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The gilet has a bit of an unfair reputation for being the boring clothing of choice for gardeners or middle-aged men in the countryside. But actually, it’s something of a sartorial problem solver and one that all men should embrace. If you’ve ever been too hot for your winter coat but too cold for just a shirt then a gilet is the in-between layer that can help.
A French word, gilet literally translates as vest and if you think of it like that it makes it easier to think of how to wear it. As with most menswear staples, the gilet has a long history – and you can look back to the past for style cues on how to wear it too. The gilet comes from the jerkin, a sleeveless jacket often made of leather, favoured by European peasants in the 15th century. It was created to keep the wearer warm while still giving them the freedom to move their arms as they worked.
Less of a uniform staple these days, the countryside is still the main place the gilet comes into its own, but instead of working the field it’s more the hunting, shooting, fishing set that the gilet is synonymous with. But that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to wear a gilet – Italian men favour wearing it over a suit. Whichever way you go, fit matters – it should be roomy enough to fit a few layers underneath, but still snug enough to slot under a jacket should the weather turn.
“You want to make sure the armholes are high and not too tight because a gilet is made to be worn as a layer,” says stylist Millie Rich. “It’s also a comfort thing. You don’t want to feel restricted.”
“A gilet is an added layer to keep you warm so, you don’t want it to be too loose that a draft gets through. On the other hand, you don’t want it too tight because it will add bulk. One way around this is to go for a lightweight option, like down, so you still get the warmth without adding heft.”
“A crew neck or neckline with a ribbed trim is best for layering because it sits nicely over long sleeve tees or knitwear.”
“It should feel like a seamless part of your outfit even if it is another layer, so when it comes to length it should be the same length or shorter than a t-shirt – never longer.”
Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photography: Jon Cardwell
Styling: Alexander McCalla
Styling assistant: Toby Standing