I have this image in my mind. Of a man meeting a good friend for brunch on a Sunday morning. A man that dresses as I want to: considered and tasteful, not showy or sloppy.
He’s looking forward to a coffee. He carries a newspaper under his arm in case his friend is late. And he wants to look good, for his friend but also because it feels like it celebrates the day.
A jacket would be out of place, but it requires some kind of outerwear. So he wears the shirt-jacket above. It’s not smart, but you might say it was sophisticated. Certainly, whether he wears it with a denim shirt and chinos, or a cashmere crewneck and jeans, it looks easy and relaxed.
Perhaps this image recurs to me because we went for months without being able to meet inside cafes. Or perhaps because when I do meet my friends, it’s rare that we don’t both have multiple children in tow. Which rather dampens the pleasure of dressing well.
Whatever my personal frustrations, I also feel this theme is very relevant. As casual and looser clothes have become more prevalent in recent years, I hear from a lot of readers looking for something along these lines.
I wouldn’t wear this shirt-jacket into town. I’d always opt for my beloved tailoring (every chance I get). But I know readers that would.
Indeed, I remember meeting a menswear contact a couple of years ago in a Mayfair restaurant.
He complained that, when he had met a friend at the same restaurant recently, on a Sunday afternoon, the friend had turned up in sportswear.
The contact was, as you might expect, smartly dressed in a jacket and tie. “And the annoying thing was,” he recalled, “that my friend thought there was nothing strange about this. Indeed, he thought it was funny”.
Given the location, day of the week and nature of the meeting, I felt like something in between might have suited both of them better. Like a suede jacket and shirt.
This one is from Connolly – their Driver Over Shirt in cognac suede – and there are a few reasons I particularly like it among other suede jackets, shackets and shirt/jackets.
One is that it’s cut like a shirt, rather than a chore coat. This is particularly helpful for me, as chore coats are often a little wide and a little short on my frame. This is slimmer and longer.
I also think it means that the jacket looks smarter than something cut like a chore coat. It’s closer to a nice blouson in that regard, like a Valstarino.
Another thing I appreciate is the colour, which isn’t as strong as the tobacco/snuff of similar suede outerwear (Ralph Lauren example here).
In fact, you can see the difference if you look on the inside of the jacket (above), as the reverse of the skin is precisely that saturated snuff.
The slightly more muted outside is subtler and more versatile. For example, it actually looks good with black trousers or jeans, where few snuff or tobacco suedes do.
I also like the collar, though I didn’t at first. It’s small and looks like the one-piece collar you get on some summer shirts.
I thought I’d prefer something longer, more akin to a jacket lapel. But actually, this suits the overall slim style of the overshirt, and it looks good up as well as down.
The only thing I really dislike about the model is the lack of pockets.
If you want an unlined jacket, then internal pockets are not really possible without showing a seam on the outside. But I would have been willing to sacrifice one for the other, even if it made it less of a shirt.
Fortunately, I know Cromford can do many clever things with alterations, including lining sleeves if these unlined ones ever begin to irritate me. So I have options.
Other suede models get around this by making a feature of the stitching. The Drake’s ones, for example, have an internal pocket where you can see the stitching on the outside. But it’s cut and designed as a chore coat, so that works.
Among other brands, RRL often does lovely suede shirt-jackets. I have a great one in dark-brown suede that was pictured here.
I only realise now that one reason I like that so much is because of its overshirt design, with curved bottom hem like a shirt. That one wasn’t as slim as the Connolly, but I had it altered by Cromford – one reason I know they can do this well.
RRL have the same model on sale here, but it is now lined, and the suede doesn’t feel as nice to me.
The Purple Label ones are more consistently available, and they’re lovely too, but rather thinner. I probably wouldn’t wear one tucked in, but you could if you wanted. They’re more of a warm-weather option.
Both are better value than the Tom Ford version, which I have seen and tried. And some others, like Valstar, are cut like a strange halfway house between a trucker jacket and a shirt.
This last point might seem like a fine distinction, but I think it’s what stops some suede jackets from being a good substitute for tailoring.
A trucker-jacket style, or indeed a flight jacket, like mine from Himel Bros, is that much more casual than a blouson or a shirt-jacket. Something we covered in more detail on this post on casual paradigms.
And at the smarter end of the spectrum, something cut like an actual jacket is a little harder to wear – like this Cifonelli – while a tailored jacket in nubuck is harder still – like this from Melina.
I think I made mistakes in both those cases. Not in buying them at all, but in doing so when I didn’t have that much else that was less unusual. If you’re trying to fill out this casual/chic part of your wardrobe, I think the best place to start is a suede blouson or shirt-jacket.
Photography: Alex Natt @adnatt