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How to Wear a Waistcoat

Last Updated on July 4, 2020 by Rachel Thomson

How to wear a waistcoat – wit and wisdom on the perils of waistcoat wearing.


The waistcoat is once again fashionable for men. But, it takes chutzpah to pull it off, especially if you’re dabbling in waistcoat wearing for the first time.

The whole issue is fraught with danger and steering a safe sartorial course is best served by knowing a few waistcoat rules.


How to Get the Fit Right on a Waistcoat

The first and most important thing is fit. Like any tailored piece a waistcoat will only ever look good if it fits. Finding a vintage tweed waistcoat in a thrift shop is all well and good. And yes, tales of unearthing of vintage treasures do make for wonderful anecdotes. But no one will care – deaf ears and derision all round – if you look like a trust fund wurzel in your ill-fitting waistie.

A waistcoat should:

  • sit flat across the shoulders,
  • with nice, high arms holes that don’t gape,
  • it should feel neat across the chest without puckering or pulling at the buttons,
  • the front panels should cover the shirt and belt rising in a gentle taper at the sides.

The back is generally cut slightly higher than the front and it’s OK to show a little shirt in the lower back – though make sure your shirt is pulled tighter than a hospital sheet. Great wafts of shirt fabric create an instant slovenly, corpulent effect.


How to Style a Waistcoat

Within the context of country clothing waistcoat wearers can be broadly split into two groups, the traditionalists and those with more contemporary taste.

We are fans of both and swing between the two dependent on mood and occasion.


Contemporary Country


If easing into the world of waistcoat wearing try wearing a waistcoat with jeans in a casual context.


Mix with other textures, colours and patterns. Tweed, cord and wool are great for the cooler months. Experiment with Tattersalls shirts, chinos, flannel shirts and trousers, jeans, use multiple layers for a highly-textured look.


Traditional Country


When it comes to traditional country style the 3-piece tweed suit has maximum country cred. For absolute perfection, a made to measure suit in vibrantly coloured, contemporary tweed from Bladen is the ultimate choice.


Everyone is unique, one shoulder slightly higher than the other, a low waist, a high waist – you prefer an extra lean English cut or a loose Hacking style? Imagine the luxury of a tweed suit tailored exactly to your specification and proportions. Men walk taller in made to measure and at A Hume we’ve been helping them do it since 1929 – more here; Bespoke Tailoring an Art form Perfected.


Waistcoat FAQs (or Potential Crimes Against Waistcoats)

Is it OK to wear a waistcoat with a t-shirt?

The inclusive, tolerant and polite answer is: Yes, you can wear a waistcoat with Grayson Perry Alice-in-Wonderland frock if the fancy strikes you.

However, if what you really want to know is, will I be taken seriously and look stylish wearing a t-shirt and a waistcoat? The answer is an emphatic, no. You will not. You will either come off looking like a foppish Brian Cox doll or a dismal Francis Rossi retro rocker with camp overtones. Neither of which is good – unless that’s what you aspire to.

Plus, there is a whole spectrum of male fashion malfunction between these two extremes we could reference to further drive home the essential and inescapable point that it is WRONG. It’s a waistcoat – the whole point of a waistcoat is the tailoring… not to let the waistcoat flap about meaninglessly either side of a dingy old t-shirt.

At what age can I wear a waistcoat?

Should you follow the rules of waistcoat wearing as laid out above you can wear a waistcoat on reaching early manhood. However, we would suggest that if you wear a waistcoat before the age of 25 there is a clear and present danger that you will look like you’re a) attending an interview/school disco or b) dressing up in your Dad’s clothes.

This is particularly true if you can in any way be said to have a baby face. The combination of fresh faced youth and waistcoat can be saccharine in the extreme.

Bottom waistcoat button – done up, or undone?

It has become conventional among the cognoscenti to leave the bottom button on a waistcoat undone. And in the early 1900s, it may well have been practical for navies or farm workers, bending and digging, to leave the bottom button of their waistcoats undone. But, really there is no earthly reason why you should leave the bottom button of your waistcoat undone. Unless you’re engaged in a spot of recreational trench digging, or you’re a session musician for Mumford & Sons.

Having said that liberating the outlying button isn’t a crime against waistcoats, some men find it more comfortable and it can look good. So, the jury’s out.

Are waistcoat pocket watches, sleeve clips and pocket squares a good idea?

Our wisest counsel on this subject is, remember, it’s just a waistcoat, and should never be used as justification to unleash all manner of excessive peripheral paraphernalia.

By all means, sport a well-chosen pocket square but accessorise sparingly – adopt affectations like pocket watches, sleeve clips and hankies half-stuffed with apparent casualness into back pockets at your peril. Contrivance is the death knell for style

Style Pearl of Wisdom

One of the greatest style pearls of wisdom we have to share is:

Try. But do not appear to have tried too hard.


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