The myriad of buttons at Duttons, York (UK)

One of the great blights of this age is the wearing of a suit jacket in the place of a sports coat. To those out there doing it, who feel they’ve got away with something clever and extended the life of that Paul Smith suit where the trousers wore through – you haven’t, it isn’t and everybody notices. It’s obviously a suit jacket. That is obvious and objective. It also looks terrible. That is only slightly more subjective.

In a previous post on suit cloths, I explained the more and less casual materials. Simply speaking, the rougher or heavier the material, the more casual it is. Sleek is smart. But a jacket can also be made much more casual – either when it is being commissioned, bespoke, or by altering later – by adding contrast buttons, patch pockets or other design elements.

These are all ways to the same end as a rougher cloth. By breaking up the sleekness of the jacket’s lines, they push it towards casual.

Let’s start with buttons. The vast majority of suits come with matching buttons – navy for navy, grey for grey. Some may have dark brown buttons, particularly those intended for an Italian or Italian-influenced audience that will wear the suit primarily with brown shoes. But they are still intended to largely blend in.

Buttons that stand out make a jacket more casual. The classic example is a gilt-buttoned blazer. Although still a very smart piece of kit, it is more casual than its two-piece cousin. It can be worn with cream flannels and loafers. The buttons need not be gilt, however. They may be silver, pewter or battered tin. The point is they are not navy, and therefore stand out against the cloth. Italians often go for cream horn buttons instead of metal, others like mother of pearl. Personally, I like brown horn but with a lot of contrast in the pattern.

Whatever you choose, it is one way to make a jacket more casual (so slightly more acceptable worn without the trousers) and it is by far the easiest one to do yourself. It won’t turn a suit into a blazer, but it’s a start.

The second important aspect is the pockets. You could argue that the smartest pocket is unflapped, as on black tie. The next smartest is probably a flapped but slanting one (despite its originating with hacking jackets) as the effect is sharper. Next is a normal, flapped pocket. And then things get interesting – the patch pocket, which is sewn onto the outside of the cloth rather than hanging inside it. Casual, and with the potential to become even more so. Take the flap off. Give it a curve, at the top, sides or both. Then you could even slant the top, keeping it curved. By this point it’s extremely casual – almost hand-warmer territory.

This is a progression of casualness in pockets. The precise order is not important, but what is is that you remember patch pockets are a first step. They are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition; but that and some nice cream buttons would go a long way to transforming a sleek cloth. Of course, a tweed jacket that has already done the job with its cloth has no need for either.

There’s heaps of other things you can throw in. A tab collar, for instance, where the cloth that is normally sewn back under one side of the collar is allowed to protrude and the collar can therefore be buttoned up. Half-belts. Bi-swing backs. Patch outbreast pockets. Any exterior detailing of that sort. Just don’t wear your suit jacket with jeans.