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What goes with what

The dos and don’ts of waistcoats

The dos and don’ts of waistcoats

The waistcoat occupies a slightly strange place in the menswear canon. It is simultaneously lauded as the final element for a well-dressed man (you can’t have a three-piece suit without a waistcoat) and as well, a bit naff. It’s the uniform of snooker players, mixologists and magicians. It is also the defining piece for football hero Gareth Southgate and has been worn adroitly by football-turned-fashion hero David Beckham.

To understand the waistcoat, and its lasting appeal, it helps to know where it's from. First appearing as a rather understated item in the British royal courts of the 1660s, Charles II used it to separate himself – and his courtiers – from the rather more extravagant French style of the time. Over the following centuries, the low-key waistcoat went from something functional (the shallow pocket at the front was for your pocket watch) to something wildly fashionable, as the dandies of the 1800s used them to out-peacock one another. As different fabrics, such as silks, and different dyeing techniques became more readily available, waistcoats became a site of fashion experimentation.

For most of their lives, waistcoats were an addition to an outfit, like a nifty bag or a pair of eye-catching shoes. Its modern iteration – as a part of a suit – didn’t really come into fashion until the mid-1900s, but once it was there, it stayed there. “A three-piece suit is one of the main ways to wear it,” says stylist Alice Watt, “but to be honest, it’s the least exciting and pretty done to death.”

Do

Consider the fabric, especially when wearing one with a suit. “Either matching perfectly or make it clear that it is intentionally not-matching in a different fabric, like a tweed.” 

Don’t 

Go for novelty pattern. There is a fine line between ‘guy with personality’ and children’s TV entertainer’. You do not want people to question which side you land on. If you want to wear a waistcoat that stands out, there are ways to do it that don’t involve wacky patterns. A bright colour is always a winner.

Do

Try a more relaxed style. “One of the nice ways of wearing a waistcoat right now is making it more relaxed – swapping traditional style for more relaxed pieces. So try a waistcoat under a utility jacket instead of a blazer,” says Alice.

Don’t

Wear a waistcoat with a t-shirt or jeans. This should be pretty obvious but even the most casual of waistcoats (think knitted vest styles) still fall on the smarter side. You wouldn’t wear flipflops with your suit. Stick to a gilet instead.

Do

Consider the other layers and your overall silhouette. “I really like the looser version of smart tailoring that is popular at the moment. It’s all about lighter fabrics and colours and going for a mixture of styles in your outfit. It makes the waistcoat part of the overall look in a nonchalant but smart way.” 

Don’t

End up doing cosplay. The trend for all things Peaky Blinders continues, but ultimately they are wearing a costume, which is not something you want to emulate. “The casual waistcoat and jeans style is popular but hard to pull off without looking like one of the Mumford & Sons guys,” says Alice. “It’s safer to go with a more formal style when it comes to a waistcoat.”

 


Words: Nadia Balame-Price
Photography: Lola & Pani
Styling: Alice Watt
Styling assistant: Toby Standing