It’s no great secret that men’s fashion is growing increasingly relaxed. Corporate dress codes are becoming less important, creative offices that prefer ‘business-casual’ dress codes are flourishing, and there are fewer occasions to wear tailoring today, full-stop.
Even so, there are still moments in life where it pays to dress to impress. During important presentations, job interviews, or even at formal events, the stature of a timeless three-piece suit and tie can lend you that all-important edge. It looks put-together, elegant and powerful – in all the right ways.
Plus, wearing a waistcoat is practical, when fitted properly they can flatter all manner of shapes and sizes (and yes, larger guys can wear waistcoats too), and conceal baggy or creased shirts beneath for a smooth look. They even help you to look ‘dressed’ when you remove your jacket – ideal when the pressure is on.
Waistcoats aren’t difficult to wear, but there are a few important dos and don’ts to keep in mind. Remember, above all, the clue is in the name; waistcoats are designed to show off your waist, not to hang shapelessly from your frame, or be so tight that you can’t breathe, either.
The Dos And Don’ts Of Wearing A Waistcoat
Master The Waistcoat’s Fit
A waistcoat is a deceptively simple thing to get right. There are only two things to think about. The first is self-evident: does it fit around your middle? Waistcoats are designed to be cinched in at the back to flatter the natural lines of your waist – if it’s too loose or too roomy, the impression is lost. A waistcoat should hug your torso, not hang loose from your shoulders.
The second is the waistcoat’s length: it should always cover your trouser waistband – if it doesn’t, either your trousers are sitting too low, or your waistcoat’s too short. More on that later.
Double-breasted waistcoats can seem a little intimidating to wear, but if you want to look the business there’s nothing quite like them. The key to wearing one well is to keep the rest of your outfit restrained. Try a plain navy blue suit with a double-breasted waistcoat beneath for a polished look, and finish with a dark textured tie and soft white shirt. It’s a simple way to elevate a tailored outfit, and not something many men think about.
Make A Statement
That said, if you are confident dresser, a contrasting waistcoat is an easy solution to set you apart from the crowd. It’s a look that’s rooted in classic British formalwear. Traditionally, morning suits worn to weddings or the races are finished with a contrasting waistcoat, and this approach works just as well with a dark suit. Don’t be afraid to try this at an elegant summer wedding, or a dressy event when you want to look your best.
Dress Yours Down
You don’t always have to treat a waistcoat as a formal piece in your wardrobe. Worn separately with relaxed open-neck shirts, chinos or even jeans, a waistcoat can be a sharp alternative to a blazer or sports coat on the weekends. Choose something in a rugged fabric like checked tweed or needlecord, and you’ll find this makes a great lightweight layer in spring, and useful insulation in autumn.
Experiment With Different Fabrics
As per my last point, waistcoats come in all shapes and sizes, and are a smart way to add some diversity to your wardrobe. Pairing a classic wool dinner suit with a silk brocade waistcoat is a no-brainer for black tie, and having a couple of checked tweed or flannel waistcoats in your wardrobe for smart-casual days makes sense too. From brushed cotton to velvet, there’s a waistcoat for everything out there.
Fasten The Bottom Button
Of the waistcoat’s faux pas, this is the most important to avoid. On a business suit, wedding suit or a casual waistcoat, you never fasten the bottom button. Leaving it undone helps the waistcoat to sit cleanly on your hips, and looks more natural to boot. The only exception is black tie. Traditional rules state you do button all the buttons on a dress waistcoat because it is deemed appropriately formal, but otherwise, leave it loose.
Show Your Shirt Beneath
This one’s a little tricky. A waistcoat is intended to cover your waist and hips, but often fashion-led brands cut trousers so low that your shirt will peep out beneath a waistcoat. Try to avoid this at all costs – it looks ungainly and negates the benefit of wearing a sophisticated three-piece suit. If the trousers are too low, wear them with braces to give them a bit of a lift – the braces will be concealed beneath your waistcoat anyway.
Wear With A Belt – Ever…
Similarly, belted suit trousers and waistcoats don’t mix. This isn’t a memo every high street tailoring brand has understood, but don’t be fooled. As already outlined, a waistcoat is designed to cover your trouser waistband. To look flattering, it needs to be able to sit flush over your trousers without a belt getting in the way. Instead, choose trousers with side adjusters, and if they won’t stay up, that’s another reason to get into braces.
Throw In A Tie-clip
Tailoring is all about balance, and one of the often forgotten rules of a three-piece suit is that you should never wear both a tie clip and a waistcoat together. Both do the same job of keeping your tie in check, so you don’t need both from a functional perspective. Plus, adding a tie clip to a three-piece suit is a bit too flash – stick to one or the other.
Go Double-breasted Everything
It’s just plain overkill. If you want to wear a waistcoat beneath a double-breasted jacket, make sure it’s single-breasted. There’s nothing wrong with wearing two double-breasted designs together per se, but it looks old fashioned, and whichever way you cut it you’re going to get very warm with both jacket and waistcoat wrapped across your front. Stick to a single-breasted waistcoat beneath a double-breasted suit for a contemporary look.
Where To Buy A Waistcoat
A modern ready-to-wear tailoring house on Savile Row, Chester Barrie’s three-piece suits are the stuff of legend. The brand designs a mixture of elegant three-piece wedding suits in crisp luxury wool and mohair fabrics, understated business suits with separate waistcoats and even contrasting ‘dress’ waistcoats to mix and match.
Another British brand with a thoroughbred background in tailoring, Hackett offers both classic dress waistcoats for formalwear, and contemporary, casual options that work well with chinos or jeans. Whether a washed denim waistcoat, or an elegant double-breasted piece to sit beneath a wedding suit, Hackett has you covered.
Polo Ralph Lauren
Ralph Lauren has been the grand master of the separate waistcoat since day one. Mr Lauren built his dream vision of preppy American style on button-down shirts and washed jeans worn with classic checked waistcoats. It’s still a sharp look today, perfect for smart-casual and business-casual wardrobes.
Favourbrook is the second brand owned by British designer Oliver Spencer, a high-end formalwear maker that allows Spencer to flex his tailoring muscles. Favourbrook is known for its swish dress waistcoats which come in a mixture of plain and pattern wools, linen for summer, and even luxurious designs in silk. Check out Favourbrook for everything from a contrasting business waistcoat, to something to wear to the races.
If you’re into waistcoats but aren’t a typical suit size, Reiss offers a range of waistcoats (both formal and casual) that can be purchased separately to your suit jacket and trousers. If you need to go up or down a size to get a three-piece suit that fits right, you can be sure to find what you’re looking for here – helpful if you’re broad chested, for example.