Harris Tweed waistcoat, Richard James

Monday, January 9th 2017
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Although we discussed last week that the fit of a jacket is the most important - and flattering - part of tailoring, a waistcoat is in some ways the most satisfying. 

Of all the tailored garments, it is the one that sits closest to the body, and there is something peculiarly pleasing about its precision. 

The line formed by the armhole as it runs up and over the shoulder is particularly beautiful, and a clear illustration of the tailor's art. No ready-to-wear waistcoat will ever fit like this. 


This Harris Tweed waistcoat was cut by Ben Clarke of Richard James.

I reported last year on starting three separate pieces with Ben (jacket, trousers and waistcoat) following a meeting and an interest in his openness to new ideas.

One big thing that helps here is Ben can and does make many of these things himself, as well as cutting them.

In our combination he made the jacket, with the waistcoat and trousers being made by other Richard James tailors. 

Although Richard James has a clear house style, as projected through its ready-to-wear, advertising and shows, I would encourage readers that like the look of any of these three pieces (as I feature them) to consider Ben for other, particularly creative projects. Ours have certainly worked out very well. 


Readers may recognise the tweed from my Caliendo jacket - as I wrote on Friday, probably one of my favourite pieces of all time. 

We used the modern version of that tweed from Holland & Sherry to make this waistcoat, with the idea that its texture and colour would enable it to be worn with the most casual of trousers, including denim and chinos. 

The style was also one I have used in the past (for example my Chittleborough & Morgan suit), with a jacket-style collar and self back. 

The style makes the waistcoat feel more like a jacket, rather than an odd part of a suit. It also means the collar can be popped up - something that is particularly practical on a cold day under a coat. 

Indeed, a piece like this is at its most useful when it becomes a layering piece under a coat or casual jacket. 

Waistcoats that were more workwear than dresswear used to commonly have this construction, for the same practical reasons. Vintage-inspired pieces from the likes of Universal Works or Nigel Cabourn still do for that reason. 


The waistcoat was cut longer in the back to enable it to be worn with those lower-waisted trousers. 

This is a delicate balance, of course, as if the waistcoat becomes too long the proportions of the whole piece will be thrown off. It will also start to kick out over the seat. 

I think we got the balance right here - it is about an inch longer than my waistcoats cut for a three-piece suit (and longer still than waistcoats cut for high, brace-backed trousers). 

It is worn with mid-grey flannel trousers from Anderson & Sheppard (I do love this particular shade - so many are just a tad too dark, the shade of my Edward Sexton suit)

The shirt is a blue/grey brushed-cotton oxford cloth made by Simone Abbarchi

Photography: Jamie Ferguson @jkf_man


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Dear Sir,

Thanks for this article ! I ordered a jacket with the same fabric because of / thanks to you.
Could you tell what the fabric of your trouser is ? (manufacturer, collection number)

thanks in advance,



Looks great.

This quality of fit coupled with the cloth from your GB herringbone would, in my eyes, take it straight to the top of the leader board.


Waistcoats are a wonderful thing. I really like the jacket collar style on this one. Did I get you right, you won’t wear it under a sports jacket because two collars on top of each other might look bulky? Is that the reason why your waistcoat by C&M has lapels, but no collar?


If you were to wear it with jeans or chinos, how would you hold those up? I like the idea but I don’t particularly like a belt bulging under a waistcoat and ruining the line, and I have yet to see off-the-rack jeans or chinos with side adjusters.


But just suppose you were a man who wears his chinos with a belt all the time. Would you have the waistcoat cut wider? And doesn´t it need a slightly wider cut anyway to fit comfortably when sitting down, since you don`t unbutton it like a jacket?

Kev Fidler

I was going to submit this for your article on jacket fit and the previous one about Neapolitan tailoring but it is also pertinent to this waistcoat. The fit may be very important but to me so is the choice of cloth, the tweed in this waistcoat (and your Caliendo jacket) is wonderful. The idea of the cloth back rather than the silk of a “traditional” suit waistcoat makes this a very appealing garment to have. I wouldn’t have thought of having one before (the appearance of a folk singer trying to look ‘hip’ came to mind) but I am certainly considering getting one now. Particularly useful under a coat I imagine but adds a bit of style that a piece of knitwear maybe cannot achieve. I hate to appear vulgar but can you give us an idea of the cost of bespoke waistcoats please?


This is an outstanding piece and beautifully cut.
The thing I love about this project is that it is truly both stylish and practical and will have a multiplicity of uses.
It is not something that will give you buyer’s remorse.
One can imagine wearing it with cords, jeans or indeed – as demonstrated – with trousers.
Great stuff – bravo Simon.


After having several shirts made by each of your preferred makers and making adjustments to each maker’s pattern to improve fit, do you find that any of the makers achieves a better fit than the others? I ask on this thread because the Abbarchi shirt pictured here seems a bit more loose fitting in the arms and shoulders than your other shirts made by Luca and D’Avino.


I’ve not had a D’Avino shirt but Luca’s shirts, for me, were far better than Abbrachi’s shirts – both in terms of fit and make.


The fit in the back is superb and the length just right. The lapel collar finish also flattering and effective. However it is too narrow across the shoulders. If it were only to be wrorn with a suit it would be correct but you mention dresswear (i.e. worn with a shirt but without a jacket) and for this purpose, traditionally, it is broader in cut. The shoulder arc should flow more vertically from the body line – this looks too ‘pinched’ across the horizontal and may (as there is no front-on aspect) highlight rather than alleviate the impression of shoulder slope.

Odair Campos


I am a client of Harris Tweed blazers for years, but was never able to buy a new one.
I have some of them, second hand, from a Shopping Center in Bayswater and some shops in Portobello Road.

Odair Campos
Sao Paulo, Brazil


Hi Simon,

Love this waistcoat. Just wondered if you managed to get a few prices confirmed of the various tailors?

Kind regards,



Thanks Simon,

Appreciate your help.

Kind regards,



Fantastic Harris tweed waist coat. I’m particularly obsessed with the Holland & Sherry cloth. I remember the original post for the sports jacket with jeans. For San Francisco, it is ideal Office wear if one desires to have tailored clothing. I actually found a local shop, Beckett & Robb to make one up. My question, with autumn approaching is if you could do an article on tweed, similar to the suiting fabric articles over the past several months? I’d like to understand more about the mills such as Moon vs Holland & Serry, as well as the types of tweed and their performance (i.e. Donegal vs Harris for wind resistance, rain etc. )


Hi Simon – I’m hoping to resurrect an old discussion here. I’m getting married in the summer and thinking about retiring my old dove grey backless waistcoat for something new to go under a morning coat.

I note that your more recent posts on waistcoats have been rather single-breasted in contrast to your 2008ish waistcoat theory specifying DB as a preference… have your views changed?

To complicate matters, I’d hope to have a waistcoat made that might be worn more casually rather than just reserved for the occasional wedding. What are your thoughts? Is it possible to wear a DB waistcoat casually?




Hi Simon,
what fabric do you suggest to make an odd waistcoat for transitional periods?
And what color/pattern do you think it is versatile enough?




I commissioned something very similar from W&S when they came to the states. I just took delivery, and I think it works very well! I think it needs to be lengthened, but right now, it’s my first ever bespoke piece and I am excited. Thank you for the inspiration



Hey Simon- Sorry I’m late to this thread. My tailor always makes a matching waistcoat whenever I commission a tweed jacket. The cost is nominal and I frequently wear them together with jeans or 5 pocket pants. Suspect a purist would frown on the combination but the waistcoat adds both warmth and a little style ( at least I think). Maybe I look more like a waiter and not as stylish as I believe. I notice you never commission a waistcoat with your jackets. Any reason?
Also, my waistcoats have sateen backing with adjustable buckle strap. Possibly I look like a clerk in a dry goods store or a bookkeeper. Is this too dated? Should i request full fabric back as you have done? Seems more polished without the droopy belt and clanky buckle which are visible when I remove the jacket. Getting ready to commission a tweed jacket from Shetland bunch in W Bill fabric and might request full fabric back. Your thoughts?


All good suggestions. I appreciate your insight and candor. Many thanks.


Hey Simon-
In a discussion of a Graham Browne flannel chalk stripe suit with waistcoat (posted 11/11/2009) you mentioned advantages of a waistcoat with “full floating linen lining”. My tailor currently working on a waistcoat with fabric back. Do you still suggest a linen lining? Both front and back? I know you’re not a coat maker but you do have great knowledge on these things and I greatly appreciate your expertise. Thanks in advance.


I knew what you meant. And my tailor is true bespoke so nothing is ever fused or glued. Thanks for quick response and very helpful.


Hey Simon-
Just received my W Bill jacket with waistcoat commissioned by my local Bespoke tailor. 3/2 with SC shoulder. Shamelessly copied from your WWChan jacket in identical fabric. Completely bench made (as Frank Shattuck would say). Took your advice and ditched the sateen back and belt. Full fabric backing with collar around back of neck. Extended length so to be worn as a separate with 5 pocket jeans. It’s a work of art. Without the above post I would still be walking around looking like a dry goods clerk. Never going back. Thoughts about wearing with white/ecru jeans? Good stuff Simon.


Hey Simon
I’m wondering where you stand on your “Logical Waistcoat Theory” after 14 years? It makes a lot of sense, but the idea of wearing a waistcoat in place of a jacket seems to have garnered a lot of backlash, to say the least. I suppose it doesn’t help that, between the time you wrote your original piece, and now, there was a (thankfully) short lived trend of young teenagers and 20-somethings wearing ill fitting, orphaned waistcoats, with low rise jeans, a belt, or clip on braces, topped off with a fedora.

Do you think it’ll ever catch on with people who know more about what they’re doing, or do you feel it’ll always remain a contentious subject?


Oh, I know. Traditional menswear seems to kind of been relegated to nothing more than a “ritualistic” item in the wardrobe. Something you break out as costume, moreso than something you wear as a staple. Culture change, but I do feel the traditional suits decline is at least partially for the reasons you outlined in your theory. It’s just not practical anymore.
As for the separate tweed waistcoat, it’s still a bit of a contentious topic, isn’t it (lol)? From the sweater vest, to something like a Filson Mackinaw/Western Vest, and anything in between, the waistcoat doesn’t get a whole lot of respect as its own piece.


I accidentally bought too much of the PS Shetland Tweed. I’m having a jacket made, as planned, and with the excess I’m having a waistcoat made in a similar style to this one. I hope it will prove a nice standalone and layering option.