How to Wear a Waistcoat

waist coat feat image
PHOTO CREDIT: The Grooms Room Essex

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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
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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 caps with 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
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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.

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