Wednesday, February 1, 2012
In case you were wondering, all waistcoats are vests, but not all vests are waistcoats. The name waistcoat applies to the waist length modern sleeveless vest, as opposed to the original vest which was, and sometimes still is though not as part of a man's suit, considerably longer (try saying that fast three times).
The vest rather than the waistcoat was introduced as a part of correct dress during the restoration of the British monarchy by England's King Charles II in the seventeenth century. It was derived from the long sleeveless coats seen by English visitors to the court of Shah Abbas in Persia, and was worn for most of three hundred years as an outer garment just as we wear a jacket today.
The waistcoat became the middle part of the lounge suit around the start of the twentieth century, and remained a required part of men's business clothing, and even casual dress, until the Second World War. Its ubiquity stemmed from the fact that it added an extra layer of warmth in the days before central heating. As made by Savile Row tailors from the 1920s on, it was usually cut from the same cloth as the rest of the suit, single breasted, with a six button front and a notch or shawl collar or no collar at all. In addition, linen waistcoats in shades of buff, cream, light gray and light blue were worn for semi-formal and formal daytime occasions and tattersall plaid odd waistcoats were worn with tweed in the country. The waistcoat also remains part of both white and strict black tie evening ensembles.
The ubiquity of central heating, the automobile's increased protection from the elements and strict rationing of cloth during World War II combined to make the lounge suit version of the waistcoat optional, but it still has its uses. A waistcoat can extend the months that a mid-weight suit can be worn comfortably by adding a layer when temperatures drop. And of course the combination of single breasted jacket and vest is warmer than either single breasted or double worn without, which can eliminate the need to carry a topcoat in forty or fifty degree weather (4 to 15 Celsius or thereabouts).
The gray double breasted waistcoat in the photo is worn on a cool day paired with a tan tab collared end on end shirt, a black, tan and paisley necktie and a maroon wool square with tan dots. The latter two are from the ASW store.
Consider the waistcoat.