The waistcoat is a sartorial saviour. But unfortunately, its redemptive powers are too often forgotten or viciously snubbed. Well no more.
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. The Italians love it, and you should too.
Whether it’s tucked under a dapper suit jacket as part of a three-piece suit, or flying solo with jeans and a button up shirt, here’s how to do it right.
In This Story…
What Is A Waistcoat
The waistcoat – in winter it adds a dapper element to your weekday work suit and acts as a lighter alternative to a blazer during summer. Think of it as a dapper third skin to your best suit. Overcoming stale style connotations or finding ways to work the waistcoat into a modern wardrobe is even easier.
Focus On The Fit
Perfect for warm weather – when a blazer feels too hot – the suit vest should be just as chic as a peak lapel, cotton slub jacket, acting as the outer layer of a smart casual look, that’s summer-friendly. How?
Things to look for: high armholes, and a close fit around the shoulders and torso. Things to avoid: any pulling at the buttons or around the back, as well as the opposite problem – excess material, which just looks sloppy.
Things to avoid: 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.
How To Buy A Waistcoat
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 A Waistcoat
It’s supposed to make you look put together, so why would you want it any other way?
Always buttoned as that is how this piece looks best and was designed to be worn. However, always leave the last button undone (like a suit jacket), so it doesn’t pull when you lift your arms up. It is almost a fashion must to leave the bottom button unfastened. It’s a rule from the early days when one of the English kings was too fat so he needed to unbutton the last button to ride his horse. The look stuck and here we are today.
Waistcoat Colours, Materials & Patterns
Just like a blazer, go for quality materials that match the weather. Think tweed and cord for winter and linen or cotton for summer: both will inject some all important texture into a monochrome shirt and vest combo.
Avoid shiny polyester that looks like you’ve gone to rent-a-tux and hired something last minute. That means those ill-fitting poly-wool blend black waistcoats. As for patterns that personalise, look to checks and stripes, but do away with kitschy built in chains and brass buttons: think stylish not dress-ups.
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.
Waistcoat With A Suit
If you’re worried about finding a quality waistcoat, opt for one when buying a suit. Think of as it as an extension of a suit, where tailoring and the right fit is key to looking great. That way, it will come tailored (not off the rack) and perfectly fitted to you.
And, you have the option of matching it as a whole suit for formal occasions down the track. Plus, buy a second three piece suits and mix and match waistcoats with contrast suit pant, getting more for your suit buck. Double, we mean, triple win.
On the subject of single button vs.c double buttons, the debate is just like the jacket version – it’s a personal preference thing. 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.
Waistcoat With Jeans, Chinos Or Trousers
You can go with the choice of jean, chino’s or a matching suit trouser. All options will work well with the solo vest option ensuring you create the right look. To avoid looking like a garçon, pair your vest with items that aren’t black trousers. No black pant and white shirt combinations. And say no to shorts unless you’re Nick Wooster. Or as cool as he is.
Waistcoat With T-shirts & Unbuttoned Shirts
Men should play around with shirting, styling the look formally or giving it a more relaxed feel, depending on the shirt. It’s all about creating a more relaxed feel, compared to wearing a three-piece suit. But, at the same time ensure the outfit still has a certain formality to it. And don’t be tempted to rock it with a singlet; too much arm skin, not enough discretion.
Try wearing it with a t-shirt, short sleeve shirt or a long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled up.
Hit the gallery for 30 ways to rock a suit vest both with and without a suit.