The Waistcoat Renaissance

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Many wardrobe items experience a renaissance. It is well known that even fashion has its limits; classic designs are rarely bettered, and instead of replacing what works, designers merely alter and sometimes improve timeless pieces.

The necktie has ballooned and dieted more than a narcissistic Californian; a tiny slither one minute, a vast kipper the next. Shirts had frills, and then no frills; the fact remained that it was still a piece of cloth which buttoned down the centre of a man’s torso. Since most clothing began with practicality in mind, it should hardly be surprising that elegant practicality is impossible to improve on.

However, there is one item that has been en vogue for the last few years which could hardly be placed in the category of being a practical addition to the wardrobe; the waistcoat. Now, I know I am an old-young traditionalist, so it came as no surprise to me that I craved an elegant waistcoat long before it reappeared on the runways for Dior Homme.

However, the rejuvenation of that most dandy of items has sparked an unexpected return to a bygone era, when men dressed practically in a quite impractical manner: no paradox this; wearing a fisherman’s jumper is surely a more comfortable and simpler way to keep warm under a top-coat. Wearing something with fiddly buttons and a possibly painful back buckle is an example of how men’s dress used to be quite as capricious and frivolous as that of women.

I applaud this renaissance particularly, as men’s clothing was taking a depressingly progressive and philosophical direction. Nothing on the high street was for fancy, everything was becoming absurdly utilitarian.

Adding a waistcoat to an outfit adds grandeur, and the beauty is that they look stylish with nearly anything, although I would favour a two-button jacket over cardigans and bomber jackets. But they are now so completely free of the old cobwebby formality that they have been associated with, that t-shirts, denim and even plain white plimsolls make excellent, if unlikely, outfit companions.

Since its rebirth as both classic and contemporary, designers have worked overtime to offer some of the most varied and diverting waistcoat fashions since the mid 19th century. Double and single breasted options, greys, white, pinstripes, checks; the new world of the buttoned vest is a vast one. Topman Online offers 22 styles. 6 years ago I doubt it offered even one.

If, like me, you approve of the fashion world’s current love affair with the waistcoat, I would try and pick up as many styles as possible soon as it is unclear how long this obsession will last. The high street is great value, but fashion buyers are notoriously unpredictable; they love one thing one minute, and then it’s a no go the next.

Our current high street homage to the catwalk seems set to stay, and the whims of high-fashion designers impact more and more on what we buy from our local clothing chain. Having already picked up a neat shawl-collared black waistcoat from Zara, I am now searching for a white equivalent. Happy hunting.


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Winston Chesterfield is an amateur composer, fashion blogger, trained lawyer and style aficionado. He lives in Westminster, London and blogs at www.levraiwinston.com.