Odd Vest Explained

How to Wear Men’s Waistcoats & Odd Vests

Every year as the weather turns cold, I very much look forward to wearing my odd vests. Of course, I could also wear them in summer but most of the time it is too hot, while the fall/winter season is perfect for the extra layer of fabric. Not only does a waistcoat keepme warmer, but it also provides my outfits with a very different look. Even if you have a limited wardrobe of 3 suits and 3 odd vests, you can create a total of  12 outfits (3 without vests, 9 with vests)! Today’s article will be all dedicated to the odd vest and how to wear them, the different options you have as well as some vest etiquette.

Giveaway

To start on a high note, we have a great giveaway of 3 cordings waistcoatsjust fill out the survey here, and even if you don’t win, you will receive a $5 off or 10% off gift coupon from our store. And here to obligatory giveaway terms. Contest ends Dec 10, 2013 midnight CST.

Cordings Waistcoats

Cordings Waistcoats

Odd Vest History

The contrasting odd vest has been a long standing staple in menswear since the 1800s. Gentleman at the time would carefully select their contrasting vests with artistic buttons made of intricately woven fabrics and combine them with their outfits. Sometimes, they would even wear two contrasting vests on top of each other, like Bernard Wolf in the painting below. Subsequently, vest slips became en vogue and today you can still see them worn by gentlemen, especially with formal daywear. As you can see, the odd vest is even older than the lounge suit, nevertheless an odd waistcoat looks great with a suit particularly when the color is lighter than the suit itself.

Why Odd Vests?

You may wonder why you would want to invest money into odd vests if you could just get a three piece suit. Well, the advantage of odd vests is that they expand your wardrobe in size and flexibility. If you are just starting out and you have a total of 2 jackets and one suit, and you invest in 3 odd vests rather than one additional jacket, you can now create 27 different outfits! If you had bought a jacket, you would just have four outfits. So, contrasting odd vests can have a substantial impact on your wardrobe without breaking the bank. Even if you have a large number of suits and jackets, a few odd waistcoats will allow you to create a lot of new outfits. To prove my point just look the the following pictures. The jacket is the same, but because of the vest and accessories, the look is quite different.

 

The Lighter Colored Odd Vest

When you start wearing odd vests you may wonder what colors work best with your suits or jackets. My suggestion is to begin with a solid colored vest that is lighter than your suit or jacket because it is very versatile and will almost always look magnificent. Historically, dapper gents would wear white gilets or vests with their daywear and even today a white vest in either flannel or or worsted looks fantastic with navy or charcoal suits. At the same time, white stains very easily and sand tones, buff or dove grey work very well and are more flexible.

If you get a single breasted vest in buff or sand you can wear it as a morning waistcoat or with a stroller suit, business suit in solids or pinstripes as well as sport coats and tweed suits.

Important Characteristics of a Vest

If you are in the market for an odd vest, there are a couple of points you should pay attention to:

1. Length of the Vest

It is very important to choose the correct vest length for your trousers. As a rule of thumb, the vest should always cover the waistband. So depending on your height, your torso length and the rise of your trousers your vest has to be different. Also, bear in mind, that many men leave the bottom button of their waistcoat undone. If you want to do that as well, the vest has to be long enough so you won’t see any shirt fabric.

2. Big Armholes for Easy Movement

Unlike with jackets, it is not desirable to have small armholes because it doesn’t have any sleeves attached. Larger armholes are better for vests, so that it will not restrict the motion of your arms at all.

Cordings Moleskin Vest with Tattersall Back

Cordings Moleskin Vest with Tattersall Back

3. Lined Back

Very few evening waistcoats come without a back, but true waistcoats always have a lined back. Sometimes it is made out of thinner viscose or silk, other times from cotton but rarely is it made of the same fabric as the front since that would be too heavz. Moreover, it is important that the back is rather smooth so your jacket will hang and drape nicely. Cordings - home of the covert coat – has vests with a viscose and a tattersall cotton back, which looks unique when you take off your coat.

4. Never wear a belt

As mentioned in our 25 Tips to Dress More Elegantly, when you wear a vest, always skip the belt in favor of side adjusters or braces because a belt will always make your vest stand away from the trousers waistband, which looks bulky and crowded.

