Fashion Predictions: The Return Of The Waistcoat

What not to wear
What not to wear
You’re talking to the guy who predicted the return of the pocket square and the re-emergence of the bow-tie. So listen to this: waistcoats—vests, that is—are on their way back.

For whatever God-sent reason, men are beginning to dress well again, to don the clothing of adults. To be sure, not in great numbers or everywhere, but many gentlemen have ceased taking their cues from the poorly dressed and are rediscovering the notion of beauty. Let us encourage this trend.

Evidence? Look around. Waistcoats are on the racks of the mid-range stores already, albeit in limited supply. People are wearing them.

This unfortunately includes hipsters, who delight in discovering new ways to dress like one another, all the while congratulating themselves on uniqueness.

The hipster summer uniform is a t-shirt (“ironic”, if possible), covered by a too-small waistcoat, too-skinny jeans, sunglasses, a scruffy beard, and skimpy brimmed mass-produced fedora. The end result is a young man who looks like he was dressed by a mother who cannot accept that her baby has grown up (he hasn’t). Example #2, Example #3, Example #4 (see bullet 7).

This is distressing and worth emphasizing because, for example, just as hats were about to reassert themselves upon the pates of gentlemen, hipsters in great number latched onto the ugliest which rightly frightened the normals who said to themselves, “No way I will wear a hat if I’ll look like that.” They will now say the same about waistcoats.

But you won’t, Mr Reader, you will not look a fool, as long as you avoid buying your gear in S-Marts and the like. And if you follow a few simple rules.

What to wear
What to wear
Do not wear your waistcoat without a coat. It is not meant as an outer covering. If you wear it solo, you will either be admitting your hipsterness or you will be mistaken for a waiter. Nothing wrong with being a waiter, of course, but you do not want people telling you what they want to eat as you stroll down the sidewalk.

A waistcoat obviates the necessity of an expensive, or even well-fitting shirt. And of ironing the shirt carefully. Once you reach your destination (work, home, a party) and it becomes unbearably hot, then you can remove your coat. You will still look (mostly) dressed up.

The waistcoat can be a vest, as in shown here by Christopher McDonald (who happened to be in the paper today). (McDonald is most well know for playing “Shooter McGavin” in Happy Gilmore.)

Never, not ever, not even at the risk of hypothermia, wear a waistcoat made of denim. Unless—and this is a narrow exception—it is embroidered with your motorcycle gang’s emblem, your name is Birdshyte (a true example; a man my father hired once to assist with some drywalling), and the vest could not possibly encompass your burgeoning gut.

The fatter you are the more likely you need a waistcoat. A waistcoat covers a multitude of belly rolls. I’m thinking of Richard Griffiths (as Henry Crabbe in Pie in the Sky) or Sydney Greenstreet. Nothing is more slimming than a well-cut coat (the material below the coat’s bottom button should swoop back quickly in fat men) over a waistcoat.

Grossly fat men should keep their coats on, even when hot, because after waistcoats grow to a certain size, their backs become abbreviated, turning in some cases to bare straps, and these look silly unless they are covered.

The shorter you are the more likely you need a waistcoat. Look at Edward G. Robinson, whose height was generously listed as 5’5″. The stripped waistcoat adds a good two inches. (Incidentally, only one of the men in this picture would go on to become a murderer. Can waistcoats keep one from sin?)

The waistcoat need not be of the same material or pattern as the coat. Indeed, especially in the summer and when on holidays, it is better for the waistcoat to be a brighter color or even be patterned. Then again, a “three-piece” suit in which all pieces are cut from the same cloth always look sharp.

There are many other rules, such as the height of the buttons, whether to have pockets or lapels, whether to have it cut to your figure or to incorporate a drawstring, the tightness of the fit, and so forth. Of these, another day.


  1. Art Kenney

    Can we establish and agree on the rule the waistcoat, in America, is not pronounced “weskit” unless you are affecting a British accent and that no real American man affects a British accent?

  2. Briggs


    Amen, brother.

  3. William Sears

    There are people who strictly deprive themselves of each and every wearable which has in any way acquired a shady reputation. They pay this price for fashion. And fashion is all they get for it. How strange it is. It is like paying out your whole fortune for a waistcoat that has gone threadbare.

  4. Briggs

    William S,

    But that’s backwards. They pay the price for beauty (and even that’s backwards!).

  5. revGDright

    True that the grossly fat man needs to avoid openly displaying a waistcoat. However, a waistcoat can complement a slight degree of portliness in a way that says success and stability. Such a man may not have galley slave biceps or abs but he doesn’t need to row for a living, either. And when he comes home, he’ll be staying there instead of abandoning family to go running or to the gym. Witness Paul Giametti’s attire in John Adams.

  6. Person of Choler

    Mr. Briggs,

    What is your opinion of a watch in the waistcoat pocket? If so, chain or fob? If not, why not?

  7. Briggs


    Either is fine—if it’s a real, working, you-really-look-at-it, watch. If it’s just for decoration, skip it unless you want to be teased. Although, if the fob matches the outfit well, you can get away with it. A chain is harder; though if you’re enormously fat it’s almost a necessity.

  8. joeclark77

    In the picture of Christopher McDonald, it looks to me like he’s wearing some kind of v-neck sweater under his jacket, not a waistcoat. Am I wrong?

    Slightly off-topic: I was wearing suspenders at a meeting last week and one of the old-timers actually came to my office afterward and *thanked* me because he hadn’t seen such a thing in a long time.

  9. Bob

    It looks like the kid in the pic is wearing high heels. Please say it ain’t so.

  10. M E Wood

    May a mere Englishwoman comment? Back in the 1930s and 1940s my father wore his three piece suit. Probably the same one during clothes rationing, and a wide brimmed trilby hat.He also had a top coat.
    Being from the North of England he pronounced waistcoat as waist- coat Only stuck up Southerners would call it a weskit!:-)

  11. Person of Choler

    Mr. Briggs,

    Thank you for your advice about waistcoat timepieces. I am, however, consumed with mortification that you may have the impression that I could even think of sporting a fake pocket watch.

  12. Am I the only one who allows himself to laugh loudly when encountering the ridiculously-dressed?

    Dressing stupidly isn’t the preserve of men. Women do it even more badly… in winter, they’ll walk around bare-@rsed in sub-zero temperatures, imagining that somehow that the fake-fur lining of their jackets will prevent frost-bite. That used to be the uniform of certain “professionals”.

  13. DNY

    Well, if the sleeveless pullover under the sportcoat counts as a waistcoat, I guess I must be a trend-setter (at least if your prediction holds): I’ve been wearing such knit waistcoats (with a proper shirt and tie, lately adding bow-ties to my collection of old-school (U.Penn.) straight ties) under my jackets for years.

    (No suits, though — it is a point of honor in the professoriate not to wear suits, as doing so will make it likely you will be mistaken for an administrator.)

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