Q Are suit vests still something we wear? If so, do they just match the fabric of the pants and jacket of the suit, or are there more interesting options?
A There was a time when men all wore suits with waistcoats as well as hats almost all the time. We see it in old photographs of crowds of men attending, say, a professional baseball game. Obviously, that time is over. The popularity of vests comes and goes. Currently, they are much less in favor than they were a few years ago. Vests have become more of an accessory and an option.
However, some men are very fond of vests and have several. The different types of vests are often linked to their fabric. Each sends a different message about the wearer.
The most traditional waistcoats have always been part of a three-piece suit, in matching fabric. More recently, now that men are wearing less matching suits and less formal suits, this look is not seen as often. It tends to be too stuffy for today’s business and social climates.
The next way to wear a vest is taking on a more casual look. It is still part of a costume (i.e. in matching fabric), but worn with the costume’s pants alone and without its jacket. This look works with and without a tie. It can be a good middle ground between the old conservative way of dressing for a formal office environment and dressing for today’s more casual workplace.
Another totally different way to wear a vest is perhaps the most distinctive style of vest: dapper dressers choose an unmatched vest as their accent and star accessory. A combination I’ve always loved is an elegant white wool waistcoat worn as a contrast with a medium dark suit or blazer. Most of these stylish waistcoats have the usual single-breasted fit, but sometimes you’ll find them double-breasted. While this kind of dapper look works for a confident dresser who likes to make a statement with her clothes, it might just be too eye-catching for many men.
The most casual way to wear a vest is to layer a sleeveless knit sweater over a dress shirt, on its own or under a blazer/sport coat. It’s a favorite style among Ivy League, preppy dressers; it works with a whole range of casual combinations, from dress pants to khakis and jeans.
Vests help through the seasons when you’re not sure what to wear. They can add a layer of warmth when the air is chilly, or they can replace an overly warm jacket on hot days. They are available in a wide range of materials from sturdy wool fabric to tweed and even lightweight suede.
If you like to wear vests, be sure to wear yours properly. Make sure the vest covers the waistband of your pants. No shirt ever shows up between the waistcoat and the pants. The fit of a vest should be smooth and snug with no signs of pulling or bunching.
Important note: the bottom button always remains unbuttoned when wearing a vest. I’ve heard many reasons for this iron-related custom, and I doubt all of them. The story most often heard is that Beau Brummel, the 19th century English dandy, left his bottom button open. The fashionable world thought it had to be the right thing to do and has been doing it ever since. Whether the story is true or not, I know it’s a serious violation of style to fasten that bottom button.
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