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 keep me 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.