A Quick Intro to Men’s Waistcoats - Lapels, Fit and Colour Contrast

All men know what waistcoats are, but not many actually know how to wear them properly. And even fewer are able to actually pull them off. However, this is less because of the actual garment itself and more because of the approach to styling that is taken, with more casual laid back ensembles becoming increasingly more popular.

While there’s nothing wrong with waistcoats being worn with the right pair of jeans when the right occasion calls, it’s important that we remind ourselves about some of the basic principles of wearing a waistcoat and its role in a man’s wardrobe.

What is a Waistcoat Anyway?

Various types of waistcoats and vest-like garments have been donned by many civilizations throughout history in places all over the world. However, the waistcoats we’re talking about are usually worn over a dress shirt and necktie and below a suit jacket or smart coat, as a part of men's formal wear.

This piece is also the third item in a traditional three-piece male suit. These items are typically cut from the same cloth, but daytime formal wear can sometimes feature a contrastingly coloured waistcoat, usually in a few select colours like grey or navy.

When Should a Waistcoat be Worn?

Unfortunately, there are few occasions to wear waistcoats today. We’ve seen many corporate dress codes become less formal and an increasing number of wedding dress codes are now more on the casual side, leading many to neglect the full three-piece in favour of just a suit jacket and trousers, which is often seen as less hassle and more practical during summer.

Having said this, waistcoats are worn more and more with more casual outfits. For instance, waistcoat and chinos, or even waistcoat and jeans, have become a completely acceptable option for non-formal evens, depending on where you’re going. While this can be a great look, it’s not something you should rush into without careful planning.

Nevertheless, a few occasions where you can wear a waistcoat in a traditional manner the way Brits have been doing it for over a century are:

  • Formal presentations at corporate meetings or events
  • Weddings (that don’t specify that you should wear casual attire)
  • Baptisms
  • Charity or work-related parties and events
  • Special ceremony dinners or awards evenings

How Should Waistcoats Fit?

A waistcoat is simple to get right once you know the basics. First, it should fit you well around the middle without much looseness. Second, it should hug your torso and just about cover your trouser waistband. It should never hang from your shoulders freely or swing low over your trouser zip.

For this to work, you’ll need to have a good pair of trousers that actually fit your waist, rather than hang low below your hips. And that’s where most people get the waistcoat wrong, as men like to wear trousers quite low these days, leading to a gap between the waistcoat and trouser line or, even worse, the waistcoat coming down far too low.

A lot also relies on the fit of your shirt too with baggy and loose shirts looking terrible beneath a waistcoat. When waiting for a waistcoat, choose a well-fitting shirt with a good collar and top things off with a nice pair of unique cufflinks for a classic look.

What Types of Waistcoat Are There?

There are standard waistcoats and there are double-breasted waistcoats. The latter can seem a little intimidating to wear, but if you want to push the boat out this can be a great statement piece.

The trick is, if you want to wear a waistcoat beneath a double-breasted jacket, make sure it’s single-breasted as two double-breasted designs together can seem extremely old fashioned and probably overkill for your purposes.

If you’re new to the waistcoat world, we’d recommend a single-breasted waistcoat beneath a double-breasted suit, or just a single breasted waistcoat paired with a single breasted suit jacket, for a contemporary look.

Additionally, the lapels on your waistcoat will affect the overall look. Just like a suit jacket, you can opt for point lapels or peak lapels. You can also choose a waistcoat that comes with shawl lapels. However, by far the most common style is no lapels at all.

Before you choose the type of waistcoat you want, or before you give your tailor your waistcoat instructions, make sure you browse plenty of different examples so you know exactly what you’ll be getting.

Final Word

A waistcoat is easy to integrate into a smart-casual wardrobe but if you’ve never worn one before, we’d recommend playing it relatively safe and wearing it as part of a formal outfit to an appropriate event  — and don’t forget your designer cufflinks for an exceptional look.