Single-breasted waistcoat from Guide London*

If there’s one piece of clothing that can alter a man’s appearence and make him look like a gentleman, it has to be the waistcoat. I love them…for their look and for their versatility

Whether it’s part of a three-piece suit or with a pair of jeans and shirt, the waistcoat just seems to give off an air of sophistication. But where did it come from? And…what’s with the tradition of leaving the bottom button undone?

Having delved into this, it would seem that the waistcoat has a very British history. Favoured by royalty, the credit goes to King Charles II. We know this as it is mentioned numerous times in the Diary of Samuel Pepys. For example, Monday the 8th of October 1666 (here): “The King hath yesterday in Council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes, which he will never alter. It will be a vest…” and again here, on the 13th of October: “So I stood and saw him dress himself, and try on his vest, which is the King’s new fashion….it is a fashion, the King says; he will never change.”

The term ‘vest’ is thought to refer to an early (possibly longer) form of waistcoat (the Americans still tend to call them vests), the precursor of which is thought to have come from Persia.

During the 18th Century, the waistcoat was adopted by the Dandies, who were known for their flamboyant fashions, and often wore them in bright colours; it is said that some would even wear two waist coats at the same time, with one being left unbuttoned. For some, they seemed to play a similar role to the corset; drawing in the waist to make the wearer look slim, with some even having a whale bone lining in order to achieve this.

By the 19th Century, the Victorians saw the waistcoats as an essential, but more formal, garment. Queen Victoria’s son, Edward VII was rather keen on them but, being rather large around the midriff, it is thought that he used to have to leave the bottom button undone. This led to others following suit…so to speak, and so became a tradition still practiced today.

Whether this is true or not seems to be debateable, but, in terms of practicality, leaving the bottom button undone certainly makes things more comfortable when sitting down. It also maintains the shape of the garment, so the consensus still seems to be that, for a single-breasted waistcoat, the bottom button should always be left undone, whilst a double-breasted waistcoat should be buttoned all the way to the bottom.

Single-breasted waistcoat with matching jacket and trousers from Country Master Broadway*:

Today, the waistcoat often makes up part of a three-piece suit; for example, at weddings, or as formal business wear. However, it’s versatility and timeless look mean that it is something that has survived the test of time.

A few waistcoat-related tips I’ve found are:

· (As already mentioned) Don’t do the bottom button up on a single breasted waistcoat. This is both traditional and practical.

· It’s advised not to wear a belt with a waistcoat. It detracts from the look. I’ve often heard it said that if you need a belt to hold up your trousers then they’re too big. Another option is suspenders/braces.

· If you buy a waistcoat as a stand-alone piece, don’t try to then match this up with a different, but similar, jacket or trousers. The chances of getting a match are virtually nil and it will affect the look.

· If you do have a waistcoat and want to wear a jacket with it, but don’t have an exact match, you are better to use something with a distinct contrast. This is referred to as an ‘odd vest’ and can be a good way of alternating your wardrobe and to get different effects.

(*I have no affiliation with either of the companies mentioned but appreciate their good products/service)

Do you have any waistcoat tips or facts you would like to share? Leave a comment:

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