What is a Waistcoat — Waistcoat vs Vest Coat Differences in 2024

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what is a waistcoat
David Beckham wearing a waiscoat

Men, we know what it’s like. Getting dressed up is sometimes the last you want to do.

To be summoned to work or a conference or a networking event where you have to leave behind your hoodie or sweatshirt… well, it’s as they say: “parting is always such sweet, sweet sorrow.”

Formal clothes just don’t have that comfortability or that idea of completing an outfit in one quick swing like joggers or a jersey. Somehow, it just never feels self-expressing enough.

Can anything match up to the likes of informal layers?

We at The Highest Fashion found just the thing: waistcoats!

Dictionary Definition of Waistcoat

We are aware this might be the very first time you’re hearing about a waistcoat and we agree it’s a pretty interesting name — don’t all coats cover the waist?

A waistcoat actually frames the waist and is tailored to every man’s more or less specific measurements (if you get a waistcoat that’s too big or too small, you can always get it tailored!)

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a waistcoat definition is a “piece of clothing that covers the upper body but not the arms and usually has buttons down the front, worn over a shirt.”

Waistcoat Pronunciation

A waistcoat is pronounced just like you’d think by combing the pronunciation of “Waist” with “Coat.” weist·kowt

Meaning of a Waistcoat — What Is a Waistcoat, Really?

Waistcoats are meant to be that formal layer over a dress-shirt that pulls the whole look together.

“The primary function of a waistcoat is to provide both a sense of depth and formality to an outfit,” GQ UK reports.

A waistcoat that is double-breasted especially promotes a look of sophistication and often provide more warmth in the winter weather, a perfect choice if you commute to work or have a highly air-conditioned office.

More importantly, waistcoats aren’t just black or white — each has a personality and demeanor of their own. Whether it be the classic neutral-colored waistcoat, a plaid waistcoat, the tweed waistcoat, the window-pane waistcoat (the flaps near the color inspired the name), or the double-breasted — so many exist and all because no guy is alike.

A waistcoat is ultimately meant to uplift your formal look in a way that is meaningful and truly fashionable — in a way that is also totally you.

Waistcoat vs Vest Coat — Waistcoat and Vest Differences

waistcoat vs vest
Waistcoat vs Vest Coat

If you were clicking through other articles talking about a waistcoat vs vest, you might find that a lot of men aren’t sure about the differences between a waistcoat and a vest.

So, the question remains, “Are a waistcoat and vest the same?”

And essentially, the answer is no. While a waistcoat and vest are both sleeveless and require an undershirt to complete their look, waistcoats are made with higher quality fabrics and provide a tighter fit.

Vests are great for informal dinners or casual Fridays or any office that doesn’t pay too much attention to your professional look; however, waistcoats are able to provide a polished, formal look that is both refined and sophisticated. Vests are not a waistcoat synonym.

A waistcoat takes a vest to a whole other level.

Additionally, buttons reveal another major difference between the two as waistcoats have at least one column of buttons, sometimes two. Vests can do away without the buttons and therefore can look more informal and have a more “on-the-go” feel.

“On-the-go,” however, does not provide the slim-fit feeling of a waistcoat!

With that said, if you hate dealing with buttons galore or hate spending too much money on a layer for dress-shirts, maybe a button-less vest or cheaper vest is what you should invest in. But if you have some extra change to spare or like higher-quality material like cotton, wool, silk, tweed, etc., a waistcoat is definitely there for your taking.

Waistcoat or Cummerbund?

It’s the best when formal attire has the perkiest names, isn’t it? Cummerbunds are long waist sashes that are often maroon, black or navy blue. These sashes are all the more formal than a waistcoat and brings a layer of ostentation, tradition and class like no other suit accessory.

Some men benefit from cummerbunds on fancy occasions rather than from waistcoats because the sashes “tend to make men look taller, with a thinner waist.”

Waistcoats bring attention to the waist and can make a man seem shorter given its pattern and lapels — so if you have a wedding or formal function to go to and you want to be the most chivalrous-looking man there, cummerbunds just might be the way to go.

