The right sportcoat is the perfect mix of casual, formal, and a hint of ruggedness that will prove to be one of the most versatile items in your closet.
Most people use the terms blazer and sportcoat interchangeably, but they are traditionally different. Sportcoats, while similar in shape, are typically made of thicker, textured fabrics like tweed.
Many guys wear blazers to dress up whatever they're wearing. I find the right sportcoat acts more like a neutral modifier: It makes whatever you're wearing look better, without tipping you in a more dressy direction. A sportcoat looks great with a shirt and tie for your business lunch, but it also adds style to a casual shirt or sweater without making it look like you're overdressed.
Sportcoats come from an era when men participated in outdoor sporting like hunting, fishing, and horseback riding. These coats were worn casually, and their thickness was used for warmth.
Blazers are traditionally more formal on the jacket scale. Sportcoats are the least formal, then blazers, then suit jackets. All of this gets very hazy with the casual dress of today; the real importance is that they're made of different fabrics with different textures.
The texture of a sportcoat lends to its neutrality. Ever try wearing a suit jacket casually? You've probably found the smooth wool of your suit looks out of place. The texture of a sportcoat also mixes well with other textured items. Check out Look 3, where we paired the sportcoat with a flannel shirt. Try doing that with most blazers and you'll look like a lumberjack with a GQ subscription.
Sportcoats come in lots of different colors and patterns. For your first, I'd recommend picking up a solid color, like this gray sportcoat from J.Crew. Gray is a really versatile color that goes well with practically every other color, and conforms with different shoe shades and the patterns of your ties or shirts.
The right sportcoat can be worn much like any other outerwear jacket. Throw it over a button up shirt with jeans and you'll look smart without being out of place. Wear it with chinos and some suede bucks and you'll be dressed perfectly for that fancy dinner with your girlfriend, without looking like a teenage kid who's trying too hard.