In addition to providing a huge style boost due to their relative rarity, vests are also a terrific layering option in springtime. It’s easy to think of them as a fall/winter item you wear under a tweed sport coat, but during the transitional months you’re not wearing an overcoat, and a vest can give you just the right amount of added warmth.
While many rules of dress have become antiquated, a certain logic will always influence menswear, and much of this comes down to questions of formality. Especially with business dress or occasions where appropriateness is favored, there are some basic guidelines that are worth following.
• When it comes to suits, a three-piece is certainly more formal than a two-piece. Of course, the great thing about three-piece suits is that by eschewing the vest you practically have another suit.
• Keeping the vest but nixing the tie may have you conjuring up images of Hugh Hefner in the ’70s, but hey, if you can pull it off then go for it. Same goes for wearing the vest and trousers with a contrasting jacket, which will give you a kind of “Boardwalk Empire” vibe.
• Pairing an unmatched vest (what menswear purists call an “odd waistcoat”) with a suit is certainly an option. A sweater vest, however, would definitely look out of place with a suit and should only be worn with a sport coat as the contrast in formality between suit and knitwear is too strong.
• Vest under a double-breasted suit or sport coat? Go for it.
• When it comes to fabrics, certain combinations make sense while others would be jarring. On a brisk spring day you might still be wearing your wintertime tweed, but adding a seersucker vest would be incongruous. Ditto for wearing a flannel herringbone vest under a bright summery madras jacket. As a general rule, cotton, linen and silk — whether for jacket, trouser or vest — all blend just fine with lightweight wools such as gabardine and tropical worsteds.
• For style points only, feel free to wear a vest over a shirt with no jacket, or even no tie.
• Finally, as to whether a lapelled vest should only be worn with a jacket with different lapels (in other words, a shawl vest with a notch-lapel jacket, or a notch vest with a peak-lapel jacket), we’ve got our intern looking into that one. In the meantime, don’t worry about it.