A Modern Must-Own

Over the last couple of weeks, we here at FashionBeans have been focusing on how to put together looks for the summer. We’ve tackled a wide range of topics, from linen suits and short-sleeved shirts to the art of summer layering and dress-down Friday. But something we’ve yet to cover is the one item I personally cannot live without during the warmer months, especially when it comes to going out in the evening: the waistcoat.

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 the perfect break on a pair of trousers or a sports coat that fits in all the right places. The great thing about tailoring is that it can emphasise or conceal areas of your body as required and – when worn correctly – is able to adapt to a wide variety of social situations.

The waistcoat is capable of doing just that. It transcends occasions and dress codes with ease, yet still offers enough room to experiment with layering. During the summer, I wear one as an alternative to a jacket as it keeps me looking respectable while providing some much-needed breathing room and circulation around the neck and arms. In the winter, on the other hand, I often use an odd waistcoat with my suits – a navy worsted wool suit with a brown tweed waistcoat, for example – to add depth and texture to formal looks.

Waistcoat Buying Guidelines

So what are the key things you need to bear in mind when buying a waistcoat? Well, firstly, as always, fit is king. Make sure it has high armholes and fits snug across shoulders and torso without any pulling around the buttons or fabric at the back. Any excess material will make you look bigger than you are; the whole point of a waistcoat is to help you appear more streamlined and tidy.

Secondly, button it up. A waistcoat is designed to make you look put together, so why try and do the contrary? Just remember, like a suit jacket, leave the bottom button undone so that it doesn’t pull the material when you raise your arms, sit down or turn your torso.

Thirdly, think about why you are buying a waistcoat. Unless it comes as part of a three-piece, don’t try and attempt to colour match it with other suits you already own. Regardless of how close you can get the hue, it will never be identical and this can look as though you wore the wrong waistcoat by mistake. Instead, opt for colours that complement or contrast – for example, a grey waistcoat with a navy suit – so people realise it was a conscious decision.

Finally, consider fabrics such as linen, cotton, tweed or corduroy, which will add texture and depth to your ensembles. If you plan to wear your waistcoat as a standalone piece, why not look for one that comes with its own lapels? It’s a nice detail that can add a sense of formality to an outfit.

Styling Ideas

Here are a few ideas on how to wear your waistcoat this summer:

Jacket Replacement

This is the easiest way to incorporate a waistcoat: think of it as you would a sports coat or suit jacket.

I have a couple of solid-coloured waistcoats that I use during the summer which look great when combined with a dress shirt, knitted tie and suit trousers:

Men's Waistcoats - Using As A Jacket/Blazer Replacement In Summer - Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

louis copeland ss14tm lewin ss12he by mango september 2012de fursac ss14he by mango september 2012avva ss14suitsupply ss15suitsupply ss15suitsupply ss15perry ellis ss14Baldessarini 2014ami ss14
The Evening Go-To

Although the days of being able to wear one with a t-shirt and jeans are firmly behind us, the waistcoat does still have a place in a man’s evening wardrobe.

The key here is to pick a waistcoat in an interesting fabric and combine it with complementary pieces. For example, in summer, why not pair a grey linen waistcoat with lightweight indigo jeans, a cotton plaid shirt and brown suede penny loafers?

In winter, on the other hand, try a brown tweed waistcoat with some heavy twill navy chinos, a chambray shirt and some desert boots:

  • He By Mango Slim-fit Check ShirtHe By Mango Slim-fit Check Shirt
  • Favourbrook Linen And Satin WaistcoatFavourbrook Linen And Satin Waistcoat
  • He By Mango Straight-fit Dark Bob JeansHe By Mango Straight-fit Dark Bob Jeans
  • Church Pembrey Suede Penny LoafersChurch Pembrey Suede Penny Loafers
  • He By Mango Slim-fit Chambray ShirtHe By Mango Slim-fit Chambray Shirt
  • Topman Brown Flannel Suit WaistcoatTopman Brown Flannel Suit Waistcoat
  • Reiss Medway Classic Twill Chinos NavyReiss Medway Classic Twill Chinos Navy
  • Suede Desert Boots In BeigeSuede Desert Boots In Beige
Layers, Layers, Layers

Not so much a focus in summer (although with the way the British summertime goes, who knows), waistcoats are an essential layering tool.

A lot of men tend to steer clear of heavy layering during the colder months in favour of a simple thick overcoat. This does offer some benefits: you feel less bulky and have less to worry about when getting ready in the morning.

However, it is a lot less visually pleasing/interesting to the eye. Luckily, this is where the waistcoat comes in. Wear one over your usual chinos, shirt and tie combination on dress-down Friday to add a point of difference and remain looking sharp once the coat comes off.

As previously mentioned, contrasting or patterned waistcoats can also be used with your suiting in order to add a touch of personality to your business or formal looks:

Men's Waistcoat Layering - Formal and Smart-Casual Outfit Inspiration Lookbook

ted baker ss14lbm 1911 ss14digel ss12suitsupply ss15suitsupply ss15suitsupply ss15lbm 1911 ss13suitsupply ss14suitsupply ss14ami ss14ti for men ss14Gieves & Hawkes ss14
Current Styles
  • Ted Baker Linen WaistcoatTed Baker Linen Waistcoat
  • Topman Blue Suit WaistcoatTopman Blue Suit Waistcoat
  • Reiss Hector W Classic Check Waistcoat GreyReiss Hector W Classic Check Waistcoat Grey
  • Next Grey Check Slim Fit Suit: WaistcoatNext Grey Check Slim Fit Suit: Waistcoat
  • River Island Light Brown Double Breasted WaistcoatRiver Island Light Brown Double Breasted Waistcoat
  • Ted Baker Stawai Cotton WaistcoatTed Baker Stawai Cotton Waistcoat
  • River Island Blue Tartan Single Breasted WaistcoatRiver Island Blue Tartan Single Breasted Waistcoat
  • Topman Black Dobby Suit WaistcoatTopman Black Dobby Suit Waistcoat
  • Blue WaistcoatBlue Waistcoat
  • River Island Green WaistcoatRiver Island Green Waistcoat
  • Austin Reed Ar Red Nick Hart Grey/blue WaistcoatAustin Reed Ar Red Nick Hart Grey/blue Waistcoat
  • Autograph Pure Wool 5 Button WaistcoatAutograph Pure Wool 5 Button Waistcoat
  • Reiss Como W Six Button Waistcoat IndigoReiss Como W Six Button Waistcoat Indigo
  • River Island Navy Pinstripe Single Breasted WaistcoatRiver Island Navy Pinstripe Single Breasted Waistcoat
  • Ted Baker Tantwai Wool WaistcoatTed Baker Tantwai Wool Waistcoat
  • Austin Reed Signature Navy Flannel Stripe WaistcoatAustin Reed Signature Navy Flannel Stripe Waistcoat
  • Ted Baker Rainway Tightlines WaistcoatTed Baker Rainway Tightlines Waistcoat
  • River Island White Slim WaistcoatRiver Island White Slim Waistcoat
Final Word

If you ever run out of ideas on how to wear a waistcoat, just look back to the times when they were commonplace, such as the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. Not only were fabrics like corduroy and tweed used more regularly during these eras, they were often paired with other workwear items such as Henley tops and shawl neck cardigans.

But now it’s time to hear what you guys have to say, so why not let me know whether you’re a waistcoat fan and how you like to wear yours in the comments section below?

Matt Allinson