Style Essentials: The Gray Sportcoat for All Seasons and Settings + 5 Shoppable Outfits

Style Essentials: The Gray Sportcoat for All Seasons and Settings + 5 Shoppable Outfits
Forget navy – your first sportcoat should be gray. We'll show you why.

A gray suit or sportcoat ranks very highly on our list for its versatility and timelessness. Even if you’d never dream of stepping foot inside a cubicle, a gray jacket in wool and, perhaps, a seasonal fabric or two will see plenty of use. Why opt for gray over the more traditional navy? While navy jackets are certainly staple items that every man should have in his wardrobe, they don’t pair as well with darker shades of denim jeans and chinos. For that reason, gray gets the first nod.

There’s a lot to consider when choosing a jacket. Where will you wear it? What time of year will you wear it? How formal/casual is it? Will it integrate with the rest of your wardrobe? Does it jive with your personal style? Read on for a quick showcase and overview.

Business Dress

The Gray Sportcoat - 5 Looks: Business Dress

Sportcoat: J.Crew Factory, $128 / Shirt: J.Crew, $59 / Trousers: Suit Supply, $200 / Belt: Allen Edmonds, $88 / Glasses: Warby Parker, $95 / Tie: Suit Supply, $45 / Pocket Square: Kent Wang, $25 / Watch: Orient, $380 / Socks: Nordstrom, $18.50 / Shoes: Cole Haan, $178

Darker grays, such as charcoal, are more serious in tone than lighter shades. They’re very business-like and professional – perfect for office jobs or somber occasions. The jacket pictured is made from wool just as a good formal piece should be. This wonderful material doesn’t wrinkle easily, its breaths wells, it drapes beautifully, it doesn’t require frequent cleaning, and it’s appropriate for all four seasons.

Beyond its color and material, this jacket has other attributes that make it more formal than casual. The notch lapels, for example, are more conventional than peak lapels. The flap pockets are more proper than patch pockets. Two-button enclosure rather than three? Yep, another feature that makes this particular jacket decidedly formal. Ordinarily, a jacket with these traits would come as part of a suit, but not this one. Because this jacket isn’t uniform in color and has a slight pattern (glen plaid), it’s a sportcoat. Generally, we don’t recommend using jacket’s intended for suits as separates. Fortunately, if you like the smooth appearance of wool, but don’t want to wear a full suit every day, know that you have options.

How about those shoes! Burgundy leather looks fantastic with charcoal and navy pieces. If you’re up for something a little different, a purple shirt or pocket square would be great with darker gray sportcoats.

Fall/Winter Business Casual

Style Essentials: The Gray Sportcoat - 5 Looks - Business Casual

Jacket: Suit Supply, $400 / Shirt: Everlane, $55 / Pants: Suit Supply, $149 / Belt: Johnston Murphy, $70 / Glasses: Warby Parker, $95 / Pocket Square: The Tie Bar, $ 10 / Watch: Daniel Wellington, $106 / Sweater: J.Crew, $55 / Shoes: Allen Edmonds, $279

The colder months usher in burly fabrics, deeper earth-tone hues, and obvious textures. Unsurprisingly, gray sportcoats have a place here too.

This medium-shade gray jacket is made from alpaca wool. Two gray wool jackets? We know what you’re thinking – there’s no redundancy here, however. Unlike suiting wool, this type is meant to be an insulator. It’s meant for brisk weather and it WILL keep the chill out. Since this one has patch pockets and a rough hand, it just feels right to pair it with a beefy denim button-down and olive v-neck sweater. The stone-colored washed cotton chinos, brogued oxfords, and houndstooth pocket square are all fitting for the season and will never ever, ever go out of style.

Fall/Winter Smart Casual

Style Essentials: The Gray Sportcoat - 5 Looks - Smart Casual

Sportcoat: Banana Republic, $398 /  Shirt: Ralph Lauren, $98 / Sweater: Frank & Oak, $65 / Jeans: Frank & Oak, $75 / Belt: LL Bean, $45 / Socks: Uniqlo, $3 / Watch: Timex, $39 / Cashmere Scarf: J.Crew, $98 / Boots: Wolverine, $287

Poke your head outdoors. The temperature is starting to dip, the summer breeze is becoming an autumn gust, and the leaves are about to turn. It’s almost boot season! Pictured here is a neutral-color outfit for those brisk October/November days. Surprised to see a sportcoat mixed in with those pieces? Don’t be! Jackets with plainly visible texture and depth look great when combined with conventionally casual pieces with similar qualities – oxford cloth buttondown shirts, indigo denim jeans, and donegal sweaters have all that in spades.

Spring/Summer Business Casual

The Gray Sportcoat - 5 Looks: Business Casual

Jacket: Frank & Oak / Shirt: Ratio Clothing, $98 / Pants: J.Crew, $62 / Belt: Johnston Murphy, $50 / Pocket Square: Knottery, $35 / Watch: Mougin & Piquard, $425 / Carpenter Bag: Wood&Faulk, $170 / Socks: Lorenzo Uomo, $13 / Shoes: Florsheim, $130

To us, the warmer months are all about comfort, uncomplicated colorways, texture, and simplicity. It also seems to be an unwritten rule that dress codes relax some after Memorial Day so we’ve opted to have some fun with our choices.