Business suits

If you want to wear a odd vest with a business suit, I suggest you go with muted colors and simple textures. For example, white or gray linen, and light blue, buff or gray worsteds work well with navy and charcoal solid and striped suits. Also, a dark burgundy may work but make sure not to wear tweed, leather  or moleskin vests to the office because their distinctly casual feel are not formal enough for the setting. Also, skip bold patterns and shiny buttons. Depending on your job, a knit or sweater vest may work well for you.

A great option for business is to swap out a piece of a three piece suit for a contrasting item. For example, in this picture you can see the vest and trousers of a houndstooth suit paired with a solid blue jacket. If you do that, it usually works best if you pair a subtle pattern with a solid, such as prince of wales vest with solid jacket or chalk stripe suit with solid vest. The key is to experiment until you find a combination that really works for you.

Houndstooth Vest  & Trousers with solid peaked lapel blue jacket

Houndstooth Vest & Trousers with solid peaked lapel blue jacket

Casual Waistcoats

If you want to wear and combine waistcoats casually, there are few limits! You can go with basically any material, color or pattern and combine it with your outfits. Personally, I prefer combinations that are not overly flashy but sometimes a bright yellow vest may work really well with a sky blue linen suit.

 

Tartan Vests

Tartans have their roots in Scotland and some people like the pattern for holiday season and evening events. Most of the time, tartan vests are rather bold and so it pays to combine them with solid jackets as shown below.

Tartan Vest

Tartan Vest

Tattersall Waistcoats

Tattersall refers to English vestings made with striking plaid designs in all kinds of color combinations. Usually the background is beige or eggshell and traditionally they were made of a medium weight kersey cloth. Today you can find all kinds of weights and it is often used for country shirts as well with slightly smaller plaids. It was named after the Tattersall horse auction rooms in London which were established in 1766. In the 18th century, horses were covered with checked horse blankets, and it is believed that some people borrowed these designs to make it into waistcoats.

It is a very classic design and it can be paired with all kinds of jackets. If you want to go with a checked jacket, make sure the pattern is considerably larger or smaller than the vest, otherwise it looks odd.

Below you can find a selection of odd waistcoat pairings for your inspiration. As I pointed out beforehand, there are endless possibilities and you can get creative in mixing patterns and textures, including leather vests!

 

The Double Breasted Vest

Just like with suits, double breasted waistcoats are more formal than their single breasted counterparts and therefore you shouldn’t wear double breasted vests with tweed suits and country clothing. Also, when you wear them, make sure that they are cut proportionally to the jacket, meaning that the body of the vest (as opposed to the lapels) should not be visible when the coat is buttoned. See the image for a visual.

 

Also, double breasted waistcoats are usually flush and not pointed like single breasted vests. As such it is even more important that it has the right length to cover your pants’ waistband.

Most DB vests come in grey, buff, yellow, and light blue, but sometimes also in salmon or pale green. Most of the time, you will see that  they have a 6×3 button configuration and a peaked or shawl collar lapel. However, sometimes, you also see 8×4 or even 10×5 waistcoats, but usually these are bespoke. If you go that route, make sure that the jacket has a high buttoning point so the top of the vest doesn’t show when the jacket is buttoned.

The Knit Vest

In my opinion, knit vests are fantastic additions to a man’s wardrobe, especially if you like casual weekend outfits, because they are soft as a sweater but look more dressy. Apart from the sleeveless sweater vest without buttons, you should look into knit vests with buttons and even cardigans may work under a jacket if they are very thin, like those from Gagliardi.

For example, a fair isle sweater vest is very classic, yet it comes in so many patterns and color variations that your look will always be unique, though even solid colored knit vests can really stand out…

 

The Vest Lapel

Some vests don’t have any lapels, while most single breasted vests have a slim notched lapel. Double breasted waistcoats often come with a peaked lapel or shawl collar lapel. If you choose these style, you can’t go wrong and you’ll be able to wear your vest for decades to comes.

Where to Buy Waistcoats

When looking for odd vests, you will see that many come from England, such as Pakeman.  Cordings which has one of the largest selections but there are others as well. In the U.S., Ralph Lauren usually offers them and every tailor should be able to help you out as well, and even some MTM companies offer odd vests too.

