When in need of a new layer to keep you warm, whether or not it has sleeves tends to be a dealbreaker. After all, you wouldn’t buy a car without brakes or a house without a roof, would you? It’s just a fundamental part of the package.
But to strike a gilet from your outerwear wish-list because of its sleeveless design would be a mistake. In fact, it would be to deny yourself one of the greatest layering pieces in modern menswear.
Once a country staple, the merging of old-school dress codes has seen the gilet infiltrate all areas of men’s fashion. It’s been layered over baggy hoodies by haute-streetwear pioneers. It’s been slimmed down and styled under tailored jackets by style-savvy city workers. It’s been teamed up with preppy pieces like Oxford shirts and boat shoes, and paraded around university campuses by the Ivy League elite.
The best gilets, you see, are more than just an extra layer of insulation. They’re also an economical way of adding something else to your look – another colour, another texture to give your outfit a lift. For many years, you could only seem to get padded ones but now they’re available in fleece, canvas, corduroy and wool.
Here are some modern ways to wear one, as well as some suggestions on where to get the most bang for your buck.
How To Wear A Gilet
Classic workwear brands like Carhartt, Dickies and Filson have long made the gilet one of their staple layering power tools. Why? It’s versatile, comfortable, and perfect for stacking as part of a rugged, workaday look.
Start off with a plain T-shirt as a base layer and throw a heavy flannel shirt on top. Next, pop a canvas gilet on and finish with a classic French chore jacket – you can take this off inside and the look will still work.
Naturally-aged raw denim is the way to go down below but if you want to get the look without spending a year living in dirty jeans, opt for a mid-wash instead. Tie it together with a pair of sturdy boots and a beanie.
This kind of outfit fits the bill for anything from putting the finishing touches to your pallet coffee table in a freezing cold garden shed, to kicking up leaves in the park at the weekend. Casual, durable, and with timeless stylishness as a bonus.
The Great Outdoors
Technical outerwear, waterproof fabrics, Vibram soles. Performance gear has been gaining traction in menswear for a few seasons and you don’t have to be a street-style heavyweight in order to pull it off.
And as trends go, it has a lot going for it in terms of practicality and comfort.
A lightweight down vest is the go-to gilet for this type of look. It’s super warm, good looking and packs down nice and small for stuffing into a backpack. To ensure you’re prepared for whatever the weather throws your way, combine it with a waterproof shell to stay warm and dry. If you’re wary of going too outdoorsy, balance the technical top half out with some dark denim and canvas sneakers.
If not, opt for black cargo trousers in a slim cut and a pair of teched-out trail runners to complete the look. Bonus points if they’re Gore-Tex.
Collegiate style is one of the cornerstones of modern menswear, and knowing how to work it into your wardrobe without looking like an overgrown frat boy is a useful skill to master.
As preppy clothing goes, the down gilet is right up there with waxed-cotton coats and quilted jackets. It’s an integral part of the Ivy League look, but also something that can be easily incorporated into any casual outfit.
Start off with a plain Oxford shirt in white or light blue; you can layer it beneath a crewneck sweater on colder days. A down gilet will help to tie the look together and create a sense of depth through layering. For the legwear, a beige or navy chino is the obvious choice, finished off with a classic boat shoe. Go for something with a thicker tread to see you through the winter months.
The Best Brands For Gilets
Japanese high-street outfitter Uniqlo is a safe bet for most menswear essentials, but alongside Oxford shirts and reasonably priced selvedge denim, it’s ultra-light down vests and jackets that it does best. Beyond classic styles, there are also V-neck gilets which are perfect for lining your suit jacket on wintery morning commutes. At less than £50 a pop, you’ll struggle to find better.
When it’s not busy saving the planet or suing Donald Trump, Patagonia is making some of the best down gilets around. Durable, packable and made using ethically sourced down and recycled fabrics, a gilet from Patagonia is as much an investment in the environment as it is in your wardrobe. Plus, if you happen to tear it on a particularly jagged rock (read: bus-shelter wall) while out climbing (read: waiting for the bus), Patagonia will fix it up as part of its Worn Wear initiative.
The North Face
Beloved by intrepid mountaineers and streetwear influencers alike, The North Face has long been the go-to brand for both camps when it comes to puffer jackets and their equally puffy armless counterparts. The iconic Nuptse vest has long been one of the Californian label’s signature pieces, and having been reworked by transcendent skatewear brand Supreme on several occasions, it’s not without its street credentials.
Famed for its loose cuts, unstructured tailoring and godlike grasp on layering, Universal Works understands the importance of a good gilet better than most. Granted, you won’t find any boundary-pushing outdoor tech here. What you will find, however, is texture, quality, and designs that somehow manage to look like they’re from both 100 years ago and the future all at the same time.
Carhartt is to workwear what Sellotape is to, well, sticky tape. Heavy cotton canvas, robust zippers and pull cords, stitching that won’t give up even after decades of daily abuse. That’s what Carhartt is all about, and the brand’s WIP (Work In Progress) line brings all of the above to a collection of style-conscious urban essentials.
The duck canvas gilet is one of the label’s signature pieces. Perfect for layering under a chore coat or popping on over a hoodie on warmer days.
It’s cold in Sweden. Like, really cold. No surprise then that the country’s finest high-street den of minimalism is crafting some of the best gilets between here to Stockholm. Styling is simple and unmistakably Scandinavian, but the best part is that the price points will leave you with enough change to layer up with a new jacket, too.
Polo Ralph Lauren
Nobody does preppy essentials better than Polo Ralph Lauren, and what is a gilet if not that? The New York outfitter’s down gilets are a must-have item for anyone who likes their Oxford shirts freshly ironed and boat shoes worn sockless. And while we can’t endorse the latter of those two points, we can certainly vouch for the versatility and timelessness of a Polo Ralph Lauren vest.
If you’ve ever looked at a down gilet and thought to yourself, “This is nice, but I wish it was a bit shiny and five times the price,” then Moncler is the label for you. Born in the Alps, you’re now just as likely to spot one of these premium body warmers on a city-dwelling executive as you are on an Italian skier, but that doesn’t change the fact that these are some of the most luxurious gilets money can buy.