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Tell me about waistcoats

post #1 of 19
Thread Starter 
I honestly don't know the first thing about wearing waistcoats or vests with suits or coats. I don't even know the difference between a waistcoat and a vest. However, I'm slowly but surely upgrading my business wardrobe, and I'd like to work in a vest or two, as I think they look nice. I also occasionally see them on eBay at what seem like good prices.

Are vests strictly to be worn as the third part of a three-piece suit, or can I wear them with sport coats or blazers? Should they match the suit/coat? I see darkwatch waistcoats ... when are patterns appropriate, and what should I wear them with?

Basically, I'm looking for a short tutorial on waistcoats/vests.

Thanks as always for any help!
post #2 of 19
I wear casual vests with collared shirts or t-shirts and jeans. Often I pair with a sportcoat.
post #3 of 19
Just try to find pictures of people wearing them, or other people's remarks on them.

Here are some:

http://www.thestylephile.com/article...ategoryid=2206

http://www.newstatesman.com/200204150018
post #4 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Goblin
I don't even know the difference between a waistcoat and a vest.
There is no difference. Just different words for the same thing. You almost never hear "waistcoat" in America, but it is used a lot in England. However, there is a strange difference in usage between front office types and the workrooms. Salesmen will say "waistcoat." So will most customers. But tailors call it a vest.

Quote:
Are vests strictly to be worn as the third part of a three-piece suit, or can I wear them with sport coats or blazers?
There are suit vests and odd vests. Suit vests are made from the same cloth as the coat and trosuers of the suit. Odd vests are made from something different. A three piece suit, by strict definition, has a "self" (same cloth) vest. This is by far the most common way to wear a vest with a suit. Here are two, one with a DB suit, one with an SB:



You rarely see odd vests worn with suits, but it is done by men who like to dress, and it was historically a sharp look. The typical odd vest to be worn with a city suit would be plain wool or linen in a light color like cream or buff or dove gray:



Keep in mind that in 2007 this is an anachronistic look, and quite dandified. It looks great, but it WILL get noticed. Two other ideas:



The guy on the right is wearing a sweater vest. It is shaped nicely for a tie. I have a pet peeve with currently made sweater vests, that the "V" is too high and barely shows the knot and nothing else. The vest on the right is linen DB. Sharp, but conspicuous.

I would not try to "match" a vest to a suit if it didn't already come with one. Unless the cloth is exactly the same -- cut from the same run off the loom -- it will just look off. An odd vest should be obviously different -- not almost but not quite like the cloth itself. So, if you really want to wear a vest with a suit that doesn't have one, get something completely different from the suit.

Odd vests for sports coats (or odd jackets) can be in a vareity of cloths and patterns. Tatersall (a cream flannel with a blue and black or red and black windowpane) is a classic. So is brown suede. So are any number of other wool patterns. They give off a country look. Here is a nice pic; sorry it's not in color:



I think that vest on the left is suede, but I would have to read the original caption to be sure, and I don't have it handy.

Mixing patterns can be a little tricky. It generally looks too busy to pair a patterned vest with a patterned jacket. It can work if one or the other pattern is very discreet and quiet, but rarely (if ever) if both are bold. If one is loud, the other should probably be solid. Solid trousers are also recommended. For instance, for me this is just too busy:



This, however, looks quite good to me:



Note as well the DB vest on the right. You almost never see this anymore, and I'm pretty sure it can only be had custom made. Nonetheless is super sharp, and I love the ones I have. It's a great way to liven up an otherwise staid solid worsted suit.

In the 30s, one might have seen a coat and vest that matched worn with odd trousers. I have seen this in pictures and illustrations, anyway. I'm trying to recall ever seeing it in real life, and I can't. I have a terrific picture of this look in a book, but not scanned. I may add it later.

A word about cut and trousers. A lot of people (me certainly included) think that belts with vests just don't work. They add bulk around the middle and make the vest bulge in an unsightly way. You also certainly don't want to show trouser waistband or shirt under the vest. Thus, with vests, it's best to wear high rise trousers with suspenders. You avoid that pitfall, and the trousers will hang nicely, with the pleats lying flat and spilling out from the bottom of the vest:



That, BTW, is a seven button vest. Most have six. Tailors sometimes make seven for tall guys. Note how the last button is undone. The vest is cut so that it can't be done up. That's a Savile Row tradition that I rather like. Whether your vest is cut like that or not, there is an old tradition to leave the last button undone, which I also rather like.

Also, coat and vest were traditionally supposed to work together so that you see a little -- but not much -- of the vest peeking out beneath the coat when it is buttoned. This means that the "V" opening of the vest has to be lowish (showing much more tie than just the knot) and that the coat's buttoning point has to be at least at the natural waist and not lower. This is a good example:



Personally, I like three piece suits a lot and get everything for fall/winter made that way. When the weather warms up, I just find a vest too much.
post #5 of 19
Wow, quite a collection of vintage suit photos and a great dissertation on waistcoats! I only fear that it will create the impression that the three-piece suit is not also contemporary (while not as standard as it has been in previous eras, it certainly is being seen more than it was a decade ago), how about a few modern shots too?
post #6 of 19
Congratulations on deciding to try vests. I have worn them since a child, as for some reason they have always been popular in the South.

