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How to Dress Down Your Suit Jacket

We hear it all the time. You want to give those custom Black Lapel threads some more wear but your office is a bit too casual to handle all the sartorial heat. Now of course, you wouldn’t want to be the only one in the office who missed the dress code memo and look like an investment banker at an outdoor rave. What’s a suit lover to do?

In this post, we’ll give you a few very basic ways of wearing that suit jacket casually so you can put it on more often. Here’s your opportunity to get the most utility out of that beautiful piece of custom tailoring. From a casual work environment to a warm spring weekend to just a simple fun night out, you might be fashionably late, but at least you’ll be looking sharp as hell. So, let’s get to it.

Tip #1: Layer Up 

If you’re looking for a way to rock that suit jacket casually with a little more dimensional style, layering it up with a thinner spring-appropriate sweater may be your answer. Throw on that suit jacket with a cardigan, crew or v-neck sweater and pair it with a your navy suit jacket. Throw on some classic desert boots and you’ve got a smart-looking ensemble ready for the office, happy hour with the boys or that first date. Keep everything as fitted as possible and avoid anything chunky or bulky as it will only result in a sloppy look. For a fresh, modern look, always think streamlined.

Tip #2: The Denim Swap

What’s the quickest way to pull together a fresh, casual getup? Shelve your perfectly fitting custom suit pants for some nice denim of similar fit. Pairing denim with a blazer is one of the easiest ways to bring this classic casual staple into your suit-and-tie rotation.  Just be cognizant of the three factors when pulling off the perfect denim-blazer look— the color, wash and fit of the denim. Stick to darker denim with a simple wash (e.g. raw denim) as it will look dressier than one that’s lighter with decorative washes and/or “distress”. Fit matters. Wearing baggy jeans with a slim-fit suit jacket is like putting whipped cream on a perfectly cooked rib eye.

Tip #3: Play with Color 

Spring is here. Get a head start and add some brighter, bolder colors to a style landscape still waking up from the winter. Adding bold colors to your outfit is another way you can turn an otherwise serious suit-and-tie look into a much lighter get-up. Go for the big plays but not a Hail Mary, so don’t wear loud colors from head to toe.  Think one statement piece with a few, small details. For example, try pairing a pair of rust red chinos with your solid navy suit jacket…and add a matching pocket square. Small details like the color of the accent stitching on your boutonniere will round out the outfit.

As you can see, dressing “down” your suit jacket can be just as much fun as suiting up to the nines. So bring your A-game and have fun with it!

Got more ideas for dressing down a suit? Share with us in the comments below! 

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56 thoughts on “How to Dress Down Your Suit Jacket”

  1. Darryl says:

    Hi –

    When talking about dressing down your suit jacket, there’s a picture of a dark blue suit jacket with rust red chino pants. I love that color, but can’t seem to find the exact color. Most of the chinos are too orange, or too red. Can you tell me what brand of rust red chinos the model is wearing? Are they corduroy, or cotton? Hard to tell from the picture. Any info you can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!!!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      This is a fairly old story, Darryl, as is the photo. Those pants were corduroys from J.Crew but that was a few seasons ago, and that color may not be for sale anymore.

      Corduroys are harder to find as spring approaches, so brands like J.Crew and Brooks Brothers (who has sold a similarly colored corduroy in the past) may not have them now, but by the end of the summer, they’ll start stocking more colors.

      We hope this helps!

  2. Phua YC says:

    I had recently bought a single-brested one-button double-vented black odd jacket with the mindset that I could wear it for formal events and that I could dress it down for a smart casual look too.

    Regarding the smart casual look, I plan to pull it off with a tucked white shirt, the black odd jacket and some beige trousers or light khakis. What do you think? Are there any other shirt-pants colour combinations I can consider?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Yes, there are plenty of combinations to consider. Color is not the most important choice, though, fabric is. Cotton chinos might look a bit odd with a jacket like this. If you do wear cotton chinos be sure they’re dark. Otherwise, we’d suggest wool or wool/linen blend pants.

      As for color, try light gray slacks and a dotted shirt for a casual, if a bit trendy look. Mixing things up a little bit with patterns is always a good idea. Try some medium gray windowpane pants and a light colored knit sweater under the jacket for a runway model look. Grays will harmonize well with the black jacket. Add visual interest with patter and texture (tweed in the winter, linen blends in the summer) and you’ll be all set.

