Sweatshirt vs Jacket vs Sweater vs Hoodie: The Midlayer Guide Every Man Needs

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by  David Martin | Last Updated: 

I love the onset of fall and the colder months for one reason above all others: it’s time to break out the midlayers. 

Sweatshirts, jackets, sweaters, and hoodies provide the appropriate warmth for the changing of the seasons, and also bring a ton of new outfit options. 

I’m a big jacket guy, honestly to a fault. I used to throw a jacket over a t-shirt for activities as diverse as going grocery shopping, dinner with my in-laws, drinks with friends, or camping. 

In my freshman year of high school, I wore the same jacket to school every day and wore it all day for six months straight. See what I mean? Big jacket guy.

At some point, I realized I was depriving myself of the joys of other midlayers, but didn’t exactly know where to start. Sweatshirts, sweaters, and hoodies all played the same role in my mind, so how would I decide which garment to wear, and when?

I’m sure I’m not the only guy who’s considered his wardrobe with the same question, so I did some research to help define the best time to wear each of these midlayers.

In this article I’ll define what each midlayer is and how to style it so you can expand your outfit options and not wear the same thing for six months like I did.

Sweatshirt vs Jacket vs Sweater vs Hoodie: Key Attributes

Sweatshirt vs Jacket vs Sweater vs Hoodie Compared

Speaking broadly, the main difference between these garments is the material they’re made from. 

Let’s start with jackets, because of my aforementioned obsession. 

Model in Harrington Jacket on steps

Jackets can be made from almost any fabric, but the most common materials are cotton, wool, leather, polyester, and shearling. These garments represent a broad category of midlayers that encompass some of the other styles in question, like zip hoodies.

The most defining attribute of a jacket is the front closure, which often takes the form of a zipper or buttons. This is why zip hoodies are often considered jackets, but pullover sweatshirts aren’t. 

Gobi Cashmere zip hoodie close up detail while zipping

Sweaters are another broad category, but are most commonly made from wool, cashmere, and synthetic materials. These garments are generally knitted or crocheted, which is their main difference from sweatshirts.

Based on the definition I gave above for jackets, sweaters with a front closure, like cardigans, can also be considered jackets.

model wearing knit cardigan and dark blue jeans

Sweatshirts are almost always cotton cloth material, and this term encompasses hoodies as well. Hoodies are sweatshirts, but not all sweatshirts are hoodies. 

model in LA apparel sweatshirt

To make all these differences more clear, I’ve set up a table below to describe the attributes of each garment type for quick reference:

JACKETSWEATERSWEATSHIRTHOODIE
Typical FabricsCotton, wool, leather, polyester, shearlingWool, cashmere, synthetic materialsCotton, polyester, sometimes cashmereCotton, polyester, sometimes cashmere
Defining FeaturesFront closure (zipper or buttons)Knitted or crochetedCotton cloth constructionHooded and often has a kangaroo pouch
Hood?SometimesNoSometimesYes
Uses/FormalityCasual, semi-casual, semi-formal, camping, athletic wear, rainy conditionsSemi-casual, semi-formal, formalCasual, loungewear, athleisurewear, campingCasual, loungewear, athleisurewear, camping
ConstructionSeamedSeamed or seamlessSeamedSeamed
Part of Another Category?NoYes, sometimes sweaters are jacketsYes, sometimes sweatshirts are hoodiesYes, hoodies are sweatshirts and sometimes jackets

What Is a Sweater?

Brooks Brothers sweaters

A sweater is generally a knitted or crocheted garment that has long sleeves and covers down to the waist. One notable exception to this is the sweater vest, which is an unfortunate addition to the annals of apparel history.

Sweaters come in all shapes and sizes, and often feature different textures due to the fact that they’re knitted and crocheted.

For example, cable-knit sweaters, ribbed sweaters, and regular knitted sweaters are some of the different textures you’ll frequently find in this garment category. 

Besides textures, sweaters can be grouped into three main categories: pullovers, turtlenecks, and quarter-zips. 

Man in Alo Yoga sweater and hat

A pullover sweater is probably what first comes to mind when you think of a sweater. It has a crew neck and no front closure, meaning you have to pull it over your head to get it on. These sweaters have the same form as basic sweatshirts, but are made with different materials.

