not to be outgunned, luxury fashion brands are also working the sports jacket style. Louis Vuitton’s wool/cashmere check jacket (from £2,200) is an almost American 1950s take on the look, while Berluti’s wool/silk jacket (from £2,500) draws on vintage styling and muted colours and has a brisk, modern cut. Michael Bastian’s black, white and purple windowpane check jacket in mohair/alpaca wool (£945) is a contemporary take on the trend, with high, streamlined peak lapels and an urban silhouette typical of Bastian’s fresh approach to classic pieces.
Which goes to show just how robust the sports jacket is, and how well it can handle the different accents that designers are putting on it. Savile Row tailor Nick Tentis works with heftier fabrics and retro touches, projecting 1960s aesthetics onto traditional country patterns by using trimmed round lapels and hems on boiled wool herringbone braided jackets (£795) and cashmere piped versions (£945). Alongside his chocolate dogtooth jackets with hunter pockets (£795) are some that carry a gauntlet cuff detail (£795). What Tentis and others are doing illustrates how broadly this piece can be interpreted, as long as the fabric is ticking the right boxes. Gutsy, interesting separates are the way to be on trend this autumn, and the sports jacket is a key element.