How to wear a waistcoat, plus 10 of the best.

Defending an intentional autumnal lack of sleeves.

Waistcoats are dangerous. On the one hand, they’re a great way to layer up in fall + winter… yet on the other hand they can make you look like you fell out of the 19th century, or worse, the 1990’s.

When executed well, waistcoats or vests do the exact same thing that a sportcoat does: It cleans up your lines. Even the most tailored of shirts will bunch out ever so slightly throughout the day. A waistcoat keeps the lines at your sides clean, all while being more casual than a blazer and offering more range of motion. But buy the wrong waistcoat or pair it up with the wrong stuff, and you might end up looking like you’re on your way to a costume party. Here’s a few guidelines plus ten of the best options out there right now:

When shopping for a waistcoat

  • Natural fabrics are key: Wool, cotton, linen. All poly is a big no.
  • Fit has to be good if not great: Too big = you’re wearing a barrel. Too small = corset.
  • Texture wins: Tweed, thicker wools, brushed cottons, corduroy, etc…
  • A matte back is a plus: Super shiny poly backs look like it’s an orphaned 3-piece.

When wearing a waistcoat

  • Jeans & OCBDs are your friend: They’re a natural fit and keep the vest grounded.
  • Don’t go with stark contrast: White shirt + black/navy vest = Wild Wild West.
  • Chambray shirts are a perfect match: They deliver a bit of a modern “I’ve been workin’ on the railroad” vibe.
  • Unbutton the bottom button: Sorta like wearing a sportcoat or suit jacket.
  • But never wear it fully unbuttoned: Don’t flap in the breeze now. Defeats the purpose.

Claiborne Glenn Plaid or Herringbone Wool Blend – $40.00

claiborne vests

Could be a huge value at just forty bucks… assuming the description of “wool/poly/rayon/other” is accurate and there’s a decent amount of wool in there. Efforting an in person with one of these. Couldn’t find them in-store. From Claiborne, so fingers crossed that the fit is like their sportcoats. Meaning: spot on.

 

J. Crew Ludlow vest in blue or brown English wool – $98.00 ($138)

jcrew ludlow wool waistcoat

Like their tweedy fall sportcoats, only without the sleeves. Or lapels. Or… you get the idea. Made from Moon Mills wool and even lined in Bemberg. The lining does carry across the back so it’ll be easier to layer, and at least it’s a higher quality, less shiny lining compared to poly. Big fan of that shade of blue. Recently added to the sale section.

 

L.E.C. Mourning Stripe Vest – $69.99 ($100)

LEC Vest

The best side of this one just might be the back. Chambray on the back plus side tabs instead of the standard center cinch. Multi stripe and a five button front step away from the micro patterns and six-button fronts you usually see. Should come down further in price the next time they run a code.

 

Wallin & Bros Navy Wool Herringbone Vest – $125.00

Nordy vest

Might be the one to try first if you’re not sure about jumping on board this trend. Ships & returns free, which is key, through Nordstrom. Claims to be all wool but that back panel sure appears to be chambray. Five button front with a deeper V than most waistcoats. Claims to be a trimmer fit. A note about this specific “look”… The dressy pants + stark shirt isn’t easy to pull off. Better to wear this navy vest in a more casual way.

 

Banana Republic Herrinbone Cotton Vest – $78 – $130

BR Vest

This seems to have disappeared off the BR site in the last few days, but you might want to check in store. About as good as it gets for a stand-alone vest. Grey herringbone pattern on a soft, brushed-cotton front. Smoother cotton herringbone back with no shine. Size shown here and at top of page is a 38R, which is just a touch tight on a 5’10” 170lb athletic frame.

 

J. Crew Factory Thompson Herringbone Vest – $78.00

Factory Vest

Of course Factory produced a “Thompson” labeled, cheaper version of the Ludlow vests. Wool/nylon blend here, and the back is a black poly. Should drop further with codes.

 

Filson Mackinaw Wool Vest – $135.00

Filson Vest

Looks like something Professor Henry Jones Jr. might wear during weekend office hours at the University. An original. Tough as nails, not going to be cut super slim so consider sizing down. They are made in chest/jacket sizes instead of Small, Medium, Large, etc. Made in the USA.

 

Suitsupply Double Breasted Waistcoat – $99.00

Suitsupply vest

Easily the riskiest. Double breasted, loud pattern, but being that it’s from Suitsupply you should be able to expect an impeccable fit. Washed Italian wool, and the styling here is dead on.

Thoughts on waistcoats? Is it something you’ve tried and liked? Do you have a Mumford & Sons aversion to wearing them? Leave it all in the comments section below.