The summer of the waistcoat
A few years ago a young man sat at a desk in a small English town and rubbed his hand across a clean-shaven chin. As he sipped a cup of tea he peered out of the window at what was, presumably, a fairly mundane view, and contemplated the world going by outside and his place in it.
Fast-forward a few years and it is all change. Now that man spends much of his time on international flights; constantly rushing for place to place. Gone is the hairless visage, replaced with a beard, and his daily uniform is suit and waistcoat which regularly draw comments from those he meets.
You know this person, dear reader. Of course you do. Who is it? It’s me.
Now I will forgive those of you who might have thought we were talking about England football manger, and now iconic waistcoat-wearer Gareth Southgate, but we are not. Though a former colleague of mine will doubtless take credit for my sartorial change – and he’d probably win the argument if it came to it – I adopted the waistcoat and beard look for two reasons. One was ease – I had three-piece suits and needed to look smart for work. But the more pressing reason was gravitas. I took up the waistcoat and beard simply because “you look very smart” is a better reaction that “don’t you look young”.
The latter had become something of a tiresome point of conversation when I took over as editor of the local paper where I started my professional career.
But Mr Southgate and I have both found that, besides adding an air of respectability to your attire, waistcoats have another advantage: they are fun to wear. They look smart, they offer easy layering and they are a fairly simple form of sartorial personality in most situations.
For those of us at the shorter end of the scale they also offer another advantage. Common wisdom states that mixing and matching suit parts is not the best look for a smaller man. The contrasting colours serve to highlight the different parts of your boy and can draw attention to your lack of height. Meanwhile a single-colour suit creates a single line which does not have that problem. A waistcoat transcends the two, allowing you to remove your jacket without losing that one-line look.
With England putting in such a sterling performance in the World Cup in Russia, and Mr Southgate’s waistcoat earning much well-deserved press time, this third part of a suit is getting something of a resurgence. No longer the preserve of square-mile city boys and night out miscues, waistcoats are popping up all over the place.
But how should one be worn?
There are a few simple rules to remember here. First off, please get one that fits. The waistcoat should cover your shirt, stop at the trouser line, be fitted enough to not look like a box, but certainly not be too tight. And for the love of God, please leave the bottom button undone.
Photos courtesy of the official England football Instagram