Fall Wardrobe Essentials: Get the Perfect Light Jacket

I grew up in Hammond, Indiana (the town where A Christmas Story is based).  And the scene where Randy is bundled up like a tick about to burst, his arms whirling uselessly at his sides, is basically my entire childhood.

After so many winters of enduring total bodily confinement for months on end, I'm not a fan of breaking out the parka or topcoat unless it's below freezing, snowing heavily, or the tail end of November.

Living in Chicago today, I have a minimum of three months that require such cumbersome outerwear, so I'll be damned if I'm going to stuff myself into a parka before it is absolutely necessary.

Combine these brutal winters with hot, humid summers lasting from May until October and my opportunities to wear a light jacket are that much more fleeting.

Autumn is a sacred time for style guys, so I jump at the first chance I get to wear a light jacket and ride it out for as long as possible.

Choosing a light jacket

Summer wardrobes can be pretty boring and winter wardrobes tend to favor survival over aesthetics, but the light jacket category that accompanies the autumn season is rife with possibilities.

Materials are numerous, colors are plentiful, and designs are limitless. Some of these options really aren't outerwear, but pass as such, nonetheless.

Base your decision on your local weather and your professional and social environments.

Below are some broad categories to help get you started when looking for that perfect light jacket.

Leather Jacket

light jacket leather example

I go into the details of selecting the best leather jacket in my free 10 Timeless Wardrobe Essentials eBook, so I'll just focus on style here.

I'm a fan of moto and bomber style leather jackets. These are going to be most versatile as they're plenty edgy, without going into the wannabe rockstar arena.

They also have plenty of personality so you don't have to worry about missing out on any of the cool factor.

Since you're likely to spend a pretty penny on a quality leather jacket, it makes sense to treat this as an investment and go with a fairly minimal style in a versatile color.

You don't want to be kicking yourself a year from now when you realize that you bought a $400 jacket on a whim, and have since outgrown the style.

Recommended Leather Jackets

Light Jackets leather

Vince CamutoLevi'sLucky Brand

Bomber Jacket

This is the epitome of a light jacket.

You'll sometimes find leather jackets in this style, but I'm focusing on the modern nylon variety.

These jackets are perfect to pair with your entire casual wardrobe and are just right for autumn, warmth-wise.

The short body allows for unrestricted movement and the elastic cuffs, waist, and collar are comfortable and great at keeping the wind out.

Recommended Bomber Jackets

Light Jackets bomber

Ben ShermanOld NavyVolcom

Rain Jacket

light jacket rain jacket example

It rarely seems to drizzle in my neck of the woods. But when in rains, it rains.

I'm talking about monsoon-type rains that will have you soaked to your skivvies by just sprinting from the front door to the car.

Needless to say, some type of waterproof outerwear is essential, especially if your main modes of transportation are a good pair of boots and a transit card.

A jacket with a hood and loads of pockets will be very functional, while a sleek option, sans hood will be the obvious choice for professionals.

Don't be afraid to go with a little color here.

You don't need to go knee-length yellow rain slicker bold, but a little color never hurt anyone on a dreary day.

Recommended Rain Jackets

Light Jackets rain

CarharttTommy HilfigerWoolrich

Denim Jacket

What these light jackets lack in legitimate warmth, they more than make up for in rugged coolness.

For best results, buy a jacket in its raw, unwashed state and break it in on your own. That's the best way to get a perfect fitting and looking jacket.

If you love the look of a denim jacket but are after a little more warmth, a sherpa-lined denim jacket would be perfect.

When pairing a denim jacket with jeans, avoid the Canadian tuxedo look and ensure the jacket and jeans are different colors and/or stages of break-in.

Recommended Denim Jackets

Light Jackets denim

Levi'sGAPNaked & Famous

Sport Coat

light jacket sport coat example

In the middle of summer, I always rant about the cruelty of traditional menswear, arguing that a dress shirt, tie, and jacket are best suited for 50 to 60 degree days.

Following that logic makes a sport coat the ideal light jacket.

To emphasis its function as a light jacket, rather than a permanent component of the outfit, try popping the collar if the weather is brisk.

You won't look like a douche bag if you flip the collar to combat the elements – they're actually meant to be worn that way, after all.

Heavier fabrics and patterns work best as a light jacket. I wouldn't try this as readily if the sport coat resembles an orphaned suit jacket.

