It was February when my wife and I went on our first date. There were a few inches of snow on the ground, and the wind whistled the crisp air through the trees as I drove to her apartment in my Saab. I’d made reservations at a new Italian restaurant that I had heard was “smart casual,” though I had no idea what that actually meant.
Being a planner, I called the restaurant ahead of time to find out what most guys wear. The girl on the phone said “It’s smart casual.” Yeah, I’ve heard that…not helpful. I asked her to elaborate: “Well, most guys wear jeans and maybe a nice shirt.” Jeans would work, but maybe a nice shirt wasn’t going to cut it for me. It was cold; it was windy; and dammit, it was our first date. There was only one choice for the occasion: my tweed herringbone sport coat.
Last year we went away for a long weekend, and my wife requested that I bring along the sport coat that I wore on our first date. She snapped a picture of me at the hotel.
The tweed sport coat is the essential cool-weather jacket: it’s warm, it’s water resistant, and its effortless style looks damn good on anyone. There is some debate around the origins of tweed, and even more around the herringbone pattern specifically. Some say “tweed” was born out of a typographical error, while others say it’s an homage to the River Tweed in Scotland. As for the herringbone pattern, some say it’s supposed to resemble the bone structure of a herring fish, while others contend it was modeled after the pattern in which the streets were cobbled in the Roman empire (seriously).
What we know for sure is that in 19th century Scotland and England, tweed was made from sturdy wool that could withstand the elements, was rough to the touch, and was meant to be worn for sports like hunting and cycling (hence the name “sport coat”). As the fabric gained popularity, bespoke tweed patterns became synonymous with wealthy estates, families who understood that “the clothes make the man” is a cop out for charlatans and mouth breathers. Indeed, these men made the clothes, and many of their patterns are still in production today.
Sport coats are the epitome of smart casual. Slightly more informal than a blazer, sport coats look great with jeans or chinos and have a coarse heartiness to the fabric that will hold in the heat without restricting movement. The best thing about sport coats is that they’re everywhere, because after 150 years, they still haven’t gone out of style. If your budget is super tight this season, check out your local thrift store. But regardless of where you buy one, make sure your tailor doesn’t take it in too much in the chest; you want to leave room to throw on a light sweater underneath.
Below are a few tweed sport coats in a variety of price ranges. But first, a few more outfit ideas: