Mens waistcoats drift in and out of style but as always it is an attractive, classic and flattering accompaniment to the modern suit and can be worn casually too. Up to the 1980’s a suit with waistcoat was considered very natural for an Englishman if you wore a suit, you wore a waistcoat. Wearing suits without a waistcoat might have something to do with the trend of double breasted suits where the permanent buttoning of the suits meant you didn’t need a waistcoat to cover your stomach.
Casual waistcoats might bring up images of Justin Timberlake videos, Paul Newman looking like the coolest man alive in his tweed version or Tom Ford in his three piece suits. In the 80’s people used to wear vintage waistcoats with a white collarless shirts, Levi’s jeans and Doctor Marten boots. In other words waistcoats are timeless. They neatly wrap the stomach and allow for a jacket to be left open. Without a waistcoat, open jackets frequently look lazy and untidy. The beauty of waistcoats is that they can envelope dynamically and discreetly, or they can stand out. Waistcoats also flatten the figure, disguising a beer gut. A waistcoat can make your stomach look flatter and your chest broader.
Waistcoats are an extremely versatile asset to your wardrobe and always add a unique twist and dash of sophistication to your look. Nothing can beat the powerful demeanor of a man in a three-piece suit in the office (just think of Al Pacino in the Godfather films) or how the right waistcoat can straddle ‘casual’ and ‘formal’ like no other clothing can.
In 2010 what is the state of waistcoat fashion? Well forget snooker players and sommeliers, the casual waistcoat is this season's chunky cardigan. The new version is looser and comes in blacks and greys. Think of Bradd Pitt in Snatch. You want to go for a waistcoat that sits just below your waist. Lightweight fabrics work best on those who have a bulge to hide. If you want to broaden your chest go for chunkier wools. Wear it with a simple white shirt rolled up to your elbows and you'll look cool and right on trend.
Waistcoats can be used as separates with suits with other trousers. A light grey jacket looks good with a charcoal waistcoat and either light grey trousers, or another appropriate color such as brown. Waistcoats can also soften harder, ostensibly inappropriate suits for the occasion – darker suits might be thought of as rather wintry, but add a light colored waistcoat and it will add a bright springtime character.
As always a good fit is vital. Make sure that it is a snug but not tight fit and don’t wear it with looser fitting shirts or t-shirts with waistcoats because it creates a billowing effect at the shoulders and waist.
For a formal event a good look is to leave the suit jacket at home and just wear the waistcoat and trousers with a simple shirt in white, blue or pink, a colorful stripe tie and some black brogues for a dissimilar but top-level take.
There are some waistcoats that are a bad idea. Leather is too gay, biker or male stripper, denim too cowboy or 80’s rock fan and anything white silk makes you look like you want to be John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Silks, satins and elaborate patterns are great for weddings or balls but not for business or casual use. Go for lightweight cotton, wool and linen mixes. When it comes to style and material you have tweeds and herringbones for the colder months and cotton for the summer. You can go for them in standard neutral tones, bright bursts of colour or even plaids, checks and gingham patterns. For maximum versatility, stick to neutral tones like grey, black and navy that will be easier to pair with what’s already in your wardrobe, then graduate to the colours and the patterns.
Wear a waistcoat with some dark denim jeans and your favourite neutral coloured printed/graphic t-shirt with a dressy black cotton waistcoat and a pair of classic Converse’s or Adidas trainers. You could also try a waistcoat with chinos pants, specially if they are on the darker side like navy or black. If you’ve got the traditional camel/beige chinos then contrast them with a black waistcoat alternatively.