Most guys keep their waistcoat tucked away in the back of the wardrobe, only to be worn to weddings and black tie events. Our guide will give you all you need to know about how you can make men's waistcoats a wardrobe staple for every occasion. Read more Men’s Style Guide features and check out our Store.
From a few pints at your local pub to events that call for black tie, waistcoats (or men's suit vests) can be worn at pretty much any time and any place these days. With a little bit of confidence and the common sense to not turn up to an afternoon coffee in a black silk style, you should be able to pull one off just fine.
Waistcoats are a practical addition to your outfit, as well as a stylish one; in the Winter they provide an extra layer of warmth and in the summer they allow you to strip off your jacket, roll up your sleeves, and still look put-together. If this is your first time dabbling in the world of waistcoats, then you'll want to start with something simple. Something of the plain variety will go practically unnoticed under your usual suit jacket. Once you've got used to wearing a waistcoat in a traditional style, you can start to play around with colours, patterns, fabrics and shirts to keep your look current and occasion-appropriate. As long as you follow the guidelines when it comes to the fit of a waistcoat, it's reasonably hard to go wrong. The style of waistcoat you buy really depends on how you plan to wear it. They are only versatile if you have a decent collection of different styles; you can't buy a "wedding waistcoat" and expect to be able to wear it to the office. Here, we give you a rundown of the different styles you'll want to consider adding to your wardrobe.
If you want to wear a waistcoat every day you need to steer clear of the features usually associated with formality; shiny fabrics and matching colours. Instead, go for tweed or corduroy to add texture to your look and stop things from looking too sleek. Single-breasted waistcoats tend to work best for a waistcoat casual look, as they don't have lapels. In terms of styling, don't worry about matching your fabrics or colours when it comes to your trousers. That being said, you can't quite get away with throwing on a pair of joggers; a pair of slim fitting jeans or chinos is your best bet. Doing away with your jacket is also an easy way to keep things casual. You don't have to pay much attention to waistcoat etiquette when wearing one in a casual situation; don't worry if it's a little on the short side or slightly loose-fitting.
For work, dinners and parties which require you to dress up a little bit but aren't strictly black tie, you're going to want something slightly more formal. Stick to single-breasted styles, but opt for something in a slick fabric. As for colour, you can keep things traditional with navy or grey or you can opt for an olive green or wine red if you want to stand out. If you're unsure of the dress code then play it safe and match your trousers and jacket to your waistcoat. If you think there's room to have a bit of fun, then try pairing a bright or patterned waistcoat underneath your usual suit jacket and trousers. A classic collared shirt is best, but ties are optional.
Formal dinners, your Sunday best and weddings call for you to follow a few more rules. For this level of formality, you can't ditch the jacket (well, at least not until after the bride and groom have hit the dance floor). A three-piece suit is the best way to go, although you can swap the matching waistcoat for something in soft lilac or pale yellow. Now you've got a choice between double-breasted and single-breasted; lapels or no lapels; V-shaped neck or U-shaped neck. All of these are really up to personal preference, and what suit you plan on wearing. If you're wearing a coloured waistcoat, the extra height of a V-neck will create a nice contrast to your jacket. A U-shaped neck can only be worn with a bow tie, or completely tie-less. Again, stick to sleek fabrics and ensure that it's extremely well-fitting.
An event that calls for black tie requires you to wear a white dress shirt, black bow tie, black dress shoes, a waistcoat and a dinner jacket. The rules don't leave a lot of room for deviation, and if you try to do something a bit risqué, chances are you won't pull it off and you'll end up sticking out like a sore thumb.
Checks Vs Stripes
Checks and stripes are both popular choices when it comes to waistcoats, and which one you choose is really down to personal preference. You can wear them as an accessory to a plain shirt, or match them to the rest of your suit if you're feeling brave (although there's a time and a place for that). Pinstripes are easy enough, just pair them with a white shirt and you're good to go; they're best saved for formal occasions. Checks are a bit harder to style; you don't want to end up walking around looking like a human chess board. Smaller checks are more discreet and can be worn underneath a neutral blazer for a smart look. Bigger checks can be worn more casually, over a roll-neck jumper or with rolled-up shirt sleeves and no jacket.
Cotton Vs Tweed
The fabric of your waistcoat is an important thing to be considered; different textures will give your outfit a different feel. Traditionally, cotton waistcoats are formal and tweed waistcoats are casual. Tweed is great for layering up with different fabrics, textures and patterns in the Winter; it goes perfectly with jeans and flannel shirts. Cotton waistcoats are typically paired with a suit for a smart look. If you want to mix things up you can wear yours with a short-sleeved shirt in Summer or an overcoat instead of a suit jacket in Winter. Of course, you can rock the boat completely and wear a tweed waistcoat and jeans, or just go the whole hog and wear a full tweed suit if you're feeling extravagant. Dressing a cotton waistcoat down is a much harder task; it will look awkwardly mismatched with a pair of jeans, so chinos are your best option. If you're falling short on ideas of how to wear a waistcoat for an occasion, take a look at some of our Peaky Blinders pieces to give you some inspiration.
Double Breasted Vs Single Breasted
Firstly, let's make sure we're all on the same page; single breasted waistcoats have one row of buttons, whilst double-breasted waistcoats have two. Which one you choose is mostly down to personal preference. Single breasted waistcoats are a bit more contemporary and usually come without lapels which gives them a sleeker appearance. They make a good "everyday" option; whilst they can still be worn to work or formal events, they are easily dressed down for a casual look. Waistcoats of the double-breasted variety are more traditional which in turn makes them more formal. They are usually reserved for social occasions with a strict dress code, making them a great option if you want to stand out on the streets with something a bit unexpected.
Plain Vs Colour
Keeping everything colour-coordinated is a sign of formality. For work, weddings, dinners and other formal occasions, a matching three-piece suit in black, navy or grey is the rule of thumb. Luckily, rules were made to be broken and you can now mix and match your colours as you please. If you are keeping things matching, make sure your colours are an exact match; a slight difference in shade will leave your slick suit looking sloppy. As for more unconventional colour choices, a yellow waistcoat with a navy or sky blue suit is a popular combination for Summer. A dark green waistcoat with a brown jacket works well in Winter, and lilac is a favoured choiceThe latest news from style, life, arts, and culture and everything in between. Whether it's a new brand arriving into our style, our latest drops and editorials. You will never miss a beat with us.