WAISTCOATS

No man’s wardrobe is complete without a suit, and no man’s suit is complete without a waistcoat. If you’re wondering how to wear a waistcoat then give our style guide a read for all the best tips and tricks. 

Have you ever watched an old gangster film like The Godfather and thought, despite the fact that they’re gangsters, these guys look great in a waistcoat? That’s because waistcoats are an amazing way to add an element of class and style to any outfit that you may be wearing.

Unfortunately, Waistcoats deserve more respect than they receive. Wearing a waistcoat seems like a scary task to many men who aren’t sure how to properly style it. Well, with a little bit of know-how and advice you will soon be able to wear a waistcoat in a modern and stylish way.

What is a Waistcoat

In its simplest form, a waistcoat is a waist length jacket that generally comes without sleeves or a collar. Done up with buttons on the front, it is typically tight fitting. Men predominantly wear waistcoats over a button up or dress shirt and under a jacket.

However, what a waistcoat can be, is so much more. Although the history of the waistcoats has been dated back as far as King Charles II, it wasn’t until the 19th Century, when elite gentlemen began to wear them, that the waistcoat we know and love was born.

Originally waistcoats for men became fashionable when it was the style to have a clinched in waist with an emphasised figure. Throughout the 20th century the style became straighter, putting less emphasis on a restricted waist. This has remained the fashion for waistcoats ever since and confirms the waistcoat’s rich history in mens fashion. If anything, this emphasises just how versatile and classic the waistcoat really is.

waistcoat street style combo_166

If you’re wondering what the difference is between a waistcoat and a vest, you can stop. There is absolutely no physical difference between a waistcoat and a vest. The only difference is that if you’re British you will call them waistcoats, and if you’re American then you will probably call them vests.

Although the waistcoat is traditionally a formal item of clothing that is worn as part of a suit, there are also plenty of other ways you can use the waistcoat to create a great stylish outfit that isn’t necessarily ultra formal.

How to Wear a Waistcoat

If you’re reading this then you’re probably wondering how to wear a vest or waistcoat. Well, the main thing to consider when wearing a waistcoat, is that it fits correctly. Getting the size of your waistcoat wrong can be a disaster for your outfit, and is therefore very important, no matter how obvious it may seem. If your waistcoat is too large it’s going to be baggy around your chest and possibly balloon or crease. On the other hand, if your waistcoat is too small, it will appear as if you’re wearing a corset and possibly be hard to breath. Leave the corsets to the Elizabethan women.

The good thing about a waistcoat is that it simultaneously slims your build as well as tidying up the torso section of your outfit. Even if you tuck your shirt in, if you’re wearing a button down or dress shirt, it’s probably going to crease out at the sides. This is where a waistcoat can come and save the day. By wearing a waistcoat the lines of your outfit are made more straight, ultimately making you appear slimmer and taller.

waist coat combinations
PHOTO CREDIT: Kaamdaar

Although a waistcoat is traditionally worn as part of a three piece suit, it can be a great item to wear on its own as the centre piece of your outfit. However, in order for this to work, you need to make sure the material, colour and pattern of your waistcoat compliments the rest of your outfit.

When it comes to materials you want to stick to natural fabrics. Avoid any completely polyester waistcoats and stick to cotton, linen and wool. This will not only be more comfortable for you to wear, but will look a hundred percent better on you, avoiding looking like a waiter with that shiny polyester look.

Avoid wearing a waistcoat with any accessories. The waistcoat is an accessory in itself and thereby already gives your outfit all the extra detail it needs. If you start attaching pins or pocket watches you’re just going to look like a steampunk cosplayer. Additionally, although patterns can add detail to your waistcoat, avoid any fancy lace or detailing. Unless you’re going to a wedding you’re going to look over dressed.

