Despite their interchangeable use in daily conversation, a jacket and a coat aren’t technically the same thing; this may lead you to wonder ‘what is the difference between a jacket and a coat’?
A jacket is hip-length or shorter, lighter weight, and more casual, compared to a coat which is hip-length or longer, heavier weight, and more formal. There is no concrete classification system, so sometimes a garment described as a ‘coat’ can have characteristics of a ‘jacket’, and vice versa.
That said, there are certain things that you can look for to put a garment into one category or another.
The rest of this post will cover these pointers in a bit more detail, provide some examples of what garments fall into each category, what their differences are, and which you should wear (and when)!
What are the Differences Between a Jacket and a Coat?
So we’re all on the same page, let’s quickly look at the features of each category:
A jacket, according to the official Oxford dictionary, is:
“An outer garment extending either to the waist or the hips, typically having sleeves and a fastening down the front.”
Therefore, a typical jacket has the following attributes:
- Hip length, or shorter.
- Sleeves, or no sleeves. (That is the question)
- To be worn as an outer, or middle layer.
- To be worn in most temperatures
Because of all of these pointers, a jacket is quite a versatile and casual garment, suitable for wearing in the warmer or slightly cooler months.
Also, as their length, weight, and typical fabric makes them more casual, jackets lend themselves more towards fashion, compared to coats that are more functional and timeless.
Furthermore, jackets are cut close to the body to be either the first layer, or outer layer – they don’t have room for any other typical layering pieces, such as a suit, underneath.
To help clarify, the term comes from the French word ‘jaquet’, which means ‘a lightweight tunic’; in modern times, though not exactly, this translates to something like a leather jacket, denim jacket, or Harrington jacket.
Again, according to the Oxford dictionary, a coat is:
“An outer garment with sleeves, worn outdoors and typically extending below the hips.”
This gives the general attributes of :
- Medium to heavy weight.
- Hip length, or longer.
- Always have sleeves.
- To be worn only as an outer layer.
- To be worn in cold temperatures.
This means that a coat is generally more formal and functional, for use only in the colder months, when you require protection from the elements.
And, as mentioned before, as coats are more formal, they tend to be more timeless and classic than jackets.
To add to this, unlike jackets, coats can be worn over other outer pieces, such as suits.
Again, an very early use of the word referred to a ‘coat of chain mail’, which is heavier, and obviously more protective than a tunic; in the modern day, this would translate to something like a woollen overcoat, or peacoat.
Now that I’ve defined each one, for an easy comparison of the two, here’s a great jacket vs coat chart:
Jacket vs Coat Chart
|Weight||Usually light to medium weight.||Can be any weight, but usually medium to heavy weight.|
|Fabric||Jackets can be made from any fabric, but are most commonly found in synthetics, such as polyester, or lightweight cottons.||Can be any type of fabric, but are usually made from a heavier, thicker, and warmer material, such as wool.|
|Fastening||Usually a metal zip, though can have alternative methods, such as small buttons.||Coats usually feature a button or toggle fastening. In some cases, such as on trench coats, they have a belt.|
|Length||Hip or above. Typically shorter than coats.||Hip or below. Typically longer than jackets, and can be anywhere from knee to ankle length.|
|Sleeves||Most have sleeves, though some jackets, such as gilets, are sleeveless.||All coats have long sleeves.|
|Layering||Depending on the style, some jackets can be worn over or under another layer. For example, a knitted bomber jacket can be worn as a layering piece.||A coat is always worn as the outmost layer, as ‘outerwear’.|
|Temperature and Insulation||Depending on the material and weave, most jackets are appropriate to wear in most temperatures, apart from when it’s very cold or warm. This means they are good in the transitional months. They are typically less insulating than coats.||As coats are heavier, thicker, and more insulating, they are more appropriate for the Winter.|
|Fit||As they are more casual, most jackets can have a tighter fit.||As they are made to be worn on the outside, some have a more generous fit to comfortably fit on top of other items, such as suit jackets. However, closer fitting coats exist to wear without an under layer.|
|Coverage||A jacket has partial coverage, mostly of the upper body.||A coat has full coverage, and can extend down the legs.|
|Formality||Jackets can be formal, such as a blazer, or informal, like a Harrington jacket.||Coats are typically more formal, especially as many are made to be worn over suits.|
|Examples||Leather jacket, Harrington jacket, denim jacket, blazer.||Woollen overcoat, trench coat, rain coat, peacoat.|
Exceptions to the Jacket vs Coat Classification
So, we’ve discussed the attributes found within the jacket and coat categories.
However, in many cases, a garment has overlap between the two, which causes ambiguity.
In this case, even if a garment embodies many of the attributes of a certain category, it doesn’t necessarily mean that is regarded as that type.
For example, a ‘parka’ is mostly referred to as a jacket, despite having most elements of a coat, such as a long length, and use in cold weather.
This ambiguity is likely because, over the last 50 years, dress codes have become less precise, and the convention of correctly distinguishing a ‘jacket’ or a ‘coat’ has been lost.
On top of this, there are just so many different garment styles, which can get super confusing – even if something is clearly a jacket, referring to it as a coat is ‘easier’.
Combine this all, and you have interchangeability between the terms, or a leaning towards what most people are calling it, like a ‘parka jacket’. In some cases, people refer to a garment with both names, such as a ‘sports coat’ or ‘sports jacket’.
So, though it’s still possible for a garment to have most of the attributes of a typical coat, people may refer to it as a jacket – if that makes sense.
Should You Wear a Jacket Or a Coat?
I personally own both jackets and coats, and frequently wear them both.
However, given the aforementioned differences between a coat and a jacket, I bring them out at different times of the year, and wear them with different things:
I wear jackets in the late spring, summer, and early autumn months, when it is chilly enough to warrant a second layer.
At this time of the year, I dress more casually, often wearing trainers and t-shirts. To finish it off, I wear Harrington, bomber, and leather jackets, which match perfectly with the aesthetic and climate, as they are all lighter weight, breathable, and easy to wear, as per a typical jacket.
All in all, jackets lend themselves more to casual, mid-to-warmer climate situations.
I wear coats in the late autumn, winter, and early spring months, to keep me warm and insulated. Not only does a coat provide more functional insulation, due to its thicker and tighter woven fabric, but also matches well with my more formal winter wardrobe, which usually consists of Chelsea boots, and turtlenecks.
Sometimes, I wear lighter weight jackets in the winter as a layering piece, or as an outer layer over other layers.
Coats lend themselves more to formal, winter situations.
Personally, I feel that this way of wearing them creates a good distinction between the two, though it is mostly common sense.
So, in summary:
- Wear a jacket when it’s warmer, and a coat when it’s colder.
- Wear a jacket when you’re dressing more casually, and a coat when you’re dressing more formally.
Despite the words becoming muddled and interchangeable in modern times, this article has outlined what exactly the difference is between a typical coat and a jacket, and what attributes lend themselves to one or another.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter – but now you know!