Once obligatory for every man, the waistcoat has definitely lost its appeal for the average man. Before central heating became the standard,
Single Breasted Black Waistcoat with Slip and Albert Watch Chain Hole
another layer of cloth in form of the waistcoat helped keep the wearer warm, and as such it was a functional as well as decorative piece of clothing. Moreover, it covered the shirt front from the public. It was only because of the waistcoat that it was possible to invent detachable collars and cuffs. As the only two visible elements of a shirt, they were so much easier to wash separately and reduced the frequency with which entirely new shirts must be purchased.
More Morning Waistcoats
Today, most men feel too warm in their suits and with rise of low rise trousers, the waistcoat has vanished to a considerable degree. Nevertheless, even today waistcoats can improve an outfit by adding a colorful touch of distinction. With regard to the morning coat, it is not just a particularly important accessory but much rather a necessity! The nature of a dressing guide is, of course, guidance in matters of how to dress, and as such I will present all the options so you can decide on your own. That being said, a morning coat without a waistcoat is like a tuxedo without a black bow tie. Hence, even if you only care little for dress culture and etiquette, you should always wear a vest with formal morning dress.
Basically, there are two types of types of waistcoats: single breasted and double breasted. Once you have settled on one of these silhouettes, you can choose between a traditional back and a backless vest. There are numerous colors, textures and fabrics available to enable you to create your very own morning waistcoat.
Single Breasted Vest
Vibrantly Colored Morning Silk Vests with Contrasting Back
Today, single breasted waistcoats are definitely in the majority. Consequently, you will find them in numerous lengths, cuts and variations. A notched lapel waistcoat that matches its corresponding morning coat is considered the most classic version. Whether it is worn with a lapel or without, or even with a shawl collar is completely up to you. Usually waistcoats have a total of four pockets in the front, which are quite useful for change, wedding rings (in case you are the best man) lighters, tickets…
While the number of pockets is, again, entirely up to you to decide, you should make sure that whatever pockets you choose do not have flaps. Flap pockets are always less formal. Single breasted waistcoats are almost always worn with the bottom button undone. In the past, we dedicated an entire article to the theories behind this phenomenon, and therefore I will not go into detail about this undone button.
Double Breasted Waistcoat
The double breasted waistcoat is rarely ever seen in everyday life. Vintage fashion illustrations from the 1920s through the 1950s regularly advertised the double breasted waistcoat, but sadly for many men today it is a relic of the past.
However, despite the occasional addition of the double breasted waistcoat to a RTW line, the garment seems to its last bastion in formal morning dress. Nowhere else is this waistcoat style more present than with morning coats. At horse races like the Epsom Derby or Royal Ascot, it looks like roughly half of the men in a morning coat actually wear a double breasted waistcoat!
Royal Ascot Spectators with 4×2 Double Breasted Waistcoat & Single Breasted Silk Vest
Most of the double breasted daywear waistcoats around have a 6×3 button configuration, meaning that it has 6 visible buttons, of which 3 are actually buttoned. The majority has buttons placed in a tapered, trapezoidal configuration and only rarely will you find one with two parallel rows of buttons.
Double Breasted Morning Waistcoat in Blue with Green Plaid Trousers
Due to the necessary overlap of fabric on the front of a double-breasted morning coat, it might be wise to have a single breasted version handy when it gets extremely hot. However, if you prefer the double breasted ones regardless of the weather (like me) then it is advisable to choose one which has less of an overlap.
On one occasion I saw a double breasted waistcoat without a lapel, but the most have them. The lapels vary considerably in width, and are available in peak or shawl collar outlines. Compared to an evening waistcoat, they reveal little of the shirt front and tie.
Unlike single breasted waistcoats, double breasted waistcoats are typically cut straight across the bottom seam, or they feature a slight peak – either variation looks great. Due to this style of cut, it is important that you combine them with trousers that sit on your waist, allowing for the proper overlap of the vest and the pants.
Prince Charles in Double Breasted Vest with MOP Buttons, Watch Chain & Slip
In addition, the trousers in this combination should always be worn with suspenders, as a belt will be clearly visible and it will disrupt the fit of the waistcoat.
Morning Waistcoat Fabric & Color
Originally, the morning coat was worn with a waistcoat tailored of the same cloth as the coat itself. Considering its origins, this meant it was black or charcoal most often. Some will tell you that a black waistcoat is only reserved for funerals nowadays. While it is certainly advisable to wear black at a funeral, in most cases a morning coat ensemble would draw unnecessary attention.
