As colleagues and acquaintances take a keen interest in my attire, I often receive a running commentary on sartorial habits and likelihoods. The commentary ranges from the prosaic “I knew you’d wear black shoes when it was raining” to the possessive “I’ve seen you wear that shirt four times this month.” One of my favourite comments came recently when, remarking on a bright March morning, an acquaintance gestured to my suit; “Soon, it’ll be too warm for your waistcoats.”
I smiled. Not only was this assertion incorrect – rarely is it ever ‘too warm’ in Great Britain to wear a waistcoat – but it was also lacking in imagination. Though it might be known as an item from the winter wardrobe, there was a time when waistcoats were expected to be worn year round.
Though I would never advise wearing a waistcoat in the blistering heat of high-summer, the number of ‘off days’ – overcast, dingy but not cold – suggests a need to retain the elegance without compromising coolness.
When I once suggested a linen waistcoat to a friend who was attending a spring wedding that recommended morning dress or smart suits, he baulked at the idea; “Ok, I’m not the groom. I just don’t want to have to hire tails or anything.” I countered that wearing a smart navy cotton blazer with a sandy linen waistcoat was the perfect nod to formality without the cumbersome inconvenience of rental. As it turned out, the groom’s party were attired in lilac linen waistcoats; for the heat of the day and the formality of the occasion, the fabric (if not the colour) was an excellent compromise.
Seersucker is a spring and summer favourite of smart East-Coasters. A wonderful foil for extravagant silks and smooth Sea Island cotton, there is an enduring rusticity to this cool fabric, making it perfect for summer waistcoats. It contrasts splendidly with a severe navy blazer or a crisp white cotton jacket and adds a touch of the genteel ‘old South’ to warm-season ensembles. The blue stripe is more common and more advisable as the rarely seen red stripe tends to look pinkish from a distance, which might deter the more serious gentlemen.
I have never been uncomfortably warm in my seersucker or linen waistcoats and one of the primary uses of the waistcoat, patching up the inelegant finish between shirt and trouser, applies equally in spring and summer as it does in autumn and winter; just make sure your jackets are an appropriate weight for the season.