Some of my favorite pullover sweaters are from Mizzen+Main’s Cassady line, which are super soft, moisture-wicking, and wrinkle resistant. These sweaters have a flattering fit for my upper body, to the extent that I usually don’t want to wear other midlayers in the colder months.

Mizzen+Main Cassady Sweater

If you like your sweaters to be super soft, moisture-wicking, and wrinkle resistant, you'll be a fan of Mizzen+Main's Cassady Sweater line. For me, they offer a flattering fit to my upper body to the extent that I usually don’t want to wear other midlayers in the colder months.

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Turtlenecks are technically pullovers, in that you have to put them on the same way, but they have a raised collar that folds over. These add a subtle flair to any outfit and take some confidence to pull off well.

Brooks Brothers corduroy brown pants and black turtleneck

Lastly, we have quarter-zips. These are a cross between pullovers and turtlenecks. You have to pull it over your head to get it on. It has a raised collar, but it also has a zipper that goes down to the mid-chest, or a quarter of the way down your torso.

Mizzen+Main’s Cassady line also includes quarter zips, which have an athletic fit, ample flexibility, and plenty of warmth. 

Mizzen+Main Cassady Quarter Zip

360° stretch? Check. Wrinkle resistant? Check. So soft you won't want to take it off regardless of how hot it is? Checkmate.

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How Do You Style a Sweater?

There are endless ways to style sweaters, but I’ll cover some basics so that you can dress with confidence. 

First, let’s start with a crew neck sweater. Find one of these that fits you well and is made with high quality material, and pair it with dark wash jeans and leather boots for a classic outfit that will never go out of style. 

model with sweater and grey pants in the woods

One of my go-to outfits is a cream or off-white sweater, a pair of dark blue jeans, and dark brown leather Chelsea boots. This kind of outfit is great for hanging with friends, appropriate for drinks on the town, and even a solid first date outfit if you dress it up slightly with a nice watch. 

You can dress this outfit up even more by swapping out the jeans for chinos, and even further by layering a button-down shirt beneath the crew neck sweater. 

Model with chinos sweater and button down

This is also a great place to use quarter zips. Starting with Chelsea boots or your favorite pair of derbys, keep the chinos, keep the button-down, and put a quarter zip over top. You’ll look like you walked straight out of a J. Crew catalogue. 

This is a great outfit for more formal work environments, a fancy dinner date night, and really any semi-formal occasion you can think of. 

I’ve had quarter zips that are too tight to make wearing a button-down beneath comfortable, but I don’t have that issue with Mizzen+Main’s Cassady quarter zips. The fabric is flexible and breathable enough to make for comfortable wear all day long.

Lastly, we have turtlenecks. These are awesome for layering under a suit if you’re trying to hit that European, sleek look. Just make sure you wear suit pants that don’t require a belt—turtlenecks with a suit and a belt is a big no-no.

model with sweater and jacket

Speaking of turtlenecks with belts, unless you really love Steve Jobs I advise against wearing tight turtlenecks with jeans. 

It can be done, but if you’re planning on tucking the turtleneck in you might as well throw out all your shoes and only wear white New Balance’s dads around the world are inexplicably drawn to. 

model with black sweater and brown pants

If I’m wearing jeans or corduroys, I’ll wear a chunky, loose turtleneck over top for a casual, cozy look. Pair this with some leather boots and you’re ready for any casual weekend activities in style.

What Is a Sweatshirt

What goes with green pants Man wearing green chinos with white sneakers and black crew sweatshirt

A sweatshirt typically has the same form as a sweater, meaning that it’s a pullover garment with long sleeves that covers down to your waist. Many exceptions to this exist, though, which we’ll get to shortly.

The defining characteristic of a sweatshirt is the material it’s made from. Sweatshirts are almost exclusively made from a heavy, cotton cloth material or polyester blend. 

Ever since moving from my obsession with jackets, crew neck sweatshirts have tried to take their place. These look like your stereotypical sweater, but are instead made with cotton cloth and aren’t knitted. 

Cotton cloth is a more casual material than wool or cashmere, which makes sweatshirts less formal than sweaters. It’s in the name—it’s okay to sweat in a sweatshirt but best to avoid working out in a cashmere sweater. 

Why? Because cotton is much easier to clean than wool or cashmere. Cotton is durable and can be machine washed easily, whereas you need to be careful with more premium fabrics. 