Waistcoat History

Although your history teachers and professors may have never fully invested your time in learning about the history of the waistcoat, you don’t have to worry. All you need to know is below:

The waistcoat originated in Persia and rose to fashion fame in the middle of the seventeenth century. History of Fashion reveals that Samuel Pepys, a member of English parliament, wrote in his diary, in 1666:

“The King hath … declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest.”

Pepys said it and the waistcoat continued its powerful rise.

Double-breasted waistcoats became the most stylish of all kinds and the first few decades of the 1700s saw men wearing the small pocketed waistcoats with flaps, no sleeves.

By 1800, the waistcoats with the single-breast and the small lapels gained attention and fabrics began to change color and texture, featuring horizontal or vertical stripes.

What is the Purpose of a Waistcoat— How Do You Wear a Waistcoat?

We touched upon it a little bit earlier, but a waistcoat is definitely outside the family of hoodies, sweatshirts, jerseys or casual sweaters. A waistcoat is almost other-worldly, meant to show your sleek style and that you took the extra step to look good.

Waistcoats are meant to show extra attention to detail, an extra layer of bravado and professionalism but also a personalized touch of unique taste as each comes with a certain pattern or look or fabric that stands out.

Most waistcoats are meant to pair with the suit the man is wearing but over the years, waistcoats have become a fashion staple with chinos, or khakis as well, or something a man throws on over any dress-shirt.

In case you are wondering the best way to own the look, we have just the thing!

Check out this amazing video from Gentleman’s Gazette that dives straight into how to wear a waistcoat or vest when layering your ensemble:

Waistcoat Rules — Does a Waistcoat Have to Be Tight? Should You Leave the Bottom Button of a Waistcoat Undone?

You might be thinking, “Rules? This isn’t a game!”

But it’s your appearance — it’s how you come across to the world, and fashion, like a power-move game like chess or checkers— has rules.

The Highest Fashion, though, can help provide you a quick crash course with this cheat sheet right below:

  • Waistcoats pair well as a function within a three-piece suit
  • Waistcoats should be form-fitting and not too loose – the best is not when they are tight but when they slimly fit the proportions of your body
  • Try to avoid wearing waistcoats with jeans – the purpose of each component clashes
  • Leave the bottom button undone — always, always!
  • Attend to the buckle in the back — don’t leave it unbuckled or too tight you can’t move around freely
  • Avoid rending a waist coat — they will never fit your body the way you deserve
  • Pay attention to the accessories you sport with your waistcoat— does the tie, watch, pocket-square etc. add or take away from the look?
  • Don’t be afraid of matching your dress pants to the waist-coat — as long as you feel good and the colors complement each other, it’s nice to change it up!

Many also ask if a waistcoat has to match the suit and the answer is truthfully no. As much as you can never go wrong with matching, just like the last rule we listed, changing up a look and playing around with color schemes can go a long way in making a fashion statement.

Most importantly, if you feel your waist coat isn’t fitting you properly or making you look like the handsome gentleman you are, be sure to go get it tailored.

A tailor can magically transform your loose-fitting waistcoat or too-tight waistcoat to one that fits you like custom-made Italian shoes — yeah, that well!

Tailors can take or remove the sides, raise the back, replace the linings, slim or shorten, you name it.

Check out our article on all your pressing questions about getting your clothes tailored — we cover every nitty-gritty, probing thought you can have!

Why Do Waistcoats Have Silk Backs?

Now that’s the million-dollar question isn’t it?

Part of the appeal of waistcoats is their silky back because it adds a richness and texture of high gallantry, true class, while others feel that silk back is stay under a jacket and under a jacket only.

It all depends on preference whether you want to layer your waistcoat, but Permanent Style explains that the reason for its silky texture is “to allow easy wearing and removal.”

The silk is meant to give the jacket an easy glide-off and easy slide-on — all for comfort, all for convenience.

How thoughtful!

Are Waistcoats in Fashion in 2024?

This answer is simple: waistcoats are timeless and a traditional look that won’t be going out of style anytime soon.

2024 especially saw the rise of waistcoat wearers, finding that for both men and women, a waistcoat’s elegance has transformed into tomboy edge.