The most important thing I can mention about vests is something I learned a long time ago in college with fittings at Brooks Bros. -- vests need to be tailored and fitted. It's rare to find vests off the rack that do not need tailoring.

Unhappily, in New York offices, I've seen too many people wearing ill-fitting vests that bulge under the arm holes. I can understand why this detail might be overlooked, for when purchasing suits I've been told, "Oh, sir, we don't normally tailor vests; you see they have a buckle in the back." Well, it's that buckle that, when drawn up tight, makes an untailored vest look horrendous.

So I don't know where you're located, Goblin, but if you have to get a vest off the Web rather than trying it on for style and fit first, do wear it to your tailor and get his advice on fitting it. That's where the elegance really comes in, it's in the fit, perhaps more noticed by others than by the wearer.

Finally I will mention that this winter I got some very heavy tweeds from Ralph Lauren and the vest was perfect without needing a stitch, a "first" for me. Otherwise, vests have really caught on in New York recently, and for a casual vest I chose a DKNY. Stunning, but it has only three buttons, which at first threw me. I decided I can wear it two ways: either buttoning only the middle button in the Street fashion these days of wearing shirts buttoned only in the middle, or I can button up all three buttons, as the stance is very high. It doesn't look sane with 2 buttons closed and 1 open.
post #7 of 19
FWIW, here are some ensembles I've worn this winter:




(^Christmas)

post #8 of 19
In terms of fit, I like my vests quite close to the body. Basically, as close as possible, until it starts to pull around the buttons. Then it's too tight.

Balance is also important. Vests should take into account dropped shoulders and round backs. In the back, the neck line should come up just past the bottom edge of the shirt collar. The back should also follow the contour of your back. From the front, you should not be able to a gap between the sides of the shirt collar and the vest. The edge of the vest should be on the neck pretty closely, and should clip the points of a spread collar shirt. Vests should also have a definite waist. Slab sided vests look bad to me. You should clearly see a taper from the chest down through the waist. (Unless your mid-section to chest ratio is such that this is impossible.)

In terms of cut, I can only say what I like. I prefer vests to be on the short side, worn with high rise trousers. Long vests stretch out the torso at the expense of the legs in a way that I think is not flattering. I like a lot of scoop to the bottom front edges; not a straight diagonal like from the side to the point, but a curve that sharply increases as it comes to the point. I like the points to be sharp, like in the Jimmy Stewart pic. And I like the two "corners" on the front -- one above the top button, the other below the bottom (or second to last, if the last button is idle) -- to be rounded off rather than angular. Finally, I like the armholes to have a definite scoop -- not straight and slab-sided.

The shape of this is basically what I mean, though this one is DB:

post #9 of 19
I never get my vests tailored, however, when I get my trousers hemmed on my two newest three piece suits, I will ask the tailor about it. What is a typical alteration on a vest? Do they take in the sides?
post #10 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Manton
You rarely see odd vests worn with suits, but it is done by men who like to dress, and it was historically a sharp look. The typical odd vest to be worn with a city suit would be plain wool or linen in a light color like cream or buff or dove gray:



Keep in mind that in 2007 this is an anachronistic look, and quite dandified. It looks great, but it WILL get noticed.

I like Fred Astaire's ensemble quite a lot. I wear odd waistcoats with sport coats. Unfortunately, I've never been able to wear them with a suit. Don't know where to get a linen waistcoat in light gray or tan. Paul Stuart and J. Crew were selling odd linen waistcoats a while back, I hope they start selling them again.

Jay Gatsby
post #11 of 19
Great post manton!
post #12 of 19
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pink22m
I never get my vests tailored, however, when I get my trousers hemmed on my two newest three piece suits, I will ask the tailor about it. What is a typical alteration on a vest? Do they take in the sides?
If the vest is too long, there's not much to be done. Correcting for a dropped shoulder is relatively easy, since vests have no padding. Slimming a vest down can be done at the sides or along the center back seam. Which alteration (or a combination of both) works best depends on the vest and the person.

In extreme cases, the back can be taken off and the fronts recut. Also, if the back is WAY off, you can simply have a new one made of you don't care whether the vest lining exactly matches the coat lining.
post #13 of 19
Thread Starter 
Wow, I'm not sure how I lost this thread in the shuffle ... I've been full of questions lately, so I guess I lost track.

Manton, thanks so much for your fantastically informative posts on the subject.

I'm assuming that vests are only to be worn with two-button coats ... is this correct?
post #14 of 19
I often feel that a waistcoast looks odd on a young person, though I am contemplating a three-piece for my next suit.
post #15 of 19
Not so -- I have a 3pc 3-button grey flannel. I also wear my odd waistcoats with either 2 or 3 button odd jackets, though I have more of the latter.

If you are just getting used to the idea of wearing odd waistcoats, maybe try one in a grey or charcoal and begin by wearing it under jackets that do not generate a lot of contrast. Once you are more comfortable with the look you could try some of the high contrast stuff like the Astaire photo.
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