Sweatshirts are great for all types of physical activity, whether it be the gym, hiking, or camping. These garments are also often made with a polyester fabric blend, which gives a more stretchy, breathable feeling to the sweatshirt. 

Los Angeles Apparel Review model in sweatshirt

The polyester blend sweatshirts are also easy to clean and can be thrown right into the washing machine. Since they’re so breathable, I prefer these for going to the gym or on a hike. 

The sweatshirt category also includes hoodies, which we’ll cover in the next section.

How Do You Style a Sweatshirt?

A basic sweatshirt has loads of casual use cases. 

My favorite way to style a crew neck sweatshirt is with a pair of jeans and white sneakers. White leather sneakers are a great choice here, but classics like Converse All-Stars are perfect as well. 

This is my go-to outfit in Fall and early Spring, when the weather is transitional and can be chilly. It’s perfect for running errands, grabbing a beer with friends, or spending time with your family. 

For a preppy look, I like to keep the white sneakers and jeans, then get a gingham or plaid button down and put the crew neck sweatshirt over top. Keep the button down untucked for a more casual look, and you’ve got the perfect outfit for apple-picking. 

A light jacket also goes well over a crew neck sweatshirt, as does a winter jacket when it’s especially cold. 

Crew neck sweatshirts are also a great layer over your workout clothes when you’re warming up. In the winter months the gym I go to is always frigid, and it’s most comfortable to keep on a crew neck while I get my blood pumping. 

What Is a Hoodie?

Man in barbell hoodie and pants in sunlight

Speaking of sweatshirts, the hoodie is probably the most popular category of sweatshirt. Hoodies take the same body of a sweatshirt or a sweater, but attach a hood to the collar that can be brought up over your head for extra warmth, protection from the elements, or style.

Hoodies are most often made from the same cotton cloth material as crew neck sweatshirts, and due to the hood, they’re considered less formal. 

I most often associate hoodies with lounging around the house on the weekend, binge watching Netflix, a top layer for my workout gear, or doing yardwork in the colder months. None of these are formal activities, and layering a hoodie over a button down would just be weird.

Most hoodies are pullovers, but there are also zip hoodies, which have a zipper front closure as the name implies. 

Gobi Cashmere zip hoodie close up detail while zipping

Zip hoodies are technically jackets, due to having the front closure, and are great for when you need an extra layer but don’t want to pull something over your head that might mess up your perfect hair. 

How Do You Style a Hoodie?

Hoodies should be styled similarly to crew neck sweatshirts, but since they’re less formal, there aren’t as many outfits you can pair these with. 

model with black hoodie

Sweatsuits have made a big resurgence in the past few years, so if you’re trying to look like Kanye West, pair a matching sweatsuit with a long peacoat and some chunky leather boots, like Doc Martens. 

This outfit is definitely trendy and what I like to call, “TikTok fashion”, so rock it while it’s still in. 

For those who are less adventurous, throw a hoodie over a t-shirt, wear your favorite jeans, put on a pair of white sneakers, and you’ve got an outfit suitable for running errands or the local dive bar but not much else. 

Athleisure hoodies, which usually have a blend of polyester, nylon, or spandex fabric, are great for working out or any other physical activities. One of my favorite workout hoodies is again from Mizzen+Main, specifically their ProFlex Hoodie

Mizzen+Main ProFlex Hoodie

If you’re in the market for a quality, 4-way stretch sweatshirt for the gym or for everyday use, I recommend Mizzen+Main’s ProFlex Hoodie. The fabric blend makes this sweatshirt perfect for workouts because it won’t wrinkle, is moisture-wicking, and has unmatched stretch recovery.

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This hoodie is a blend of nylon and spandex, which keep it flexible, wrinkle resistant, breathable, and perfect for working out. I like to run in the colder months, and having a top layer like the ProFlex offers the perfect amount of warmth without impeding my movement.

If you’re into zip hoodies, these have a few more styling options. 

model with black zip hoodie and grey pants

Throw a zip hoodie over any of the outfits above, like with a basic t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, and you’re good to go. 

model with zip hoodie and black pants

Alternatively, if you want to look like you just walked off the set of Silicon Valley and can code in six different languages, wear a zip hoodie over a button down shirt with jeans and leather shoes.

This outfit is also great for casual drinks and other outings with friends.

What Is a Jacket?

