Reader question: Odd waistcoats
Arctin Pengiun: Do you feel that a vest patterned to match slack or the rest of a suit is too much and that a vest should always contrast the rest of the outfit? Does this fit into your definition of ‘costume’? I am curious about your thoughts.
Tintin: I’m wearing [a waistcoat] now. Lilac with mother mother-of-pearl buttons. The DB vest is sooo British. I’m afraid I’ll be shot for wearing this vest much less a DB.
There appeared to be a slight miscommunication regarding my previous posting on double-breasted waistcoats. I have to confess that the illustration I provided was probably at fault: while I was discussing waistcoats that are part of a three-piece suit, and therefore match both the jacket and trousers, the illustration showed an odd (i.e. non-matching) buff waistcoat.
The illustration was too lovely not to include, but it obviously led some to the wrong conclusions.
All my recommendations in that previous post, and indeed all others relating to The Waistcoat Theory, refer to the third piece of a three-piece suit. This third element is, I maintain, elegant and intensely practical today. When most men in the office don’t wear a jacket, the waistcoat keeps their tie prim and their silhouette long.
Odd waistcoats are hard to wear well unless one is at a formal event. For formal daywear, buff (yellow) and a variety of other pale colours have long been worn to enliven an otherwise grey ensemble. The best days to see such an outfit in days gone by were a church occasion, such as Easter. Today, they are only really seen at weddings and horse racing. On these occasions they can look great, though personally I still prefer a pale-grey three piece. Subtle style wins every time.
And this is the dominant problem with the odd waistcoat. Tintin’s lilac waistcoat sounds lovely, but I find myself hard pressed to think when I would wear it. Certainly never for work, and it seems an odd item to wear casually – a dressier piece of clothing for a less dressy situation (see image, top). Much of this is personal taste, though, and the wider varieties of casual wear are beyond the scope of this blog.
To answer Mr Penguin’s question, no, I believe the waistcoat should nearly always match the rest of the suit you are wearing.
If you are to wear an odd waistcoat with a suit the two rules to bear in mind are: keep your jacket on whenever you can; and keep the waistcoat dark and plain.
Think of the odd waistcoat in the same way as a sweater. A V-necked sweater underneath a suit can look very stylish. A forest green with a mid-grey suit, for instance, or a dark purple with navy (one of my favourite ever Sartorialist shots featured a purple jumper under a navy blazer. Scott commented that it was looks like that that inspire him in menswear. I couldn’t agree more.)
However, that sweater looks good when it is dark and plain, and when it is peeping out from under the jacket. Without the jacket, the outfit is just a sweater and slacks – the style has gone. Suddenly the sweater is the outfit, rather than being an accent.
So for odd waistcoats, think plain complements. For example, I have a dark-grey three-piece suit. The waistcoat looks good under a lighter grey check suit. I also have a tan herringbone waistcoat that I think works well with a dark brown suit.