The thing I like best about colder weather is the opportunity to add layers of visual interest to my attire with sweaters, overcoats, scarves and the odd tailored waistcoat, an item that has reemerged in popularity in recent years. In addition to adding visual interest, a waistcoat (or vest) adds some protection and warmth to an exposed shirtfront on cooler days. Wearing a waistcoat also provides you the flexibility to remove your jacket in an overheated office, yet remain looking neat and dapper.
I do find it curious and dismaying that waistcoats have become popular at the same time that trouser waists are plunging ever lower. Consider the image from the current J. Crew catalog. Notice how the tip of his tie, his belt, and some billowing shirt tail are all showing below the vest. This is the problem with combining a waistcoat with low-waisted pants. Ideally the bottom of a vest should cover the top of the trousers so that no shirt, tie or belt is visible. This helps to create a much more flattering and elongating line. For example, consider the gentleman in the Laurence Fellows illustration from Esquire. The vest is not any longer than the one in the J. Crew image; the difference is in the trousers. Unfortunately, as I was complaining last week, it is quite difficult to find high-waisted off-the-rack pants. I spent some time over the weekend in my local gentleman’s shop trying on different off-the-rack pants from Samuelsohn, Zanella, Hiltl and Corbin. All were lower-waisted than I desire, and none would have paired well with a vest.
The most versatile and classic vests for wear with worsted suits are made from solid cream, light-gray or light-blue linen (as pictured in the Esquire illustration). In these conservative colors a waistcoat would be appropriate in either single or double-breasted versions. For a little more flash, a single-breasted tattersall vest pairs well with tweed and flannel. I own a nice version from Ben Silver. Finally, brown suede is another versatile option.
And the final rule when it comes to wearing a waistcoat: always leave the bottom button undone.