Harper’s Bazaar reveals, “It is unclear whether or not we have Gareth Southgate to thank (his perchance for the style during the 2018 World Cup prompted his M&S version to sell out) but it is clear now that the fashion industry is [welcoming the waistcoat with open arms].”

Pinterest itself is popping with all sorts of pinned styles for men’s waistcoats and how to sport them best whether it be with layer on a vertical striped jacket that matches the tie and the waistcoat matches the shoes, or with a hat that is the same color as the undershirt.

Clearly, there are options, options, options galore — and that’s always a plus when it comes to personal style.

What Do You Wear with a Waistcoat?

Sometimes, a waistcoat comes in a three-piece set. This set includes a jacket, trousers and the waistcoat.

A whole set like this is a rare gem, as most men choose to tone down formality and add some layer of casual, hip or retro style. If you prefer to wow the room, a three-piece set paired with beautiful Italian shoes or leather loafers is just one way to do it.

Looking for some visual inspiration? This video on waistcoat outfit ideas will definitely get your creativity flowing:

Prefer another written cheat-sheet? Here are some rapid-fire accessories or styles to sport with your waistcoat:

  • Leather shoes that match either your tie, your waistcoat, jacket or pocket square
  • Tie that matches your socks, shoes, pocket square, hat or pants
  • Hat that has a band with a color scheme that matches the rest of your ensemble
  • Dress-shirt with a solid color
  • Jacket that can either match the waistcoat or have a design that matches the socks, hat, tie or pants
  • Leather belt that matches the shoes, hat, tie or socks (definitely has to match the shoes!)
  • Suspenders — waistcoats and suspenders are going above and beyond formal, traditional yet retro wear. Haven’t you heard? Suspenders are back in town!
  • Cologne— not a physical accessory but the lifestyle this style of a waistcoat projects perfectly pairs with strong, masculine aromas (If you want to know the best kind of cologne for you, check out our in-depth exposé on men’s best kind of fragrances here)

How Many Buttons Should a Waistcoat Have? How Much Cloth Required for Waistcoat?

They say the devil’s in the details and they couldn’t be more right.

A waistcoat’s buttons share a lot about the overall look of a waistcoat and like we said, before, be sure to always leave the very last button unbuttoned — this is essential to showing you know your “thing” when it comes to men’s fashion.

Usually, a waistcoat has around six buttons but there is no set number. Some have two, some have four, five or seven.

As for how much cloth is required in a waistcoat, 1 meter for a waistcoat with rear in satin lining is the way to go!

What Waistcoats Are in Style in 2024?

If the reason you’re reading this article (and made it all the way to end — great job and thank you for sticking with us by the way!) is that you’re looking for a waistcoat of your own or because you wanted to see what’s out there, have no fear.

Check out the top three trendy waistcoats available in one click below:

Maroon V Neck Slim Fit

This waistcoat blends to a man’s body and has an aura of depth, warmth and understated vibrancy.

Paired with perfect contrast to a neutral-toned dress-shirt that is white, black, navy blue or pea green, for example, this kind of waistcoat executes a sleek and chic outlook that harnesses what we at The Highest Fashion call “quiet confidence.”

Tweed Grey Checker-Pattern Slim Fit

Some waistcoats come with patterns that are more so soothing and relaxing rather than bodacious and strongly tuned to tradition.

A waistcoat like this one, with a grey checker pattern, is able to complement any man who wants to hone in the timelessness of a waistcoat but keep the modernism and contemporary patterns that are subtle, soft and laid-back in the best way.

Black Formal Waistcoat

Black is always there to offer comfort, support and class when it comes to men’s fashion. This particular black, formal waistcoat is slim, über masculine and prolific in its robust conviction.

Best part? Black waistcoats can solidify any look and match any chinos or khakis as well as pair well with any color shoes, belt or hat. It’s anonymity inspires a confident enigma and you will be the best-dressed man in the room.

Don’t forget to tag us on Instagram @thehighestfashioncom with your finest waistcoat photos and let us know how you like to layer them or what patterns you enjoy!