If you aren't quite sure what that means, the distinction between a sport coat and a suit jacket is outlined in my free 10 Timeless Wardrobe Essentials eBook.

Recommended Sport Coats

Light Jackets sport coat

J.CrewFlatsevenBanana Republic

Chunky Cardigan

light jacket cardigan example

All buttoned up, a cardigan looks much like a normal sweater and will come off as a component of the outfit.

Popping the collar and/or leaving it mostly unbuttoned will strengthen the outerwear illusion.

I like to wear cardigans in the same manner as I used to wear a hoodie. It's a grab-and-go kind of deal.

Another tip is to wear your cardigan over another sweater, like a merino wool v-neck. This move will make it instantly stand out as outerwear, because who layers sweaters like that?

Recommended Cardigans

Light Jackets cardigan

Old NavyTokyo LaundryCalvin Klein

Shacket (Shirt/Jacket)

Shackets, overshirts, or shirt jackets are cut like a denim jacket but made of heavy shirting material.

I like these jackets in thick flannel, corduroy, wool, chambray, and canvas.

They can be found in both lined and unlined options.

Wearing this type of light jacket over another collared shirt will help it appear more like outerwear, rather than a peculiarly thick button up.

My grandfather is one tough SOB, and in his younger years, wore one of these with a quilted lining exclusively during the winter (in Chicago). He didn't even button it!

Recommended Shackets

Light Jackets shacket

Threads 4 ThoughtMountain HardwearWoolrich

How to Make it Work

As soon as the weather dips below balmy, hold off reaching straight for the heavy duty parka.

Instead, ride out the mild weather in a light jacket for as long as possible by (a) using light layers under your clothes and (b) adding a hat, scarf, and/or gloves as needed to reinforce the jacket.

Do this and you'll be able to extend the time before the cold, cruel winds of winter force you into outerwear that is strictly survival-based.

Stay cozy, my friends.

All the best,


You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    October 22, 2015 at 7:06 pm

    Got a link to the brown leather jacket you’ve got on?

    I want it.

    • Reply
      October 24, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      I wish I did because the jacket is fantastic, but it’s an older model made by GUESS. All of their current offerings seem to be made of cheap pleather. Just look for “moto” jackets on various shopping sites and you should come up with similar designs.

      • Reply
        October 30, 2015 at 5:31 pm

        Thanks for the reply. I was hunting around and found a decent alternative at Buckle but it’s made with polyurethan. Had to pass as I’m an American and I want real american brown leather!

        • Reply
          October 31, 2015 at 1:16 pm

          I feel you. I found an awesome black sherling lined jacket for $80 at Marshalls, but had to pass because it was polyurethane. I seriously considered getting it, but ultimately thought about the longevity of my wardrobe.

          • ChrisH
            December 18, 2016 at 11:36 am

            Nate, I tried on a faux-leather Guess brown jacket today. I really liked it, but I wasn’t sure about the material. Does polyurethane not last as long/heat as effectively? It was $75, so I figured something was off.

          • Nate
            December 19, 2016 at 9:36 am

            I’ve seen some decent faux leather but I’ve also seen a lot of people wearing jackets that were peeling worse than a cheap sofa. It’d be much better to put that $75 towards a real leather jacket so I’d keep looking if I were you.

  • Reply
    Brooks Gorden
    October 24, 2015 at 5:20 pm

    Do you know of any companies that sell denim jackets for tall people? I am 6’2″ and I have Orangutan arms.

  • Reply
    Happy Halloween, Hormones, and October Hall of Fame - Bold and Determined
    November 14, 2015 at 6:17 am

    […] Fall Wardrobe Essentials: Get the Perfect Light Jacket […]

  • Reply
    November 23, 2015 at 6:32 pm

    Hey Nate, was wondering what your opinion was on M65 Field Coats?

    • Reply
      November 23, 2015 at 8:15 pm

      I really like military gear. I say that if it works with your personal style, go for it. The one downside to military clothing is that it tends to be very baggy. Depending on your build, you may have to get it tailored for a more streamlined appearance. If I were buying the jacket, I would go for black or olive before camo.

  • Reply
    Josh Meza
    December 1, 2015 at 3:29 am

    Nice article. Are leather jackets with sweater hood good or a no go?

  • Reply
    April 10, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    Nate, any thoughts on a Harrington Jacket for spring wear? Warm weather is around the corner again

    Seems like a reputable brand and a versatile jacket.

  • Leave a Reply

    About Me

    Casual Style 101

    Free style guide