Waistcoat for Men: Complete Style Guide

The bespoke waistcoat is often an underrated part of a man's wardrobe. This simple garment can bring together a suit (or tuxedo), completing the look. If you’re wondering what is a waistcoat for men and how to style yours, this guide will tell you all there is to know.

What Is a Waistcoat?

Tuxedo waistcoat with lapels

The waistcoat (or men’s suit vest) is a sleeveless garment worn over the shirt and tie, and under the jacket. It’s always worn buttoned up leaving the bottom button undone; never tucked into the suit trousers.

King Charles II invented the waistcoat in the 17th century. It quickly became standard dress as part of a three-piece suit. Interestingly, when it was first introduced the waistcoat did have sleeves. It was not until the 18th century that these were removed. The style also became shorter and narrower, leading to a look that’s much closer to the waistcoats we wear today.

What Is a Three-Piece Suit?

A three-piece suit is a suit that incorporates a jacket, trousers, and a waistcoat. Two-piece suits are more common, which consist of only the jacket and trousers.

Bespoke Waistcoat or Suit Vest?

You may have heard both terms: a waistcoat and a suit vest. These terms are used interchangeably and describe the same item of clothing. “Waistcoat” is simply the British term, whilst “suit vest” is more common in America.

If “vest” is used on its own it can refer to any sleeveless male top. If you’re looking for a suit vest, it’s usually better to search for a waistcoat to prevent confusion.

Double-Breasted Waistcoat vs Single-Breasted Waistcoat

If you’re looking to buy a waistcoat for men, you can choose from double-breasted and single-breasted styles. Double-breasted includes two vertical rows of buttons. Single-breasted has only one vertical row of buttons.

Single-breasted waistcoats can have between 4-6 buttons. Double-breasted waistcoats typically have 4, 6, or 8. The bottom button of a waistcoat should always be left undone.

Do Waistcoats Have Lapels?

It’s common for waistcoats to have lapels, in either notch, peak, or shawl styles.

What’s the Best Neckline For a Men’s Waistcoat?

Waistcoats can have V-shaped necklines or deeper scooped necklines (also known as horseshoe waistcoats). V shapes are more common for lounge and business suits. Horseshoe waistcoats are worn with tuxedos or dinner jackets. The horseshoe waistcoat must not be visible above the top button of the jacket.

The Ideal Waistcoat for a Wedding

If you’re looking for a bespoke waistcoat for a wedding, both double-breasted and single-breasted styles work. For a more formal look, match the cloth of your waistcoat to your suit.

If you would like to add a bit of fun and really distinguish your three piece suit add a contrasting waistcoat.

Men’s Tweed Waistcoat: When to Wear

Bespoke tweed waistcoats can be worn without a jacket with a pair of jeans to create a casual look. Or as part of your tweed lounge suit.

When to Wear a Tuxedo Waistcoat

A tuxedo waistcoat can be worn as part of a three-piece tuxedo when you are at an event where black tie is not optional. For an event invitation that states "black tie optional" you can forego the waistcoat.
The waistcoat must have a horseshoe cut and should not be visible above the closing button of the jacket.
It can have satin lapels or no lapels at all. The buttons can be covered in black or midnight blue silk or made of real horn.

Cummerbands can be worn in place of a waistcoat.

Can a Waistcoat and Trousers Be Worn Without a Jacket?

Definitely! This look works best with a waistcoat made from linen, flannel, tweed or cotton. Add a single-cuff long-sleeve shirt underneath your waistcoat without a tie and a pair with smart chinos or jeans.
Avoid wearing a waistcoat that belongs to a business suit casually.

Where to Buy a Bespoke Waistcoat in London?

If you’re looking for a bespoke waistcoat, our tailors at Artefact can help. From formal weddings to a first date, we create bespoke tailored looks to suit your style. For bespoke waistcoats and three-piece suits to impress, get in touch with Artefact London.

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