Button Waistcoat

Almost any waistcoat you come across is going to have buttons down the front. These buttons are their for a reason and you should use them. Some men have in the past thought that it’s ok to wear a waistcoat with the buttons undone. Don’t do it, this isn’t a sports jacket. If you don’t do up your waistcoat buttons then you will be flapping about all over the place, loosing any formal sense of style that you gained with the waistcoat. The whole point of a waistcoat is to tidy up your outfit whilst adding a subtle and stylish detail. If you unbutton it you will just look as if you haven’t dressed yourself properly.

waist coat button
Bottom Button Undone | PHOTO CREDIT: Me My Suit and Tie

Bottom Button Unbuttoned

I know we’ve just told you that you must, under all circumstances, button up your waistcoat. Which is still true. However, this is with the exception of the very last button of the waistcoat. In many ways, the bottom button of a men’s waistcoat is completely pointless. When you raise your arms or move around you’re applying pull and pressure to your waistcoat. Leaving the bottom button undone reduces this and stops the buttons popping off after a few beers.

Waistcoat with a Suit

The most classic way in which to wear a waistcoat is as part of a suit ensemble. There is a reason that a three piece suit has been a stylish part of mens fashion for decades. In many ways, a three piece suit is the epitome of style, class and formality for mens fashion. If done correctly.

If you’re going to wear a waistcoat with a suit jacket be sure that the colour or pattern is very similar if not exactly the same. Unlike when wearing a shirt with a different colour or pattern to your jacket, a waistcoat should match your jacket in a way that makes it appear almost as if it’s part of the jacket. This will create a continuity to your outfit and add to the stylish flare of the waistcoat jacket combination.

blue three piece suit
PHOTO CREDIT: Robbreport

Also make sure that you don’t do up your jacket over the waistcoat. If you’re just going to end up hiding it behind your jacket, why go to all the trouble of wearing a beautifully patterned waistcoat? Leave it on show for all the world to see and it will add a great detail to your suit without appearing too cluttered.

Waistcoat and Jeans

If a three-piece suit is too formal for you, there are plenty of ways to wear a waistcoat vest for men in a more casual but stylish way. The easiest way to do this is by wearing a waistcoat with jeans. When you’re wearing a waistcoat with jeans think about being a bit more experimental with colour and pattern.

Without a suit jacket, your waistcoat will become the centre piece of your outfit. This means that you are now free to wear exciting colours and patterns that you can base the rest of your outfit around. A good way to do this is by wearing various textures. For instance, a checkered tweed waistcoat combined with some dark navy blue jeans and a blue checkered shirt gives a great rustic aesthetic to your outfit in a smart casual way.

waistcoat and jeans combo

Once again, a lot of this depends on the material of the waistcoat. You could wear a thick wool, or corduroy waistcoat for an interesting style that you don’t usually get with more typical cotton vests.

Remember that your shirt should always be tucked in when you’re wearing a waistcoat. The bottom of your vest should sit at, you guessed it, your waist. Nothing should come below the waistcoat and it should connect straight on to your trousers. In terms of ties, it is entirely up to you. Traditionally, you would always wear a tie with a waistcoat as it can bring the whole outfit to a neat conclusion. However, if you’re trying to go for a particularly relaxed look then you could possibly wear one without a tie.

Brown Herringbone Vest

If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration for typical vest and waistcoat styles then why not start with one of the most classic? A brown tweed Herringbone waistcoat vest is about as classic as they get.

If you wear a brown tweed Herringbone waistcoat with a pair of blue jeans or check trousers you will have a great stylish combination. Be careful what kind of shirt you combine with this as you may end up looking like a farmer. So try not to wear any flat capswith it. A plain neutral coloured shirt will work perfectly. If you want a pattern, try a thin vertical stripe or small check.

brown herringbone combo

To finish off this classic look, add some brown leather brogues, and a knitwear tie. The brogues and tie will contribute to the overall rustic feel and give a great hipster look. All you need now is a big ginger beard and you’ll basically be a member of Mumford and Sons.

