John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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In-Vestments (or, How to Wear a Waistcoat)

While I'm largely known for my signature grey fedora, another item of clothing I'm often seen in, particularly as my interest in personal fashion has gone up, is my beloved brown wool vest. Unfortunately, it's going on something like ten years old now and getting quite threadbare in spots, so I've been shopping, without much success, for a replacement.

Problem is, the only vests to be readily found are either cheapy ones for skinny teenagers (which I am not), knit sweater-vests (not what I'm looking for), or the third piece of a three-piece suit (also not what I'm looking for). Along with all the other ways men have forgotten how to dress in the past ~50 years, they've largely forgotten about the vest, at least in the US. I don't know if the same is true of the UK, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Like most items of clothing, the vest has a specific purpose — i.e., it's intended to unify the lines of the body, while being cooler than a complete coat. Originally, the vest was simply a sleeveless coat, you see. The "three piece suit" was actually trousers plus vest with an overcoat, but when the suit became its own entity, people would then start putting an overcoat on over their coat and vest, and then wondering why they bothered to have a vest. (The answer was, "because yer doin' it wrong, dumbass," but education in such matters got lost somewhere along the line.)

If you look at a two-piece suit that's tailored properly and worn buttoned, it creates a unified effect (which is why coat and trousers are either the same or compatible colors and textures). But before the days of air conditioning, it could be awfully warm in the summertime to be minding the store (or the office) in a full coat, so the vest was invented. If you look at the earliest vests, you'll notice that they had collars just like suit coats do today. Unless you were really freezing, you wouldn't wear a vest and a coat and an overcoat. It'd be like wearing a hat over another hat. If you expected to be cold at work, you'd wear a coat and an overcoat. If you expected to be warm at work, you'd wear a vest and an overcoat. (This is where the three-piece suit ended up causing so much trouble — people didn't realize that the coat of a three piece suit is an overcoat, it's just one designed to coordinate with the vest and trousers.)


These days, the movement in trendy fashions is to a carefully-crafted shabbiness, and has been for decades. This is nothing new, and is actually not that bad a style really, when done right. The whole "open-collar shirt, maybe V-neck, jeans pooled at the feet, unbuttoned blazer" thing is an easy look to pull off and for most guys that's all they really care about. Whatever dandies like myself may think about that, it's the way things are and there's no point in wishing it was still 1930. Given the way a lot of people dress, we have to be grateful for crafted shabbiness. ;)

But in the spirit of "be the change you want to see in the world," I make an effort to go the extra mile and actually dress better than I have to. Who knows, maybe it's my way of compensating for the permanent spare tire that no amount of exercise will ever get rid of, but as it is the major part of my appearance that I actually can control, and I am terribly vain, I'm going for it. And in the case of vests, that means special ordering, because a guy with a 52" chest just plain cannot buy vests off the rack in 2008. Ain't gonna happen.

But in a way, that's almost a blessing in disguise; because to find a proper vest, I ended up scouring the internet until I found a company that sells honest-to-goodness waistcoats. And from them I ordered one of these, one of these, and, because I've wanted one since I was a kid, one of these. (I also tried to order one of these, but was crushed to be informed that they were out of stock. I may order one of these in dark brown instead.)

"Um ... Gneech?" you may be saying (assuming you're still reading). "You're not, like, gonna start wearing a Buffalo Bill Cody costume to work, are you?" The answer is no, I'm not. For one thing, I wouldn't look good in a cravat. For another, even my dandification has limits. I'm sticking with contemporary shirts (no starched collars, thank you), necktie, and so on. As much as I would like to go around town dressed like a Time Lord, I don't think I'd be able to do it without it being a complete affectation, which is antithetical to having real style.

-The Gneech
Tags: sartorial agony
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