This is an addendum to The Waistcoat Theory, that personal hobbyhorse of mine that attempts to solve the problem of men taking their suit jackets off indoors, and undermining all the aesthetic advantages of a suit as a result. I won’t repeat the details here; a quick search on this site for those words will produce more information on the subject than you could possibly want.
But in brief, the answer is the waistcoat – matching the trousers, worn with a tie and covered by whatever coat is required for the weather outside (topcoat, blazer, nothing at all).
The point was made to me recently, however, that a normal waistcoat could do with some improvements in this mould.
For a start, men can feel a little self-conscious these days wearing an item with a back made of silk. The shiny lustre this displays, together with the silk tie that is normally included across the waist (though this should be purely decorative if the waistcoat fits well) gives a slightly effeminate or ornamental look. Indeed, that is one of the reasons a waistcoat often reminds one of a wedding.
Of course, this silk backing would traditionally never have been seen. Like the lining of the jacket, and of the sleeve, it is purely to allow easy wearing and removal. As the jacket would not be removed, this lining would not be seen.
Secondly, the waistcoat could do with one or two aspects of the jacket to make it feel more formal and suited to be worn on its own as a replacement for the jacket. Primarily, it could do with a collar.
While waistcoats come with many different types of collar (notch, peak, shawl), the notch collar and lapel will look the most natural on a two-piece suit of the type we are discussing. Small peaks on a waistcoat will everywhere look odd, and a shawl collar suggests something too dressy.
Most waistcoats had collars when they were first made, so this is a return to the traditional form. The main reason for their disappearance over the years is money: more material, higher costs.
The replacement of the silk back with self (the same wool as the front) is also traditional. All tailored waistcoats descend from the original postboy vest of nineteenth century England, which was worn for warmth while driving the horses of a coach. As it was worn on its own, largely for warmth, it had wool both front and back.
Obviously having a waistcoat after this fashion requires a tailor or some means of having items made to measure. But then, that should always be the case with waistcoats.
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I just had a waistcoat custom tailored with wool all the way round. It’s the only way to get it done, but costs start at $130 and go up. So it’s not something the average person who calls himself a businessman or suit wearing office worker is probably going to be bothered with the expense and time. Style is seriously lacking in this country. Only someone who gives a damn about their professional appearance is going to put out for this clothing accessory.
Comment by Fashion Style of Leadership — December 3, 2008 #
This actually features among some of the upcoming collections of various designers next season. If I’m buying just one new item, it’s going to be one of these
My favourite waistcoat is pretty much a 3-piece orphan, but I’m impressed by how versatile it is. The silk backing is also quite attractive. Mine does have notched lapels and I agree that it’s the best choice – other styles are fine in theory, but don’t usually look right for whatever reason
Comment by Barima — December 4, 2008 #
I certainly agree that if lapels and a collar are to be on a waistcoat, a notch would look the best, though I personally prefer the sleekness of one without any collar. I personally appreciate a silk back, but the one thing that I feel is the most important, as with any other item of clothing, is fit. With a waistcoat especially, even one that is well-fitted can begin to look ridiculous if the tab on the back (is there a proper name for it?) has to be cinched up too-much: it begins to look like a skirt instead of falling flatly in line with the back of the wearer.
I found your blog as I was looking for more information about waistcoats – we seem to share the same fondness for them. However, I would like to hear your opinion on how those of us who need to carry cell phones and/or pagers can do so with a waistcoat. Belt paraphernalia just doesn’t seem to fit with a tailored look, and I’m not quite ready to wear a chain with a cell phone and cell phone fob on it…
I would say that if anything a waistcoat is more suited to carry objects in it, in the front two pockets, as those are more supported than the internal pockets of a jacket and less likely to damage the line of the piece. However, like anything carried in a suit it will still have to be slim and relatively lightweight. A slim mobile (think that Razr Motorola one) would work but many others would not.
You know, I wonder if a silk-backed vest would be sufficiently stylish and warm is worn beneath a shawl-collar button-up sweater. Thoughts?
A very interesting suggestion, AP. Would the waistcoat match the trousers?
I would like to tailor make a waistcoat for my father for a wedding with blackwatch tartan instead of a kilt or trousers. What colour combination of trousers and morningsuit jacket would you recommend? He is short and stout and I have read that a double breasted waistcoat suits a fuller figure and looks smarter. I have spoken to a couple of tailors and they have said they would use polyester satin backing. I am not keen on manmade fibres. Would a full tartan waistcoat be too much? I have found wool tartan from scotland. Would the same wool in black look better than a silk backing or tartan? The wedding is in june, would wool be too heavy? Thank you!
Don’t worry about a synthetic backing – go for that, wool would probably be too hot.
DB waistcoats will make a man look broader and wider generally, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go for it. It would also look more unusual and tailored.
I’d go with your tailor’s recommendations on trousers and morning-suit jacket. Hard to give advice without seeing the tartan and the various fabrics for the others.
It would be a 42nd regiment blackwatch tartan so quite dark. https://goo.gl/images/PU5QvW. Which is why I thought grey pinstripe trousers might work but you would have a more experienced eye for matching than I would. 😀
Yes, grey pinstripe should be OK. I also find it hard to give advice on the whole, however, as I personally wouldn’t wear a tartan waistcoat like that. I’d have a more traditional pale-pink or pale-blue plain.
Going through your archives researching for my 3 piece tailor suit for my wedding!
I am going with a 340 gm / 11 oz, super 100s worsted from holland and sherry, cape horn collection. To make the suit a bit formal, I am opting for a double breasted waistcoat with shawl collars. However, the tailor is stating that due to the thickness of the cloth, the jacket will be a bit loose around the chest area, if I wear the suit without the waistcoat.
Do you still think it is worth having shawl collars opposed to no collars for the double breasted waistcoat?
I’d remove the shawl lapel to be honest. Particularly as long term, you’re much more likely to wear it without the waistcoat
Hi Simon, link to the waistcoat theory post is broken. Could you repair please?
Sure will do Nick.
The theory on PS was actually divided into two articles, parts one and two, here and here.