Extravagant Odd Vests

Last but not least, you will find a number of extravagant waistcoats out there. Often they are made out of silk and often come in bold patterns and colors. Generally, you really have to know what you are doing if you want to pull it off and as such I can only advise not to wear these kind of vests if you are just getting started.

 

36 replies
  1. Walter Matera
    Walter Matera says:

    I love odd vests! Unfortunately I live in Southern California and it very rarely gets cold enough to warrant one. Pity, that.

  2. Joe
    Joe says:

    First, thank you for your efforts to promote civility as you do. I have been retired from a professional position for 5 years & live in the mountains of Virginia, in a rural community where the dress is extremely casual/functional. While I seldom wear a tie now, I do occasionally wear vests & sport coats. While your article addresses the bottom-button issue with a waistcoat, I wondered about leaving the top-button undone as well, when not wearing a tie. I believe that this complements the open shirt collar. Your suggestions?

  3. LPB
    LPB says:

    In the first reel of “Goldfinger”, you can James Bond/Sean Connery wear an odd vest with suit to dinner with “M”.

  4. Colin O'Toole
    Colin O'Toole says:

    Great article, and the weather here in the UK is just turning so timely. Plenty of options for me already within the wardrobe, but will be on the hunt for more over the coming weeks. Keep up the good work!

  5. Jay Thorington
    Jay Thorington says:

    Vests/waistcoats are my favorite apparel item.
    I am partial to ones with lapels. I have many odd vests. The article tells me I have been doing it right. Fortunately, since I love vests, I am “cold blooded”, meaning I adapt to them even in warmer weather. Always enjoy your articles. On that note: you wrote an article on pea coats. I would like to revisit that article. I have a vintage pea coat and wish to date it. It has corduroy pockets. I have not been able to locate the article on your site. I especially like your historical references.

  6. Ahmed Sajeel
    Ahmed Sajeel says:

    I’m personally big on odd vests in the winters and thank you for this fantastic article.

    A sizeably variety of fine hand-knitted cardigans and V-neck vests, makes interesting statements in muted as well as boldly contrasting colours. The odd waistcoats include tattersall, houndstooth as well as tweeds in vibrant checks.

  7. The boulevardier
    The boulevardier says:

    Great read. Odd vests are a staple for me and I’m a bit surprised that more men don’t wear them. I can wear a vest for three seasons here in Virginia. Wish they weren’t so hard to find.

  8. Jay Dowle
    Jay Dowle says:

    I wish I could find odd vests with the back material the same as the front (rather like a light gilet) so I could wear them round the office. I don’t like the usual type much with the coat off and tend to wear sleeveless cardigans instead. Who makes these? Or would I have to have them made up for me?

    • Malcolm Kindness
      Malcolm Kindness says:

      Patric Hollington in Paris makes odd vests and sleeveless jackets which might be just what you are looking for. I have several and find them excellent for the office.

      • Jay Dowle
        Jay Dowle says:

        Thanks Malcolm. Some nice things on his site but the ‘waistcoats’ are more like gilets than vests. I don’t think they would sit comfortably under a jacket. I used to have a very nice black leather waistcoat that I had made in Tunisia about 20 years ago and for a long time used its fit as a guide to if I was increasing weight or not. I lost that battle many years ago, one of my sons ‘stole’ the vest and sewed several ghastly patches onto it. I am going to Morocco next month and may have another made up.

  9. Mark Hollingsworth
    Mark Hollingsworth says:

    Last evening I watched an old episode of Jeeves and Wooster (the TV show with Fry and Laurie in the lead roles) and noticed Bertie Wooster wearing a tweed jacket, flannel trousers and a vest. As a great admirer of 1920s and 1930s male fashion I started to search the internet for examples of the history of such a look – suddenly in my inbox appeared your newsletter!
    This is one of your best articles – balanced, options for everyone, great images. I am visiting London in January and will be visiting Cordings!
    Best wishes
    Mark

  10. Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken
    Gernot_Freiherr_von_Donnerbalken says:

    Thanks a lot for this outstanding and most enriching guide. I wouldn’t have got the idea of wearing an odd vest with a business suit before reading it, but it seems like a good idea.