Your Quick Guide on How to Wear a Waistcoat:

  • Make sure you get a waistcoat that fits properly. You won’t be able to breath properly if it’s too small, and anything too big, you’ll look like a balloon.
  • Stick to natural materials. Buy a waistcoat in cotton, wool or linen. Avoid any cheap polyester vests, you will definitely be able to tell the difference.
  • Button your waistcoat up. If you’re wearing a waistcoat, do all the buttons up accept the last one. You don’t want it flapping in the breeze, but don’t want it to pop open either.
  • Experiment with different combinations. Don’t be afraid to have fun with a waistcoat. Wear it on its own with some jeans and a shirt, or as part of a suit ensemble.

On That Note…

The waistcoat has a history in men’s fashion that spans back for hundreds of years. After all that time it remains one of the most classic and stylish items of clothing a man can own. Whether you’re wearing it as part of a suit to add an extra layer of formality, or wearing it as the centre piece to your entire outfit. Follow this style guide and you will be donning some dapper vests in no time.

WAISTCOATS

Tailoring though has never really gone away. Sure, it’s had its lulls in popularity, but if you want to look properly turned out there’s only one way to go – suited.

And the most suited of them all is the three piece. This of course means wearing a waistcoat, perhaps the sharpest way to instantly take your suit from prom relic to boardroom ready.

Waistcoats have been around since the birth of modern menswear, and today are about as classic as it gets. Wearing one is far from a walk in the park though, and there are plenty of pitfalls when it comes to fit, style and what to wear them with.

So, whether you want to impress at your next job interview or fancy adding this overlooked piece of tailoring as part of your permanent line-up, we’ve rounded up the best waistcoat brands and will explain just what it takes to pull off this divisive garment.

How To Wear A Waistcoat

Despite being a timeless piece of menswear, the waistcoat comes fraught with dangers. Take the last decade as a cautionary tale: every manufactured boyband worth their salt was sporting some kind of waistcoat, accompanied by a ludicrously low-cut T-shirt and ill-advised beads in most cases.

Style crimes aren’t all you need to look out for though, technicality is important here too. Find a design too tight and you’ll look like an overstuffed sausage, go too loose and you’re the barely visible page boy buried in panic-bought polyester.

Your waistcoat’s fit should enable you to put a hand snugly beneath the closure without any strain on the buttons. Oh, and speaking of buttons, always leave your bottom button undone, those are just the rules.

The smartest way to wear a waistcoat is as nature intended – wear as part of a three piece suit. For a formal look the waistcoat should appear as an extension of your suit, so a design in the exact same colour and fabric as your blazer and trousers is preferable. That’s not to say that you can’t add a lone waistcoat to your existing tailoring line-up however.

It can work if you opt for one that’s an almost identical colour and texture to an existing suit, which’ll keep things feeling harmonious.

A navy, pale grey or charcoal suit worn with a corresponding colour waistcoat, white shirt, tonal tie and black dress shoes may not be groundbreaking, but it’s foolproof.

Taking the waistcoat off piste and informal is a little trickier, but it can be done. Wearing it with a T-shirt is a seriously bad idea; try instead opting for a shirt worn without a tie. In the spirit of David Gandy, a grey or camel herringbone design will make a handsome companion for a blue chambray shirt worn unbuttoned at the collar. Stick on some black slim jeans and some black penny loafers and you’ve just done what the haters said wasn’t possible: successfully worn the waistcoat without a suit.

How To Wear A Waistcoat

Where To Buy A Waistcoat

Marks & Spencer

Like Southgate himself, Marks & Spencer is humble, unshowy and doesn’t do too much fanfare. As such, we’d forgive you if you missed that fact that this stalwart of the British high street has upped its tailoring game considerably in recent years.

Here you’ll find reasonably priced waistcoats in practically every shade of navy and grey you could think of, which is the ideal if you’re looking to colour match to a suit already hanging in your wardrobe.

BUY NOW: £19.50

M&S COLLECTION Regular Fit Waistcoat

Topman

Those hoping to rock a waistcoat without looking like an extra from Peaky Blinders could do worse than head to Topman which goes modern on fit, fabric and design.

With most examples on offer sitting comfortably under £50 and with a few style curveballs (horseshoe and shawl collars) thrown in for good measure, there’s plenty to love about Topman’s take on this icon of tailoring.