  3. Josh says:

    I just want to say I really enjoy this site. I’m 23, from Johannesburg, South Africa. Where as I don’t have an opportunity to purchase something from Black Lapel, I really appreciate the info you guys offer. I love wearing suits, I’ve just recently become a business man and felt a need to change my wardrobe to something a bit more smart, a bit more mature and respectable (my usual all stars, jeans and tshirt just wont cut it in a professional environment). So thanks for all the tips you guys give! It is much appreciated

    1. Black Lapel says:

      It’s good to hear that we’ve been able to help inform another gent. We’re about helping men dress better, live better and become better. That’s why we created The Compass.

      As you begin your journey toward a business wardrobe, we recommend using our guides to How to Build a Suit, How to Create Your Own Shirt Style and 5 Essentials stories as a starting point. Godspeed, Josh!

      1. Josh says:

        read them all! Thanks! I didnt know you guys ship globally! Will double check but if its possible I will definately be placing some orders soon! Cant wait for my first BL Suit!

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Excellent, Josh. Hope we were helpful.

          Lookout Jo’burg, there’s a stylish man on the loose, soon to be decked out in some Black Lapel!

          1. Z says:

            Will be cool if you ship to Jhb, I’m also from there and might be looking for some decent tailoring, as finding the right fit off-the-shelf has been fruitless for months.

          2. Black Lapel says:

            You’re in luck. We do ship to Johannesburg, Z, so, fire away.

  4. Greg says:

    What color shoes can I wear with dark blue jeans and a black sport coat/blazer? Can you do a brown loafer and belt?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Mixing black clothes with brown shoes is a big no-no in our book. The end result is a mashup of colors that looks muddy. Why? Lack of contrast.

      Contrast is your friend when you’re dressing. Manage it and you’ve mastered the most important step in matching your clothes.

      In the case of brown and black they are similar enough to create only dim contrast and different enough to look mismatched. We suggest wearing a dark blazer that is NOT black (like this one) and keeping your leathers brown. But if you’ve got to wear the black blazer, then gone with some black shoes (loafers brogues) and a black belt.

  5. Mayank says:

    Am having a hard time….what to wear with brown blazer and black jeans….will a tshirt will go.?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The trouble isn’t the shirt, Mayank, it’s the combination of blazer and jeans. Brown blazers work best with blue jeans. When the blazer and jeans don’t clash, the choice of shirts becomes infinitely easier. You could wear an oxford shirt in white, light blue or even pink. For cooler weather a navy sweater that’s not too thick will do the job. For warmer weather, a polo in just about any color will work.

      If you want to wear the black jeans, try them with a gray blazer instead. This is a super versatile combination, so just about any color of shirt will do the trick here.

      The moral of the story, don’t mix blacks and browns and matching gets much simpler.

  6. Nathan says:

    is it appropriate to wear a black suit with a navy blue chinos with a black suede shoe to go with? any one with helpful answer can reach me on twitter @gguzzard

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We’re going to assume you meant to write “black suit jacket” in your comment, Nathan.

      We wouldn’t recommend wearing a black jacket and navy pants because there’s simply not enough contrast. It can end up looking like a botched attempt to pass off the whole look as a suit.

      Actually, we don’t recommend wearing a black suit jacket with any other pants. A black suit has a highly formal and somber look (think funerals) that doesn’t work with the more laid-back vibe a blazer should give off. Instead, we’d say lighten up with a medium to light gray jacket with the navy chinos.

      If you’re a big fan of black and want to mix some it into this look, do it with accessories (like a black leather watch band or watch face, a black bracelet, or, if it’s a daytime look, black sunglasses).

  7. KevinQ says:

    Hi! Two questions, what are the colors of the jackets on top? I am split between the Solid Charcoal and the Solid Navy Blue blazer for my senior portrait picture (and secretly for casual use later, I love wearing blazers :D). My high-school loves Vineyard Vines stuff and my school is the preppy type of school. I understand one should go for the classic navy blue blazer, but I like charcoal more. Is it a fashion no-no to pair a charcoal blazer with colored khakis (like Nantucket reds or the green or yellow ones)? I once heard that you should never pair a black suit jacket with khaki pants, so this is why I am little concerned about getting your charcoal blazer over your navy one. Thanks!!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Great questions, Kevin! It’s good to hear from a young gentleman putting some thought into his wardrobe.

