The waistcoat is a sartorial saviour. But unfortunately, its redemptive powers are too often forgotten or viciously snubbed.
Its impeccable structure and clean lines flatter the masculine frame, whether you’re the skinny guy, larger gent or go-hard-or-go-home gym junkie. And it can be worn for a variety of occasions – both social and corporate. Its style and practicality made the waistcoat an easy top five suiting trend from Pitti Uomo 88. The Italians love it, and you should too.
Breaking It Down
The waistcoat – in winter, adds a dapper element to weekday work suit and acts as an lighter alternative to a blazer in summer, perfect for getting your Sunday-best on. Overcoming stale style connotations – or finding ways to work the waistcoat into a modern wardrobe – is easy, with our official how-to guide on the waistcoat. Your closet will thank you for it. Read on, sir.
Single Vs. Double
This debate is just like the jacket version – it’s a personal preference thing, really. The single variety is a more contemporary choice, especially when part of suit. It usually comes sans lapels, making it a slicker three-piece look for work. The double-breast (DB) in peak, notch or shawl lapel is more traditional, inspired by the Fifties suit looks made envious by Steve McQueen.
Adding windowpane checks to the DB waistcoat will play down formalities, however. And the DB in a Prince of Wales check or tweed looks impeccable over a shirt with the sleeves rolled – meaning it isn’t reserved for suits. With no jacket, dress like a mid-century lawyer, relaxing post-work. Now, sip that scotch.
Focus On The Fit
Like any tailored thing, fit is everything. When shopping for a waistcoat, make sure the armholes are high enough, and that the piece hugs around shoulders and torso. It shouldn’t pull at the buttons when fastened up or look tight across the chest and back.
But, never go for an urban, oversized look. The additional material will make the waist coat look boxy and it will shift under your suit jacket if it’s not snug. The whole purpose of the waistcoat is to cinch everything in – for a tidy up of your shirt and tie.
Texture wins when shopping for a waistcoat. And the best textural fabrics are the naturally-derived ones such as wool, tweed, brushed cottons, corduroy and linen.
Natural fibres breath better and insulate well and don’t retain odours like polyester or synthetics do. A bit of poly fibre is fine as a blend with natural yarn, as it gives some sturdiness and creases less than pure natural forms.
The price of the waistcoat is a good indicator of what it’s made of – the more expensive ones made from wool or silk. Otherwise, read the fabrication label before you buy.
How To Wear It
Better Button Up
The number one rule: the waistcoat must be buttoned up. The idea behind the coat is ‘kept’ so an open, flapping-in-the-breeze thing defeats the purpose. A neat trick is to leave the last button undone (like you would a suit jacket) so it looks a bit more ‘effortless’ in its appearance (especially without a jacket).
And the waistcoat buttoned over a shirt gives off the look of sports coat or blazer when worn solo. Wearing the waistcoat undone? You just undid all your hard work it nailing the fit.
As already mentioned, a textured waistcoat – achieved with natural fabrics – is important: adding depth and interest to a traditionally flat shirt. Pair similar textures at first glance: rougher tweeds and corduroys with raw denim bottoms or brushed cotton pants.
A cool combination is a navy tweed pant with white shirt under under a cord waistcoat. Or a denim jean in dark indigo, with a tweed waist coat and black denim jacket over the top. It’s a perfect play on texture, fabric and colour. And works in the double denim trend, without even noticing.
Make your waistcoat pop with contrast colour. That is, a different hue or pattern to that of your suit or blazer. It may not be work appropriate so use discretion but its concept supports this notion of the waistcoat being a focal point. Slip a grey tweed number under a navy mohair suit for winter, with a petit checked pastel blue shirt, matching woven tie and tan brogues.
For summer, a cotton grey blazer and coffee-hued waistcoat is super dapper with an open-neck white shirt. Why not swap the blazer for a casual mac with a brash print, like a camo or stripe?
Using a waistcoat as a layering piece in winter is perfect, keeping you warm and giving your suit a focal point of interest – and some much needed depth – aside from the tie and pocket square.
If your work gear is more smart casual attire (or for a suave weekend get-up), the waistcoat layers effortlessly under a cardigan, place over a shirt and tie, and neutral chinos or jeans. Then choose your shoe, a white sneaker or leather lace-up are obvious options.
Play-Up The Shirts
Button shirts – from Oxford to granddad – are the primary shirting for the waistcoat to adorn. In clean cut white a more textural, tweedy waistcoat can be layered for a heritage vibe. Or a summery linen one over a pastel shirt for a spring time look.
Chambray shirts offer a bit of a modern American workman vibe to the waistcoat, especially when worn with raw denim jeans and thick tread boots. And short sleeve button shirts offer a super summery look to the waistcoat, opting for a casual fabric like silk-cotton, linen or pure cotton.
The t-shirt is the riskiness move of all. It needs to be a nice fit and plain in colour. A crew neck is best or a henley with long sleeves.
Pair with tailored trousers or khaki chinos to keep it clean cut and a touch dressier down below. Otherwise, you’ll could end up looking like a member of a Nineties boy band. Proceed with caution.