It’s the ultimate in versatile mid-layering. The men’s vest can be dressed up worn under a sport coat, or stand on its own with a long-sleeve underneath. In any man’s closet, you’ll find vests ranging from casual fleece, to more formal lapel vests, gilets, or even a sportman’s hunting vest. But not every vest should be paired up with every outfit. Each has their own place in your daily wear. So continue reading for some basic guidelines and a little history along the way.
Definition and History
A vest is broadly defined as sleeveless garment covering the upper body. Does that mean Bill Belichick’s sleeveless sweatshirts are included? Most likely not. The word also has different meanings in English – in the UK and commonwealth countries the word “vest” describes a tank top shirt, whereas the mid-layer sleeveless garment that Americans call a vest is known as a waistcoat in these areas. You’ll notice this in the naming of the Barbour waistcoats.
“Vest” comes from the romance languages, where the French “veste” means “jacket or sport coat” and the Italian “vesta” means “robe or gown” (not to be confused with Vespa, which the Italians also love). The Online Etymology Dictionary attributes the popularization of the men’s vest to Charless II, who attempted to formalize men’s attire in court which had gone off the rails.
The King hath yesterday, in Council, declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes …. It will be a vest, I know not well how; but it is to teach the nobility thrift. [Pepys, “Diary,” Oct. 8, 1666]
Some Common Types of Men’s Vests and Waistcoats
A classic style in the US, UK and beyond, the sweater vest and men’s wool vest combines comfort and style into a garment you can take anywhere. There are tons of variations in this style, from corded weaves to bottons, zips and more. Cardigan vests tend to be popular, but a pullover V-neck sweater vest is a staple in many wardrobes as well.
Travelers, photographers and outdoorsmen all appreciate the fashion and function of a quality travel vest. These garments are built to withstand the rigors of travel and to provide convenient pockets and clips to stash your travel necessities, without sacrificing the handsome appeal of a well cut vest. For adventures in warm climates, a travel vest is a must.
Another popular style for any wardrobe is the quilted vest. Whether it’s lightweight or packed with lofty down for warmth, a quilted vest provides an appealing style for versatile layering. The most common quilted vest style is the diamond quilt, which is an easy go-to vest for any casual wardrobe.
While “gilet” is pretty much interchangeable with “vest” a men’s gilet is usually designed and worn as outerwear. Gilets will usually be heavier weight or at least be designed to withstand elements when being worn as an outer layer. Within the gilet classification there are nearly as many styles as there are vest styles, so you’ll have plenty of options when shopping for a men’s gilet.
Popularized by outdoorsmen, the fleece vest is the perfect casual complement for any cool-weather adventure. The grid fleece vest style has become a staple for many a man’s wardrobe in recent years and goes perfectly with khakis and a long-sleeve checked shirt.
For trips to the range or to the field, the shooting vest delivers the functionality that sportsmen demand with a style that has become a true classic. The shoulder patches are the most identifiable aesthetic of a shooting vest. The extra fabric here provides a little padding for shotgun recoil, but have become an important fashion detail on their own. A proper shooting vest will also deliver all of the pockets needed for convenience in the field, with the rugged construction required to withstand burrs and thorns.
Of course, there are many more men’s vest styles that we haven’t mentioned. Perhaps we’ll revisit those in the near future. For now, tell us what your favorite vest style is. Do you have a different vest for every occasion? Let us know in the comments below.
2 thoughts on “Men’s Vests: Style and History”
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