We, being in the business of menswear, are usually able to spot a trend at a thousand paces. Our spies are out there registering sightings of a piece of clothing before it goes viral. Then, when things get a bit overkill, the trend usually gets sent packing and away it goes until us fickle humans have had enough time to cease being painfully bored by it.
Tailoring though has never really gone away. Sure, it’s had its lulls in popularity, but if you want to look properly turned out there’s only one way to go – suited. And the most suited of them all is the three piece. This of course means wearing a waistcoat, perhaps the sharpest way to instantly take your suit from prom relic to boardroom ready.
Waistcoats have been around since the birth of modern menswear, and today are about as classic as it gets. Wearing one is far from a walk in the park though, and there are plenty of pitfalls when it comes to fit, style and what to wear them with.
So, whether you want to impress at your next job interview or fancy adding this overlooked piece of tailoring as part of your permanent line-up, we’ve rounded up the best waistcoat brands and will explain just what it takes to pull off this divisive garment.
How To Wear A Waistcoat
Despite being a timeless piece of menswear, the waistcoat comes fraught with dangers. Take the last decade as a cautionary tale: every manufactured boyband worth their salt was sporting some kind of waistcoat, accompanied by a ludicrously low-cut T-shirt and ill-advised beads in most cases.
Style crimes aren’t all you need to look out for though, technicality is important here too. Find a design too tight and you’ll look like an overstuffed sausage, go too loose and you’re the barely visible page boy buried in panic-bought polyester. Your waistcoat’s fit should enable you to put a hand snugly beneath the closure without any strain on the buttons. Oh, and speaking of buttons, always leave your bottom button undone, those are just the rules.
The smartest way to wear a waistcoat is as nature intended – wear as part of a three piece suit. For a formal look the waistcoat should appear as an extension of your suit, so a design in the exact same colour and fabric as your blazer and trousers is preferable. That’s not to say that you can’t add a lone waistcoat to your existing tailoring line-up however.
It can work if you opt for one that’s an almost identical colour and texture to an existing suit, which’ll keep things feeling harmonious. A navy, pale grey or charcoal suit worn with a corresponding colour waistcoat, white shirt, tonal tie and black dress shoes may not be groundbreaking, but it’s foolproof.
Taking the waistcoat off piste and informal is a little trickier, but it can be done. Wearing it with a T-shirt is a seriously bad idea; try instead opting for a shirt worn without a tie. In the spirit of David Gandy, a grey or camel herringbone design will make a handsome companion for a blue chambray shirt worn unbuttoned at the collar. Stick on some black slim jeans and some black penny loafers and you’ve just done what the haters said wasn’t possible: successfully worn the waistcoat without a suit.
Where To Buy A Waistcoat
Marks & Spencer
Like Southgate himself, Marks & Spencer is humble, unshowy and doesn’t do too much fanfare. As such, we’d forgive you if you missed that fact that this stalwart of the British high street has upped its tailoring game considerably in recent years.
Here you’ll find reasonably priced waistcoats in practically every shade of navy and grey you could think of, which is the ideal if you’re looking to colour match to a suit already hanging in your wardrobe.
Those hoping to rock a waistcoat without looking like an extra from Peaky Blinders could do worse than head to Topman which goes modern on fit, fabric and design.
With most examples on offer sitting comfortably under £50 and with a few style curveballs (horseshoe and shawl collars) thrown in for good measure, there’s plenty to love about Topman’s take on this icon of tailoring.
Thanks to an unwavering commitment to quality at a fair price, John Lewis has become one of Britain’s best-loved brands. But, if you thought that this mid-market heavy hitter was average on the menswear front, then take a look at its waistcoat offering which is chock full of Italian fabrics and attractive designs. It’s fine tailoring, but it’s extremely democratic.
It’s near impossible to both remember the correct pronunciation of Charles Tyrwhitt and to not think of the brand on mention of the word ‘waistcoat’. With just a fleeting glance at its comprehensive range you’ll see why it’s synonymous with the latter.
While every waistcoat may be woven from wool, there are lots of design variation to get stuck into with enough different linings, finishes, colours and collar styles to ensure you’re spoilt for choice.
Tailoring at high-end high street retailer Reiss bridges the gap between shiny flammable polyester horrors and bank account battering Savile Row numbers – its waistcoats unsurprisingly follow suit. In a largely conservative colour palette, to the untrained eye the brand’s offering of waistcoats may look reasonably straightforward, but slim-fits, double jetted welt pockets and interesting weaves bring the old classic bang up to date.
Hawes & Curtis
Hawes & Curtis is a big name in men’s formal tailoring, and if the sheer volume of waistcoat design options from the brand is anything to go by, it’s a reputation that’s very much deserved. Styles here come patterned, plain, in a healthy range of colours and for the maximalist, there’s a smattering of designs which feature a contrast colours to the reverse. If you can’t find a waistcoat to suit your needs at Hawes & Curtis, you’re frankly being way too picky.
Since its foundation over 100 years ago, TM Lewin has grown to become a familiar fixture on high streets and at train stations, which means that levelling up your waistcoat game could scarcely be easier.
Expect to find designs crafted from pure Italian wool, a variety of button designs and options and styles of fit designed to suit every man’s taste.
Launched in the year 2000, Suit Supply may be much younger than its storied competitors in men’s tailoring, but the Dutch brand got up to speed with the competition impressively quickly.
Alongside cotton and wool designs, the label is particularly skilled at producing linen waistcoats, which are just the thing for staying sharp and sweat-free if you’re at a summer wedding.
Gieves & Hawkes
With its flagship location sitting pretty at number 1 Savile Row, it’s no big shocker that British institution Gieves & Hawkes has got its finger on the pulse of the world of tailoring. The brand’s waistcoats distil all of that tailoring knowledge into designs which err on the traditional side, prizing quality fabric, exacting craftsmanship and timeless style above all else.
If you’re in the market for a luxury investment piece but don’t want to make your bank manager weep, make Gieves & Hawkes your final destination.
Regularly worn by one of Britain’s best suit wearers (Mr Gandy, FYI), Chester Barrie is a tailoring brand which goes a long way to dispel the myth that Savile Row is for wadded geriatrics only: at any given London movie premiere, a piece of the brand’s tailoring is near guaranteed to be pacing the red carpet.
Waistcoats from this purveyor of fine tailoring do that rare thing of fusing timeless style, obvious quality and a surprisingly reasonable price tag: consider us card carrying members of club Chester.