Saturday, 15 January 2011

Reader question: Odd Waistcoats

A reader asks:
Speaking both as a keen reader of your blog and as a student on a somewhat limited budget, I'd be interested to know what liberties might be taken with the colour/fabric of a waistcoat worn with a lounge suit.

The suit I have in mind is black (I have a grey one too but I doubt I'd be able to find a waistcoat in the same shade). Unfortunately I can't seem to find many waistcoats on my budget that are simply black without pin stripes or other patterns. Must waistcoats always match the rest of the suit in formal settings (either in colour or in fabric)? Would a navy blue waistcoat work?

I'd be very grateful for advice on this - perhaps next time I'll just have to make sure I buy a three-piece suit in the first place!

Great question. I suspect that a lot of people with a limited amount of money to spend on suits find themselves attracted to the idea of a three-piece suit, but without the budget to buy a whole new suit.

First of all, I would give up on the idea of finding a perfect match for the fabric. Unless you are spectacularly lucky, it's simply not going to be possible and, even in black, a slight difference in the cloth will probably be noticeable. Don't worry, though, your waistcoat doesn't have to match your suit, so long as you are careful. It's an unusual look, but if you pull it off it can look very smart. A good example, I think, is Duck Phillips of Mad Men.

Ignoring the fact that he has done up the bottom button on his waistcoat, this is a really nice look. The smart, classic pinstripe suit paired with a waistcoat in a clearly non-matching colour is a nice twist, and a particular quirk of Duck's that sets him apart from a lot of the other men on the show.

I think there are a few things here that are going to be important to getting this right. Firstly, the waistcoat must clearly not match. A waistcoat in a very similar colour will look very wrong. So, for your black suit I would try (as you suggest) dark blue or dark grey but, in both cases, not so dark that they look black. For the grey suit, a significantly darker or lighter shade of grey could work nicely.

Secondly, it must not look as if you are wearing an outfit cobbled together from other suits. Getting this right may be down partly to trial and error, but I would suggest that you avoid waistcoats in fabrics or patterns that are typical of lounge suits. For example, a blue pinstripe in lightweight worsted wool may look as if it has been stolen from another suit, and the effect will be jarring. On the other hand, a plain blue waistcoat in soft fabric such as flannel should blend nicely into whatever else you're wearing, and will look like a deliberate choice - just as if you were wearing a v-neck jumper under your suit.

I hope this all helps. Do let me know how you get on.

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