      The answer to the navy or charcoal question is really a personal preference, but we would recommend starting with the navy. As a blazer, navy is a time-tested classic. If you’re in a preppy environment you can’t go wrong with a navy blazer. One of the reasons is, in fact, the answer to your other question. A navy blazer works with a wide range of colored chinos.

      None of this is a knock on charcoal. We love charcoal. In fact, your conundrum is exactly why we offer a charcoal blue blazer. It takes the best of both of these classics. It might be right up your alley.

      1. KevinQ says:

        Thank you for your input! However is it still ok to pair a charcoal or any dark black-ish colored blazer with colored khaki’s instead of the typical navy blue blazer?

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Yup, charcoal gray is pretty neutral so it’ll work as a blazer with chinos.

          The stronger/brighter the color, the more it will split your body in two, visually. If you’re on the tall side, that’s a good thing. If you’re vertically challenged, choose darker colors that will make you look a bit longer by harmonizing with the dark gray of the jacket.

  8. JP says:

    Can someone please tell me the name or type of sweater the model is wearing underneath the blazer in the first picture?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      That sweater is from last season (this story was published back in April of 2013), so it may not be the exact same as this year’s offering from the same brand, Uniqlo, but here’s a link to this year’s version.

  9. Dieter says:

    Hi, I am just loving all the material on here…
    I have just ordered 2 custom suits here at a tailor in Antwerp (Belgium) and am curious to see how they fit as it’s the first time I’ve done this.
    After I get them back, I’m planning on getting some from you to see how they compare.

    Now my question concerning this piece, is what’s the difference between jeans and denim? I thought it was the same, and I just want to be sure.
    I think I’ll have to pull these looks off more as at my office there aren’t too many people in suits (except for some sales people).

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Technically jeans are the pants and denim is the fabric that jeans are made of. When we use terms like “dark wash denim” above we’re referring to jeans made from dark wash denim.

      As for the custom suits, we’re ready for you when you’re ready for a flawlessly fitting suit.

  10. Tyler says:

    This website is great for someone who just came into the age/financial situation to dress like this. I have been sitting here for roughly an hour soaking up as much information as possible, keep it coming!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We’ve been there, Tyler. Getting your grown-folks wardrobe together is a bit step. We’ll keep the stories coming, you keep soaking them up and we’ll keep an eye out for that first custom suit order from you.

  11. Lejla says:

    I work in retail and I’m in charge of men’s department..I dared to pair a suit jacket with dark wash jeans…my manager said it is unheard of and that I’m making a deadly sin in fashion world..I’m glad I stumbled upon this site:)

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Unheard of? Stylish rogues have been pulling of this look for years.

      We’re glad you found us too.

  12. affy gunn says:

    please what color would you call that shirt the third showcase the shirt is not typically white been looking for d color to order for a brown suit thanks great job

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Sorry to disappoint, but that’s a white shirt. It was shot under a warm light so it came out a little less stark.

      That said, we do offer an Ivory Herringbone shirt that is a great looking off-white option.

  13. gavb says:

    why have sports coats and blazers then. i think you are all trying to convince yourself to get extra wear out of a suit. why not,just not 4 me is all

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Gavin, we hear you and its true, that’s exactly what we’re trying to help our readers do. Its something we ourselves have been forced to learn to do since we live in NYC and closet space is at a real premium! Any extra use we can get out of an outfit is advice worth sharing. 🙂

  14. Cole says:

    Thanks again BL!

    Although, I was under the impression that it is a no-no to wear a suit jacket with jeans, hence the reason for blazers and sport coats?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Cole, a blazer or sports coat is typically just a casual version of a suit jacket. Since we’re a custom clothing company and you can design your suit however you’d like, its a piece of cake to make sure that when designing your suit, your put in elements to keep your jacket wearable as a separate. Whether that’s in the color (solids and checks), number of buttons (1 or 2), lapel (slim notch), accent stitching or even jacket length (shorter), it can all be customized to suit your needs!

