Available since times of old in various colors, patterns and materials, a waistcoat can make a fitted T-shirt with jeans classy, replace a suit jacket in most office settings while still looking sleek and powerful, and will spruce up a suit-and-tie with an elegance fit for kings.
In fact, waistcoats were demanded and mandated by kings as part of the courtly dress since King Charles II of England first admired them in the Persian courts. And there’s a practical reason why: these slim-fitting garments make a man’s shoulders stand out, his chest seem more broad, his waist look more narrow, and, in some styles, even help to frame his face. Colors and patterns are used in contrast with jackets and pants to further accentuate these features.
Several styles of waistcoats are available today, having been created through the centuries for different occasions and pairings. Longer waistcoats hitting at or near the hips generally have higher-cut necklines as well, with buttons streaming down the breastbone, and should be worn with well-cut long-sleeved dress shirts to accentuate the length of your body. These look best on taller, more slender men whose long legs balance the length of the waistcoat.
Shorter, more conventional waistcoats should fit snugly as well, without buckling at the hip or waist when standing straight. These are usually made with five buttons, and are traditionally worn with the bottom button undone, allowing more freedom of movement, especially when sitting. They look smashing on men of almost any physique, provided the fit is good and the shirt worn underneath is also cut well. Larger T-shirts and looser dress shirts will billow, giving an impression of unkemptness.
Two- and three-button waistcoats are typically more formal, made for tuxedos to allow room for ruffled and otherwise decorated shirts, but these waistcoats will add a touch of class and flare to a casual outfit of jeans-and-Tee.
Though many fashion magazines show models wearing belts with waistcoats, be aware that belts – especially with large belt buckles – break the impression of sleekness given by waistcoats, and the buckle can cause the waistcoat to bulge. Suspenders are traditionally worn beneath waistcoats because they hold the pants and are hidden easily, so get yourself a couple sets while you’re on the hunt for cool and unusual fashion pieces.
When you’re finally ready to buy yourself a few waistcoats, think practicality and versatility. Almost any classically-styled man will have at least one waistcoat in his closet, usually part of a three-piece suit that is made of the same fabric as the jacket and slacks. The effect of a well-tailored three-piece is quite stunning, covering the man in a single color and pattern except for his upper chest, creating clean lines and allowing his silhouetted form to stand out.
If you can afford it, though, get yourself an exceptionally-tailored three-piece that you can wear often and well, all together or as separates. Of the big names in fashion, Armani is so skilled at accentuating a man’s form that his suits are coveted around the globe – and for good reason. The key to Armani suits is the basic cut that respects rather than diminishes a man’s form, using classic rules of styles instead of breaking them in an attempt at originality; even the flourishes, patterns, colors, fabrics and other design aspects used only further bring out the wearer’s attributes.