Double Breasted Waistcoat in Dove Grey with Golden Watch Chain
However, if morning dress is the designated dress code, then by all means you should wear a black waistcoat with your formal morning dress. Apart from that, black is also perfectly acceptable to wear when not attending a funeral, as Prince Charles perfectly demonstrates in this picture.
With regard to other classic colors, the dove grey or pearl grey – a relatively light mid grey –comes to mind as well as the buff waistcoat – a color blend of beige and cream. You will find that there are many shades of this color, but all produce this distinctive look. They are usually made from a canvas weave linen and look very handsome, in my opinion.
Gentleman in Buff Single Breasted Morning Waistcoat
If you would like to deviate from this color spectrum, you could consider pastel colors – a pale pink, blue, green, etc., should work just as well.
In modern movies, actors will sometimes wear flashy red iridescent brocade vests, or at Royal Ascot a few men with bold patterned silk plaid waistcoats or frog green polyester vests and the like.
Patterned Silk Waistcoats
Most of the time, these gentlemen are anything but style icons and in combination with a gaping collar, a tiny top hat and a poor fit, they look almost comical. Despite this, it is not per se wrong to wear a patterned silk waistcoat; however, I have not really seen an example that flattered the wearer. Unless you really have the charisma and character to pull off a vibrant look with confidence, I would urge you to refrain from wearing a flashy vest. If you still want to wear individual accents, consider an interesting tie or a boutonniere instead.
Traditional Back vs. Backless Morning Waistcoat
Backless Morning Waistcoat
A waistcoat always has a back which is made of silk, cotton or other smooth fabrics that facilitate movement and comfort when wearing and taking the jacket on and off. Usually, they come with a little adjustable strap in the back, which comes in handy when you enjoyed a rich meal.
Powder Blue Double Breasted Morning Waistcoat by Charles R. Tsua
However, the extra layer of fabric in the back may be a tad too insulating during warm summer months, and that’s why it pays to have a backless waistcoat. Originally, Mr. Hawes, the founder of what is today known as Hawes & Curtis, invented the backless evening waistcoat for the exact same reason – the regular evening waistcoat wore too hot. Soon after men enjoyed cooler evening vests, backless morning waistcoats appeared as well.
Their front looks identical to a regular morning waistcoats and the buttons all work. It is kept in place by a horizontal strap at the bottom and a collar that rests on the back of your neck.
Some may argue that backless waistcoats are just a sham and should be avoided. Others even argue that a traditional back is preferable in case you take off your morning coat. Despite these arguments, the morning coat isn’t intended to be removed (at least in public), and a backless waistcoat is a nice way to counterbalance the heat.
Earl Spencer in Single Breasted Blue Gray Vest with White Buttons
With matching waistcoats, you usually see plain, matching horn buttons.
Single breasted waistcoats in contrasting colors usually feature horn buttons, or occasionally mother of pearl or cloth covered buttons.
Double breasted waistcoats, on the other hand, often times come with mother of pearl buttons in white for buff waistcoats and white or grey buttons with dove grey vests.
With regard to button size, I have seen a examples from the size of a coat sleeve button to the size of a shirt button.
Personally, I really prefer mother of pearl buttons over all others, since they have a sophisticated shine and look; but that’s just personal preference. Any of the aforementioned button choices are fine.
Classic Dove Grey Vest with Mother of Pearl Buttons
Morning Vest Chain Hole
Pointed Double Breasted Morning Waistcoat with Albert Watch Chain Hole & FOB by Charles Rupert Tsua
In the early days of the morning coat, when wrist watches were not around yet, fob watches and pocket watches were de rigueur. Men often wore them with solid white gold or yellow gold chains. When used as an accessory to morning ensembles, they were decoratively carried in the waistcoat pockets. Therefore, on vintage morning waistcoats, you will sometimes find a chain hole.
On single breasted vests, you can spot the vertical key hole in between two buttonholes. Today, Hackett seems to be one of the few Ready-To-Wear manufacturers to offer such a chain hole.
Double breasted waistcoats, on the other hand, feature them either in the middle, such as the one on the left or the one worn by Prince Charles above or it is hidden underneath a wide lapel.
In case you like to individualize your waistcoat, a slip or silk piping are great ways to do so.