  15. Audy says:

    Hey Guys!
    You have been putting up some great tips… love each and every one of them.
    What’s your take on the kind of sun/reading glasses that can be worn along with your suit, for day and night events?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Audy, thanks for the love and that’s a great question! Glasses are one of those accessories that should really be selected depending on the shape of your face. The frame’s size and design all should be selected to flatter your face. For example, we love the modern take on RayBan’s classic Wayfarers here at BL HQ but not everyone can pull off the look with the same success. For a handy tool on “virtually testing” frames to your face, check out Warby Parker. Just select a pair and click Virtual Try On below the add to cart button. Home Try On works as well if you’re in the States. Good luck finding your perfect pair!

  16. Corey says:

    Thanks for showcasing one of your AWESOME (non-tux) one button jackets! I have been thinking of getting that option on a suit I am going to buy from you guys soon, but had not seen how y’alls look!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Glad it got your approval Corey!

  17. Lawrence says:

    Please come out with a Charcoal Rope or Chalkstripe suit. And the stripes should be closely spaced like on the Charcoal Lavender stripe. And a Gray Sharkskin suit!

    I’m so obsessed with Skyfall! Can’t wait to suit up with you guys this year!!!

    I feel like the slim fitting suit/shorter jacket won’t go out of style for a VERY LONG time. Suit jackets have been getting shorter and shorter over the years.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Message received Lawrence! We’ll see what we can do about sourcing those fabrics. In the meantime, we have a Gray Chalkstripe, although the stripes are spaced out wider than the Charcoal Lavender. Absolutely agreed on the shorter jacket. Its a more refined look and isn’t something trendy that will phase out quickly!

      1. Lawrence says:

        BL you guys are awesome. I thought I saw a small preview of a gray sharkskin suit on your fb page (discussing sleeve button styles), perhaps hoping it was a sign of things to come. Well, hopefully you guys do come out with those fabrics in the near future!

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Thanks Lawrence. We will take a hard look at it for the fall line up. If not this year, definitely next year as we round out our collection. In the meantime, we wouldn’t be where we are without supporters like you so keep letting us know how we can get better!

          1. Corey says:

            Seconding the Skyfall grey sharkskin request! Also a grey pick and pick fabric!

          2. Black Lapel says:

            Thanks for the additional suggestion Corey. We’ll definitely be on the lookout!

  18. James says:

    Too true, a navy blazer with turned up dark jeans, brown brogues (a bit too knackered for being dressy), no tie window-pane shirt and light v-neck jumper has become my go-to travel gear, smart but comfortable (and looks fashionably casual in any situation)

    1. Black Lapel says:

      And layered so its versatile for cooler or warmer weather! Smart and sharp, well done James!

  19. P57 says:

    I should also add that I have managed to dress up jeans and a black rock t-shirt with a pair of cowboy boots and studded belt by wearing a suit jacket.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      A rock star combo! 😉

  20. P57 says:

    I’m having a hard time dressing down my pin stripe suits.
    I have a black with sky blue pin and a charcoal with lavender pin suit jacket that I wear with jeans. How could I get use out of the jackets without using the full pin stripe suit or with jeans? Sort of a in between jeans and full suit.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The conventional wisdom is that wearing a pinstripe suit jacket without the matching pants will look like you lost said pants. Now we’re not always in agreement with convention but in this case, the look of a pinstripe jacket on its own just doesn’t seem to look right (we’ve tried too!). A dark plain wash jean combo with a darker pinstripe suit jacket (as you’ve paired it) is probably the closest combination that could work. That said, if it looks good and you feel good wearing it, we say to hell with the rules and carry on!

      1. P57 says:

        This is what I imagined was the just of it. Looks like I need one of your Navy blazers with brass buttons.

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Haha, we like that sound of that!

  21. Smith says:

    I came across you guys randomly on the net and I`ve been hooked ever since. Thanks for all these blog posts, really insightful. Keep up the awesome posts.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Thanks for the kudos!

  22. Jovan says:

    “Dressy jeans”?! The guys at AAAC would have heartburn. 😉

    I agree that a sport coat, if worn with jeans, should be paired with ones that are dark and free of noticeable whisker lines — whether pretentiously bought that way or actually earned. I always hang dry my dark jeans to keep them looking good.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Touche Jovan! Earned distress is always better than bought distress! 😉

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