BUY NOW: £20.18

Blue Tonal Check Suit Waistcoat

John Lewis

Thanks to an unwavering commitment to quality at a fair price, John Lewis has become one of Britain’s best-loved brands.

But, if you thought that this mid-market heavy hitter was average on the menswear front, then take a look at its waistcoat offering which is chock full of Italian fabrics and attractive designs. It’s fine tailoring, but it’s extremely democratic.

BUY NOW: £59.00

John Lewis Henry Linen Cotton Waistcoat, Sand

Charles Tyrwhitt

It’s near impossible to both remember the correct pronunciation of Charles Tyrwhitt and to not think of the brand on mention of the word ‘waistcoat’. With just a fleeting glance at its comprehensive range you’ll see why it’s synonymous with the latter.

While every waistcoat may be woven from wool, there are lots of design variation to get stuck into with enough different linings, finishes, colours and collar styles to ensure you’re spoilt for choice.

BUY NOW: £70.00

Charcoal adjustable fit birdseye travel suit waistcoat

Reiss

Tailoring at high-end high street retailer Reiss bridges the gap between shiny flammable polyester horrors and bank account battering Savile Row numbers – its waistcoats unsurprisingly follow suit. In a largely conservative colour palette, to the untrained eye the brand’s offering of waistcoats may look reasonably straightforward, but slim-fits, double jetted welt pockets and interesting weaves bring the old classic bang up to date.

BUY NOW: £115.00

BELIEF W MODERN FIT TRAVEL SUIT WAISTCOAT NAVY

Hawes & Curtis

Hawes & Curtis is a big name in men’s formal tailoring, and if the sheer volume of waistcoat design options from the brand is anything to go by, it’s a reputation that’s very much deserved. Styles here come patterned, plain, in a healthy range of colours and for the maximalist, there’s a smattering of designs which feature a contrast colours to the reverse. If you can’t find a waistcoat to suit your needs at Hawes & Curtis, you’re frankly being way too picky.

BUY NOW: £40.00

Men's Navy Prince of Wales Check Slim Fit Waistcoat

TM Lewin

Since its foundation over 100 years ago, TM Lewin has grown to become a familiar fixture on high streets and at train stations, which means that levelling up your waistcoat game could scarcely be easier.

Expect to find designs crafted from pure Italian wool, a variety of button designs and options and styles of fit designed to suit every man’s taste.

BUY NOW: £70.00

Clapton Skinny Fit Textured Navy Waistcoat

Suit Supply

Launched in the year 2000, Suit Supply may be much younger than its storied competitors in men’s tailoring, but the Dutch brand got up to speed with the competition impressively quickly.

Alongside cotton and wool designs, the label is particularly skilled at producing linen waistcoats, which are just the thing for staying sharp and sweat-free if you’re at a summer wedding.

BUY NOW: £89.00

GREY WAISTCOAT

Gieves & Hawkes

With its flagship location sitting pretty at number 1 Savile Row, it’s no big shocker that British institution Gieves & Hawkes has got its finger on the pulse of the world of tailoring. The brand’s waistcoats distil all of that tailoring knowledge into designs which err on the traditional side, prizing quality fabric, exacting craftsmanship and timeless style above all else.

If you’re in the market for a luxury investment piece but don’t want to make your bank manager weep, make Gieves & Hawkes your final destination.

BUY NOW: £205.00

GIEVES & HAWKES Single-breasted wool waistcoat

Chester Barrie

Regularly worn by one of Britain’s best suit wearers (Mr Gandy, FYI), Chester Barrie is a tailoring brand which goes a long way to dispel the myth that Savile Row is for wadded geriatrics only: at any given London movie premiere, a piece of the brand’s tailoring is near guaranteed to be pacing the red carpet.

Waistcoats from this purveyor of fine tailoring do that rare thing of fusing timeless style, obvious quality and a surprisingly reasonable price tag: consider us card carrying members of club Chester.