It’s no secret that when it comes to the world of menswear, I’ve got a bit of an obsession with tailored pieces. I dream about suits all day and can’t help applauding a perfectly cut trouser – with just the right amount of break – or a seasonal sports coat that fits in all the right places.
The great thing about any piece of personal tailoring is how it can be used to highlight or disguise aspects of your figure whilst still keeping you looking completely put together and dapper. I used to think this of my old baggy GAP hoody, but soon saw the light.
However, I think there is one piece of men’s tailoring that doesn’t get as much respect as it should. A piece that, once mastered, can bring a whole new dimension to your look. In case you decided to skim over the title of this article, I’m talking about waistcoats.
The waistcoat is capable of transcending social situations and dress codes, yet gives you enough room to experiment with layers and remain stylish. But it seems to me that this humble piece suffers from a bad reputation these days.
It’s easy to see why – it’s due to misrepresentation. In the same way that most guys hate the idea of wearing a suit because all they have to go on are real life examples of men wearing suits badly (read: too big), the same applies for waistcoats. It’s not until you see someone killing it that you can appreciate the true potential of an item. It would explain everyone’s obsession with Barney Stinson and “suiting up”.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve all been there. Those days when we thought all we needed to look fancy was a shiny black polyester waistcoat, white shirt and a stupidly skinny tie. Of course, the waistcoat came complete with awful floral purple satin lining and everything. And did we button it up? Hell no! What are you, mad? Got to let that sh*t flap about in the wind and the rain, son.
It bordered on sartorial abuse and now everyone pays the price because we’re all missing out on an excellent addition to our wardrobes. So here’s how we can mend our ways…
The Waistcoat: Getting It Right
Firstly, fit is king (as always). Make sure it has high armholes, fits snug around shoulders and torso but without there being any pulling around the buttons or the fabric at the back. Excess material just makes you look bigger than you are; the whole point of a waistcoat is to help you look more streamlined and tidy.
Secondly, always button that bad boy up. It’s supposed to make you look put together, so why would you want it any other way? You’ll just end up looking like a child at a family wedding. However, always leave the last button undone (like a suit jacket) so it doesn’t pull when you lift your arms up.
Thirdly, try your best not to look like a waiter. This can be done in three easy steps: one, go for seasonal materials such as tweed/corduroy for winter and cotton/whipcord for summer. This avoids that shiny polyester appearance that looks so tragic in any light. Two, avoid any unnecessary details such as fancy lining or bizarre affectations like pocket watches. You’re a stylish gentleman, not a Steam Punk. And three, simply pair it with items that don’t make you look like a waiter – i.e. anything but black trousers, unless of course it came with them as part of a suit.
Really, that’s the best piece of advice I can give you: buy it as part of a suit. Or one that came as an option for a suit, at least. This way you can guarantee it will have a high quality of tailoring (rather than mass production) and it gives you the option of going all out three-piece if you want to at a later date.
The other nice thing about buying a waistcoat this way is that they often come with lapels of their own, which when worn without a jacket can add a really nice formal touch to a look.