May 27, 2012

Style Feature: The Vest

Vests (or more properly, waistcoats) can be one of the most versatile pieces in your wardrobe, and I’m not talking about the sweater variety. They can take a suit to the next level, bring some business into a casual look, or just add a great layer. And remember, layering is both fun and practical.

1. Plaid

Plaid can be tricky, but incredibly versatile. A busy, contrasting plaid can make a bold statement while a shadow or glen plaid can convey a more sophisticated air. 

But that doesn’t mean that the different types of plaid are limited in the slightest. Mix a subtle glen plaid with a bright tie or go for high contrast under a plain black suit. There are an unlimited number of possibilities; many of them are a good idea.

Vest by Alexander McQueen; Jacket by Bamford & Sons;
Shirt by Uniqlo; Chinos by Gant Rugger; Boat shoes by Sebago;
Tie by Band of Outsiders; Pocket square by Psycho Bunny;
Belt by Brooks Brothers; Sunglasses by Prada

2. Pinstripe


It’s hard to go wrong with a classic pinstripe. Unlike a lot of other patterns, it is the easiest to pair, both with solids and other patterns. The simple, clean lines make it much easier to pull off the pattern-mixing trend that is so popular right now.

Extra Tip : Just because it’s easy, doesn’t mean it can’t go horribly awry. Keep the colors complementary and the patterns different enough that it doesn’t look like you are trying to match. Example – a micro gingham shirt with a fun repp tie and a pinstripe vest.

Vest by William Rast; Shirt by Nautica; Denim by PPD;
Sneakers by Paul Smith Jeans; Hat by Coal Headwear;
Tie by Psycho Bunny; Belt by American Rag;
Sunglasses by Prada; Watch by Bulova

3. Houndstooth

Sometimes vintage can be a mixed bag, but a piece that might seem a bit out there can give an otherwise simple outfit the extra pop it needs. This tri-color micro houndstooth looks like a tweed until you get really close up.

Extra Tip : If you see a vintage piece you love but it looks a little dated, don’t write it off completely. The suit that this vest came with is a great vintage 70’s piece. That unfortunately meant that the pants were double-pleated with a wide bell-bottom cuff. Needless to say it is in the process of being modernized. A good tailor can be your best friend.

Extra Tip II : If you do opt to go the vintage route, remember that the most important consideration (other than fit) is material. A tailor can do a lot, but he can never turn polyester into wool.

Extra Tip III : I always wear a tie bar with a vest and tie, even if the vest is buttoned. This way, the tie bar helps hold the tie in place to keep it from puffing up into something that looks like a faux-ascot.

Vintage vest (part of a suit); Shirt by Uniqlo; Cords by Gant Rugger;
Shoes by AllSaints Spitalfields; Tie by Valentino (vintage);
Tie bar by Link Up; Sunglasses by Bulgari

4. Three-Piece (almost)

Just because you didn’t buy a 3-piece suit, doesn’t mean you can’t rock one. Bring the jacket or pants to the store and look for a matching vest to instantly make your suit even more versatile.  This won’t work for every suit, but with some persistence you can usually find the right one.

Extra Tip : When trying to match and not just coordinate, be sure you find the exact right shade. Even black is not just black. That’s why bringing a part of your suit with you is key.

Extra Tip II : If your suit is a little more interesting, maybe a plaid that is more difficult to match, grab a vest with a complementary pattern or color and embrace the cobbled three-piece. This vest has buttons that coordinate to the brown button on the jacket sleeve and pink pick stitching that complements the red in the suit’s plaid. It may not match exactly, but it gives the feel of a cohesive suit because of these key details.

Vest by Ted Baker; Suit by PS Paul Smith; Shirt by Ben Sherman;
Shoes by Allen Edmonds; Tie by Alexander McQueen;
Vintage pocket square

When shopping for vests, you can get a good idea of whether they are intended to be worn with business or casual attire based on the approach to sizing (suit sizing generally implies business while small/medium/large tends to suggest a more casual piece). But as with all your clothing, don’t let intention limit you. Mix things up and you’ll find a whole new closet of possibilities.

Stay stylish,
- JJ

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