A Basic Guide To Sport Coat + Trouser Combinations

August 22, 2016

A Basic Guide to Sport Coat + Trouser Combinations

So you’ve bought a new jacket, or eyeing something on the rack, and you’re wondering what kind of trousers would go with it. We’ve all been there.

There are lots of online guides for this sort of thing. Some are color charts; others examples of well-dressed men in said color combo. I’ve never found those to be terribly helpful. (Who goes into their closet with a memorized databank of acceptable color combinations?)

So, here’s my quick and dirty guide on sport coat/ trouser combinations, broken down by a very, very simple rule: you want some contrast so this doesn’t meld into a mismatched-looking suit.

If Your Jacket is Dark Colored: It’s been said that you should never buy a sport coat that can’t be worn with grey pants. I don’t know if I would go that far, but the saying exists for a reason – grey trousers are staples in men’s closets and will generally go with anything. That includes jackets in dark brown, navy, olive, merlot, etc.

The key here is to get them in a light- to mid-shade of gray so there’s some contrast (more on charcoal later). If you have the money, opt for seasonal materials. Tropical wools for spring/ summer; wool flannel for fall/ winter (worsted flannel wears harder, while woolen flannel has a bit more nap and color variegation). Otherwise, year-round wools work perfectly well. I like solid grays, but subtle patterns such as pick-and-pick are also great.

To add a little diversity to your wardrobe, consider buying some tan trousers. Again, focus on the material and weave – these will give you better flexibility than straying into different colors. Think: tan chinos, tan linen, tan cavalry twill, etc. These will take you through the rest of the year whenever you tire of wearing grey.

If Your Jacket is Light Colored: Light-colored jackets are a little trickier. Depending on the jacket, sometimes you can wear the same trousers as above for a low-contrast ensemble, but the line between success and failure here is thinner. It’s a little easier, I think, to just go for darker pants.

This is where charcoal trousers can be useful (and frankly only useful if you have light-colored jackets, as otherwise they’re too dark for anything else). Again, you can get them in a year-round wool or something more seasonal. Just note that charcoal is a bit more of a formal color, so charcoal linen might not be the best option.

For spring/ summer, you can also opt for dark shades of happier colors – navy, olive, or tobacco brown in materials such as cotton, linen, or tropical wool. These will go with your summer jackets in tan, cream, light grey, light blue, etc. If you get chinos, be aware of the subtle details that can make them harder or easier to wear with tailored jackets.

“Hey You Left Out …”: At this point, some of you may be thinking “hey, you left out brown corduroys/ green moleskins/ LAMFRTs. I wear those all the time and look like George Clooney.”

This isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list; it’s a basic guide. The above will answer almost any “what can I wear with this jacket” question, even if there are other possible options. Start with the shade of the jacket and have a stable of basic trouser colors. Your choices will then be simple and easy. If you want, you can add more trousers as your wardrobe grows, but if your experience ends up being anything like mine, you’ll find that you’ll still mostly reach for the options above.

(photo via Voxsartoria)