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Style 101: How and When to Wear a Waistcoat

If there’s one piece of menswear that doesn’t get talked about enough, it’s the waistcoat. While it may not be the piece you reach for on a daily basis, it probably should be. Once mastered, the waistcoat can create an entirely new dimension to your appearance. It transcends dress codes and lets you experiment with layers in a simple, but effective way. If you don’t have a waistcoat in your wardrobe, you’re missing out on perhaps the best looks.

So, why do so many people avoid these brilliant pieces of menswear?

They don’t know how to wear them or even when to wear them. Let’s take these problems out of the equation.

Choosing a Waistcoat

Whether you’re wearing a tweed waistcoat beneath your tweed jacket or a wool option under your suit, choosing the right waistcoat is essential. Like all other pieces of menswear, there are a few things to consider:


The right waistcoat should have high armholes and fit snugly around your torso and shoulders. It shouldn’t pull at the back fabric or at the buttons, however. Avoid excess material at all costs. It will simply make you look larger than you are. Some other tips on how to make sure the waistcoat fits include:

  • Look for wrinkles at the back and side. This means it’s too tight.
  • It should be long enough to cover your trouser’s waistband but avoid showing the bottom button of your shirt.
  • Large armholes are a must. Unlike with men’s suit jackets, larger armholes are needed to avoid restricting movement.
  • Make sure the neck hole sits at the back of your shirt collar. This helps keep the piece in place.
  • The shoulders should lie flat.

Button Up

A waistcoat has the ability to make you look refined and put together. Leaving it unbuttons completely ruins that look. Like a men’s suit jacket, the last button should be left undone (this prevent it from pulling when you life up your arms) but the rest need buttoned.

Don’t do the Waiter Look

You want to appear sophisticated. Avoid the shiny polyester associated with wait staff and instead choose seasonal materials. Tweed works well for winter and cotton or cotton blends for summer. If possible, avoid any unnecessary details. The waistcoat itself it the statement piece. You don’t need anything extra.

Ways to Wear a Waistcoat

Once you have the ideal waistcoat, knowing how to wear it is the next step.

  • Choose Similar Textures- If you aren’t sure how to wear your waistcoat, consider pairing it with a texture that is similar to it. Tweed works well with other types of wool and denim. If you’re really trying to streamline your look, pair a tweed waistcoat with a men’s tweed jacket. Once you become more confident with wearing the waistcoat, you can start changing up textures and experimenting a little more
  • Contrasting Colours- The fabric your waistcoat is made of will change with each season, just as your suits and jackets do. If you’re working with the same textures for both your waistcoat and other layers, make your waistcoat stand out with a contrasting, but complimentary colour. If you’re wearing a navy wool suit during winter, for instance, consider pairing it with a grey tweed waistcoat. A light blue shirt and grey tie keeps the colour scheme going and makes the ensemble look complete.
  • Without a Jacket- Lighter waistcoat options, like those made from linen/wool blends or cotton can be worn without a jacket and still look amazing. Pair them with a long-sleeve single cuff shirt and a pair of chinos or denim jeans.
  • Layers- While you may not spend a lot of time layering during the summer, in the winter, layering is the best thing you can do to stay comfortable all day long. A waistcoat offers a unique and visually pleasing option. Adding this layer will help ensure you look sharp and brilliant once you take off your overcoat.

Where to Wear Waistcoats

One of the best things about waistcoats is they fit almost any situation.


If you’re wearing a waistcoat in a casual situation, you’ll want to avoid shiny fabrics and matching colours, which tend to symbolise formality. Instead, choose a textural look that will prevent your wardrobe from coming off too sleek, like tweed or corduroy.

In this casual approach, don’t worry about matching the fabric of your trousers to the waistcoat. Opt for a tailored pair of chinos or slim fitting denim jeans to complete the looks. If you want to really keep things casual, do away with the jacket altogether. Keep it close by, however. You never know when you might need to step up your game.


You can also wear waistcoats to more formal events, like parties, dinners and work events. Even if the events aren’t black tie, a waistcoat adds an air of formality and ups your look. For these situations, choose single-breasted waistcoat styles in slick fabrics. Don’t limit yourself on colours like you might with your men’s suits in these situations. Navy and grey are traditional, but a waistcoat in olive green or wine red can add a pop of colour that will really turn heads.

If you don’t know what the dress code is, match the colour of your waistcoat to the trousers and suit jacket.

Black Tie

Black tie requires a little more care and thought than even formal events. The rules for these events don’t leave a lot of wiggle room for personality, so it’s often best not to try anything too risque. Pair your waistcoat to the suit jacket and trousers.

Have you been avoiding wearing a waistcoat with your tweed jackets or men’s suits simply because you didn’t know how to wear them or when they were appropriate to wear? Follow these tips to get the fit right, pair them with the right materials and wear them at the right moment. These versatile pieces will completely change the look of your wardrobe and give you a fresh new look.

By Brook Taverner 14 May 2017