    Greetings across the Atlantic and to all readers

  11. Edwin
    Edwin says:

    Re-read “Odd Vests”. What is or does ‘Siye’ mean or supposed to be? I tried looking on line for a definition for the word and none is found… That was my gripe. I know some times we blow a word but news journalists are the worst for that. I see you as a perfectionist and wouldn’t let something like that slide by….I don’t mean to insult you but it just makes me nuts when I catch things like that… As I said in my first email, I really like and do read all the news letters you send out looking forward to each and every one….Edwin…

    • Sven Raphael Schneider
      Sven Raphael Schneider says:

      Edwin, I am German and use a German keyboard configuration at times, where the y and z are exchanged. I have never read a book that had not at least one typo. If it drives you nuts, I am sorry, but if we really wanted to get rid of all typos on our website, we’d have to pay someone $15,000, and that’s an investment without any significant returns.
      That said, of course, I want to have as few mistakes as possible and someone always reads over it again. If you would like to offer your services, let me know.

  12. Rui Barroso
    Rui Barroso says:

    Really enjoyed your article, i have several vintage waistcoats which i like to wear whenever i can, in regards to the bottom button being undone the tradition goes back to victorian/edwardian times.

  13. John Kreiner
    John Kreiner says:

    I love your article about odd vests, but there was only one picture where the vest was combined with a bow tie.

    Is vest and bow tie nowadays a “no go”?

  14. Alexander Cave
    Alexander Cave says:

    Two hazards for those unused to wearing a weskit are fit and cloth weight.

    The cloth weight is important, so the waistcoat is not covered over with a jacket of a lighter weight material, and so is over-balanced. The doeskin variety, such as those from Cordings, are splended (even if the Cordings’ offering is disappointingly limited to five-button only) really need an equally weighty or heavier tweed or similar over them.

    Fit is more of an issue. The wearer must know he has on a waistcoat – it needs to fit close all over – and sit neatly and snugly into the small of the back and around the waist. Current trends are for loose (if not actually shapeless) garments, and too many men do themselves an injustice by fearing close, form-fitting waistcoats.

    Once the weskit habit has been formed, and the wearer has overcome his misplaced self-conciousness, it becomes one of the gentleman’s greatest opportunities for self-indulgence, with styles and fabrics for every mood or occasion.

    Let’s hope we see more of them!

  15. Charles A. Derer
    Charles A. Derer says:

    I started wearing odd vests a couple years ago and now enjoy looking for vintage ties to go with them. In my circle of friends nice jeans finish the effect. I recently discovered your website and I do enjoy it.

  16. Angel Guillermo Alcazar Grisi
    Angel Guillermo Alcazar Grisi says:

    As a doctor we use the labcoat for more time that even our jackets, and the sweather is part of my everyday outfit, is there a rule about the contrast in waistcoats? it is aplicable to the sweater or sleaveless sweater?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Slater and Stewart Christie & Co in Edinburgh. In London you can get them from David Saxby or Cordings of Piccadilly, and other online stores include Pakeman Catto & Carter, Hackett and Oliver Brown. In the U.S., […]

  2. […] In my case, I requested slightly longer side vents, a specific lapel width and just 3 cuff buttons with a longer distance in between to create a different look. However, that was just the beginning. For the vest, I requested a completely new model which they had never made before. I submitted pictures of a 8×4 double breasted vest  with specific lapels, and they delivered. The only thing that was not there was a vest tab that makes sure your vest always covers your waistband, but that’s easily added after the fact. Moreover, the balance of the jacket closing button and the vest lapels is not perfect, but this is such an intricate detail that not many people know, unless they have read the double breasted vest section of our vest guide. […]

  3. […] is excellent, it does not fit its wearer because it is obviously way too short, just like the knit vest underneath. On top of that, the pants have a very low rise and in combination with the belt this […]

  4. […] we shared ‘How to wear Men’s Waistcoats and Odd Vests’, in which we highlighted how vests can give your existing wardrobe a new look.  In today’s […]

  5. […] they really help you to create manifold new outfits with your existing wardrobe. Take a look at our odd vest guide for more […]

  6. […] they really help you to create manifold new outfits with your existing wardrobe. Take a look at our odd vest guide for more […]

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