Wear Your Waistcoat Right – A Man’s Guide to Vests

If you live near a college or a university, you may have noticed something odd:  young men are wearing vests again.

mens vest wearing without jacket

The retro thrift-store look has made room for waistcoats and dress shirts on stylish young urbanites.  A dress vest is a garment we usually associate more with older, dignified gentlemen of means, so for the time being it’s an eye-catching look as well as an increasingly popular one.

We’re fans of waistcoats here ourselves, so it’s great to see them out there — but young men and old should be aware that there are a few basic rules of wearing a dress vest correctly.

Good Vest Fit

A well-fitted vest is long enough in the front to cover the man’s waist (hence “waistcoat”), with no dress shirt showing between the belt and the vest.  The sides and back will be cut a little higher, and may show some shirt; be sure to wear a well-fitted shirt tucked in tightly to avoid fabric “ballooning” out in little puffs from under the vest.  They look silly and draw attention to the waist, which most of us don’t need.

mens vest length proper

The shoulders of the vest should always lie flat against your body and below any collar points.  If you’re wearing the vest with a suit coat, the V-shape of the vest should be narrower enough that the suit lapels don’t hide it entirely.

And for anyone who didn’t read our run-down on vest, suit, and shirt buttons earlier, keep in mind that the bottom button of a waistcoat should always be left undone – the top button may be left undone as well however it’s optional.

The tradition is more than a hundred years old and stems from the same rules applying to jackets.  There’s no practical reason for it nowadays (except perhaps to give off a more casual flair) — it’s just a way of showing that you respect tradition.  Be sure to let your friends know when they helpfully point out that your button’s undone!

mens vest buttons how to rules

 Occasions for Men to Wear Vests

You’ll always wear either a vest (commonly called a waistcoat here) or a cummerbund at black tie formal events.  These vests or waistcoats are usually backless, fastened with an adjustable strap unless custom made.  They also have lapels, which makes the waistcoat more formal, and is made from in the same grosgrain found on the black tie jacket.

Expect these waistcoats to be cut lower to show more of the dress shirt front.  A matching black is the most common option for a tuxedo vest, but you can wear a different color so long as it is dark, plain, and dignified — deep greens and burgundies are solid choices.  If you wear a colored vest is should be the only colored piece in the ensemble.

mens black tie waistcoat vest

Three-piece suits are a great option for a man looking to add a touch of formality.  Your vest should usually match your suit, and should always be worn with a necktie.  An open collar is too informal for a full three-piece suit.

A suit with an unmatched vest is a rare and more casual look, rarely seen nowadays.  If you’re going to experiment with the style, be aware that it’s not business appropriate, and that it will strike most people as being a bit dated.

The vest on its own is the look that seems to be catching on lately.  You can wear an unmatched vest with anything from a pair of slacks to darkwash jeans.  A long-sleeved dress shirt is the only thing that really makes sense under one, but you can roll the sleeves up if you’re wearing it as a casual style.  The rules of wearing a vest well still apply — be sure it’s long enough to cover your waist in the front!

If you’ve been wearing vests as casual pieces lately, drop us a comment and let us know what your style looks like!  It’s always interesting to see traditional wear showing up in newer fashions.