We’re sure some of you are sweating at the mere thought of wearing a jacket in the summer heat! Fear not, gents. With the right materials, you’ll be comfortable (and looking spiffy) even as the mercury rises. This gray sportcoat is made from pure linen and is light as air. We’ve also intentionally omitted the tie so the shirt can be worn open at the top buttons. Those pants? Heavy twill chinos, these ain’t. Cotton comes in varying weights and thicknesses and, for spring and summer, lighter cottons are preferable. We’ve owned pajamas that weren’t as comfortable as these trousers.

The bright pops of color commonly associated with spring may be absent here, but what it lacks in color it makes up for in varieties of texture (linen, wool, silk, broadcloth, canvas, and leather) and bold accessories. Something to consider before taking the plunge on a gray linen jacket – it will wrinkle. While the creases give the garment a worn-in look and plenty of character, it does make it difficult to wear in professional settings. Love it or leave it.

Spring/Summer Smart Casual

The Gray Sportcoat - 5 Looks: Smart Casual

Jacket: H&M / Shirt: J.Crew, $56 / Jeans: J.Crew, $88 / Belt: Everlane, $65 / Glasses: Warby Parker, $95 / Bracelet: Alex Kang, $20 / Watch: Bulova, $139 / Weekender: Everlane, $98 / Loafers: Jack Erwin, $95

Does something seem oddly familiar about that gray sportcoat? That’s pique cotton – the same stuff your favorite polos are made from! Yes, these are real. Yes, they’re wildly comfortable. It almost goes without saying, but sportcoats made from pique cotton are only appropriate in casual settings. Stroll into the boardroom wearing one of these and you’ll get more than a few deserved sideways glances. Consistency in the formality of your pieces is important when putting an outfit together. With a jacket like this, you’re probably not going to pair it with pressed trousers, your finest dress shirt, silk tie, and freshly shined cap-toe oxfords. Just as you wouldn’t wear these jeans as part of a business ensemble, you wouldn’t wear an obviously casual jacket with more formal pieces. Also consider the jacket’s length. When selecting a sportcoat you intend to wear casually, it shouldn’t be quite as long. Notice here that this jacket’s tail isn’t even as long as its sleeves. You’ve no doubt heard the rule of thumb that suit jackets and sportcoats should cover your rears. Feel free to ignore that one in this case.

So, while this one very well might stay on the hanger Monday thru Friday, it could be a great piece to have for weekend coffee dates, errand-running, and comfortable (yet smart) air travel. Lighter grays lend themselves well to most colors. We had fun outfitting this jacket with faded blue denim jeans, taupe suede drivers, and a lovely green floral button-down.

Bryan Faucher lives, works, and plays in Miami, FL. He also owns and operates Ropes & Knots; a high-quality children's clothing company whose garments are composed entirely of 100% natural materials. Follow him on Instagram for outfit layouts, menswear advice, and daily inspiration.

  • Jamie McLaughlin

    This is a very timely article, thanks! I am considering purchasing a mid/dark grey herringbone jacket myself for use in the fall and winter. This will be my first non-suit jacket and it has been a bit difficult to actually pull the trigger.

    The one I am considering has snuff/brown suede elbow patches and brown buttons. I know this reduces the formality considerably but what are your thoughts on this detail?

    • pyrokeet

      Not a big fan of suede elbow patches – they’re quite ‘geography teacher’. I think they’re designed to reduce wear on the elbows if you rest your elbows on a desk a lot. Looks less stylish in my opinion.

      Brown buttons sound fine though. And if you don’t like them, they’re really cheap and easy to replace.

      • JoeV

        I love elbow patches. I get so much positive attention from women because of them. If its tailored correctly(sides brought in and sleeve length) you avoid that “geography teacher” look. I have at least 3 sport coats with elbow patches.

  • bryclops

    I get that the article is trying to bring something fresh, but its premise (gray over navy for your first sportcoat) relies entirely on the idea that most of your pants are so dark that navy doesn’t work. I doubt that’s true for most. As a glance around the men’s section at just about retailer would show, gray is the staple dress trouser color. As for chinos, most people buy them in lighter colors because the cotton inevitably fades, and this is less noticeable on lighter fabrics. In short, there’s a reason navy remains the standard for a first sportcoat/blazer. Truth be told, I even find brown sportcoats considerably more useful and versatile than gray.

    That being said, I dig the looks assembled here, and there’s certainly plenty to be done with a gray sportcoat if you’ve already got the basics and want to liven it up.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Interesting! I think it depends on the nature of your job. If you find yourself wearing dress pants / trousers a lot, I think you could make a case for that. But if you’re more likely to split the sportcoat’s use over business casual and casual, gray is definitely the way to go, if not for any other reason than you can’t wear a navy sportcoat with dark denim very easily. I don’t even own a navy sportcoat (though I do have a blue linen one).

    • Dan

      I agree with Andrew, I like the gray blazer for its versatility. When I was buying my first, I was deciding between a light grey and a navy one. Basically what it came down to for me is all the different options I could wear with grey vs navy. I have darker skin, so I prefer the contrast of wearing lighter colors on top and darker bottoms.

      I also wanted a color that would work for summer weddings as well, and I felt navy would just get too hot

  • Casey

    I love the grey and purple combination–works well for business or casual. Also, dusty teals look great with charcoal grey as well. I HATE light-wash denim and I do not think there is any combination in the world that could make those jeans look good. Other than that, these are excellent and creative options that I will be incorporating with my previously unused grey sportcoat! Thanks!

  • Butch_Zee

    And you can wear it with cowboy boots & jeans and still look good. Um, commenting that “for a friend.”

  • John Leonard

    I’m not sure how old everyone is here but I would definitely not recommend any of these pairings to anyone under fifty.