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.

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About Antonio

Antonio Centeno is President of ATailoredSuit.com and the founder of RealMenRealStyle.com. He has created over 700 articles & videos on men's style, blogs over at the Art of Manliness, and is the creator of the internet's best selling personal presentation course - A Man's Guide To Timeless Style. Antonio has studied clothing design in London, Hong Kong, and Bangkok. He is a former US Marine with an MBA from UT Austin and a BA from Cornell College. He loves to hear from old friends and make new ones.

  • http://www.elziephotography.com Lance Elzie

    I have been wearing vests to dress up my outfits for a few of years. I started wearing them because vests are also an important part of my professional attire. As a wedding photographer I wear 3-piece suits to weddings and remove my jacket (and roll up my sleeves) when I start working. Jackets restrict my movement too much, and wearing just a dress shirt makes me feel like an underdressed kid, or a member of the wait staff. In addition to looking more dressed up the vest keeps my tie out of the way, and provides extra pockets for little items like lens clothes. Honestly, I have no clue if this follows the rules of mens’ style.

  • http://twitter.com/RMRStyle Real Men Real Style

    Lance – it does, because you are first paying attention to function while consciously being aware of presenting yourself as a professional. A great approach – in the end – capturing GREAT PICTURES are why you are there……however if you are caught in a few random snaps people won’t feel you’re out of place with improper dress.

    I have seen this done to the opposite effect – where the photographer is dressed so bad people are questioning whether he is even part of the event.

    Vests are really nice though, especially if they have lots of pockets for extra batteries and memory cards!

  • Amandacole55

    Hi! I am trying to find tweed/wool vests online for my grooms men to wear at my wedding. Can you recommend any good online stores?

  • http://twitter.com/RMRStyle Real Men Real Style

    What you’re looking for isn’t easy to find, and even harder to find in sizes that fit well. A lot depends on your budget. We recommend a few online clothiers on the top right of this page, but these are higher end quality merchants whose vests will start at $350. If you’re looking at off the rack options, you’ll want to look to see if any of the box stores are stocking vests this season. It’s going to take more time, and you won’t get as good of quality or fit, but you’ll save money.

  • StarvinXL

    bought my first vest the otherday and i noticed that one of the pockets seemd to be butilt upside down.
    its the top left one over the heart. been trying to figure out the point of it???

  • Harry

    I’ve been wearing a waistcoat (as part of a three piece suit) for just over a year now as part of my school uniform (6th formers wear suits for school, as opposed to the regular uniform), and I must say I enjoy wearing it as it sets me apart from the sea of black and grey two piece suits. The surprise benefit that I found is that, as you said, they can be worn casually as well, it did take a while to convince my friends of this though… I will say though, that as the year progressed more and more people started wearing waistcoats, so it seems that the trend for ‘vests’ (I doubt I’ll get used to calling them that) has not only spread to the UK, but also to the younger generation as well. 

  • eight08supreme

    Hi!,
     
    I recently got a 3 piece suit, but the vest doesn’t have an adjustable buckle.  Instead, it has an adjustable elastic, but there’s extra material at the back because of it scrunching up.  Is there a way to remedy this besides getting another vest with an adjustable buckle at the back ;-) ?

  • rmrstyle

     @eight08supreme That’s a good question! Vest adjustments can be tricky. If it’s an elastic strap sewn into the back of the vest, you may need a tailor to open the vest up and adjust the length of the elastic band. if it’s a problem with the actual fit of the vest rather than the strap you may have a tough time — once they’re cut, vests are harder to adjust the width of than most garments.

  • jpc_671

    I had a custom made vest but I lost weight and now the vest look quiet large on me how do I wear it?

  • Chris_Liu

    Antonio, What do you think about wearing a vest with a polo+dress pants? Also can vests be worn unbuttoned? I think a vest would be a nice classy way to keep a gun hidden if you have a CHL.