Model sitting in Harrington Jacket1

A jacket is primarily defined by the fact that it has a front closure. This is most often a zipper or buttons, but could also be velcro or a belt of some sort. 

As you can tell from that vague definition, the world of jackets is vast. There are field jackets, bomber jackets, denim jackets, Harrington jackets, leather jackets, trucker jackets, and many, many more. We’re barely scratching the surface. 

The Jacket Maker 4

I like to think of jackets as the outermost layer of any outfit. This isn’t always the case, but it’s a decent rule of thumb to follow. As such, these garments are typically made with heavy fabrics like wool, cotton, leather, denim, and shearling. 

Since there are so many different types of jackets, it makes sense that these jackets span a range of formalities. Some jackets are great for a fancy dinner date, while others are perfect for chilly nights around a campfire. 

Taylor Stitch lombardi jacket in yellow

Take, for example, Mizzen+Main’s Belmont Jacket. This sleek, quilted jacket is refined and ready for a classy night on the town. 

Mizzen+Main Belmont Jacket

This diamond quilted beauty stopped us in our tracks the first time we saw it, largely due to its unique detailed collar band. It's water resistant quilting will protect you from the elements while the polar fleece lining will keep you cosy and warm.

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While the Belmont Jacket is the kind of thing you wear to impress the in-laws, it’s probably not the style you want to wear around a campfire. 

If you’re interested in something more woodsy, however, Mizzen+Main’s Alpine Jacket is great for all outdoor activities. This 100% polyester zip up fleece is perfect for a chilly hike, weekend camping, or just walking the dog when it’s cold outside. 

Mizzen+Main Alpine Jacket

This 100% polyester zip up fleece is perfect for a chilly hike, weekend camping, or just walking the dog when it’s cold outside.

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Since there are so many types of jackets, there’s obviously a ton of ways to style them, which we’ll get into next.

How Do You Style a Jacket?

Styling a jacket comes down to the formality of the intended outfit. 

model with jacket walking down stairs

If you’re going to a nice dinner or the hot new rooftop bar in town, stick with something like the Belmont Jacket from Mizzen+Main. I’d wear this over a slim fit button down with a good pair of chinos and leather Chelsea boots

If that’s not your scene and you’re headed to some musty basement for an indy concert, break out the denim jacket. I like to pair denim jackets with a clean white t-shirt, a good pair of jeans, and a rugged pair of boots. 

I was recently in Switzerland and did some casual hiking, so I wore the Mizzen+Main’s Alpine Jacket. To complete the outfit, I wore a basic t-shirt under the coat, a pair of light wash jeans, and some running shoes. 

Need a quick fall outfit? Take a sturdy canvas jacket, put it over a plain hoodie, wear some dark wash jeans and brown leather boots and you’re ready for every casual outing I can think of. 

I could write about how to style jackets endlessly because there really are infinite combinations, but the most important thing to remember is the formality. 

Key Things to Consider When Wearing Midlayers

Mizzen and Main Vest Layering 08

Midlayers, as the name suggests, are usually worn between a base and outer layer. They serve to insulate and keep you warm and can bring style to any outfit. 

The most important thing to consider when bringing midlayers into an outfit is the formality and the use case. 

If you’re planning to redo your landscaping this Fall, wear a hoodie, not a sweater. 

Planning to take the significant other to that nice new restaurant? Ditch the sweatshirt and grab the sweater.

About to run five miles? Take off the cashmere and grab the polyester sweatshirt. 

As long as the midlayer matches the formality and use case, you’re good to go.

Layer Up

how to zip in Cortazu mid layer jacket into mountain hard shell

Now that you know the key differences between sweatshirts, jackets, sweaters, and hoodies, you can rock midlayers for any occasion with confidence. 

Whether it be a jacket for a nice date, a sweater for drinks with friends, or a sweatshirt for that run you keep telling yourself you’ll do on Saturday morning, there’s an appropriate midlayer for every situation.

I like to get most of my midlayers from Mizzen+Main, whose essentials are made with quality fabrics, look sharp, and stand the test of time. 

If you know a friend who keeps wearing sweatshirts on first dates and could use a little education, share this article with him. He’ll thank you when he’s deleting all his dating apps.

FAQs

Is a hoodie a jacket or a sweatshirt?

A hoodie is always a sweatshirt and sometimes a jacket. Jackets are defined by having a front closure, so technically a zip hoodie is a jacket.

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