Dress Tips

How to buy a vest: the complete guide to finding the one that’s right for you

By on November 9th, 2018

Vests are a lot of fun, but there are a lot of options and styles out there, which can make the buying process challenging. In this article, we want to help you understand how to buy a vest and make good buying decisions.

In recent years, we’ve seen a growing interest among our wedding clientele for vests. And frequently, they don’t know what type of style they need. After all, there are quite a few variations on a vest (e.g. lapels, U/V shape, number of buttons, pockets, etc). In this article, we’ve compiled just about everything there is about wearing and shopping for a vest.

  • Your needs for the occasion and how you will wear it
  • Style basics
  • Style details
  • Height and body type considerations
  • The 2 most versatile styles

Understanding the occasion and how you’ll wear a vest

To begin, let’s first discuss the cloth of the vest.

Matching and contrast vests

The majority of the vests that we make are for weddings. And in the context of this festive occasion, I ask my clients the following question:

“Do you want your vest to match your suit?”

That is, will the vest be cut from the same cloth as the jacket and pant, by definition, a 3-piece suit? For business use, it’s wise to match all three garments together. However, if your occasion allows for some creative freedom, then thoughtfully matching the vest to the suit can be a fun approach. You can select a cloth that subtly refers back to the suit or you can lean into the contrast intentionally.

Regardless of whether you’re matching your vest to your suit or not, it’s important to recognize that the simple sartorial act of wearing a vest in the first place means that you’re a little more dressed up than if you didn’t wear the vest. Simply put, the more layers you choose to wear, the more dressed up you are. [Literally, yes, but from a style perspective, it’s much dressier.]

Consider a wedding; when it’s time for the reception and the dancing begins, most grooms will remove their jacket and hit the dance floor. One of the added benefits of wearing a vest is that when the jacket is no longer in the picture, a groom is still dressed up simply because he has a vest one. Many of his guests will not be wearing vests, and therefore, it’s easy to spot the groom.

Cloth back and lining back

We’ll talk more later about texture and cloth selection, but for now, the other big idea that I want to teach you is about the back of the vest.

Have you ever been in a wedding or went to Prom and had to rent a tuxedo with a vest? Did it have a lining material on the back? Odds are, it did. This is quite common and a dressy look. It helps your jacket to slide against your back. But it also means that you need to have your jacket nearby. Because when you’re wearing only the vest, that lining back is a sign that your jacket is (or should!) be nearby.

The alternative is what we call a cloth-back vest: The cloth on the front is the same on the back, with the only lining being on the inside. The advantage here is that the vest becomes more versatile. You can wear it on its own, albeit with your best pair of denim or a more casual pant.

But what I like most about vests isn’t so much the details, but the sheer practicality of the garment: warmth and fit.

A vest is obviously one more layer, so yes, it will keep you that much warmer. Factor in a thicker fabric like a tweed or flannel and you have yourself the beginnings of a great winter vest. For the same reasons that puffy down vests are popular in Denver, your work vest will keep your core warm, while giving you freedom of movement in the arms.

Regarding fit, the back strap is the perfect way to tighten or loosen your vest for a perfect fit. Tighten when you want a more fitted look and loosen when seated for prolonged periods of time or after a big lunch meeting.

how to buy a vest with a backstrap

last vest button should be left unbuttoned

Style basics

Now that you have a better understanding of how to buy a vest by cloth selection, there are some key things to know about “specing the vest out”, deciding on its features.

If you want my opinion up front, this is the most versatile and contemporary vest style: 5 button, V-shape, cloth back, no lapel.

Now I’ll explain how I landed on that decision.

Lapel or no lapel?

Lapels on a vest aren’t overly common today, at least in the Denver area. Typically, we’ll make a vest with no lapel just because it has a cleaner look. That being said, there’s certainly nothing wrong with having a lapel on a vest. Similar to a suit or tuxedo, you have three basic options: notched, peaked, and shawl.

If you need a refresher on the merits of the notched and peaked lapel, here’s one of my earlier articles. The key takeaway being that a peaked lapel is dressier than a notched style. And a shawl lapel on a vest should only be worn with a shawl jacket lapel; this will likely be a tuxedo. In the featured image above, you see an example of a notched lapel on a vest. This was properly paired with a notched lapel jacket.

The most important thing to know about the vest lapel, is that it should be slightly narrower than the jacket lapel. This will ensure that all the proportions are in check.

The second most important thing to know about the vest lapel is that simply by wearing one, you’ll have a more traditional look.

But above all else, wearing a lapel on a vest really comes down to personal preference. If you like the look, then go for it!

V-shape and U-shape

The shape of the vest refers to the opening style. A V-shape is more common whereas a U-shape can be a little more English looking, I feel.

The V-shape mirrors the style of a men’s suit nicely and is quite versatile being dressed down. On the other hand, a U-shape will always be pretty dressy looking, and overall, offers a softer look when worn with a suit.

How to buy a vest: Height and body type considerations

Any guy can wear a vest, but if you’re tall or a little large, there are a few things you should know.

Tall guys

Most vests are going to have 5 buttons down the front, but if you’re over 6’2″ or so, or have an otherwise longer torso, I think a 6 button front would be a good option for you. This would keep the buttons from “stretching out”, but then again, that can be a style preference. Some vests are intentionally made with fewer than normal buttons.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t explain that a 5 button front vest is most common simply because most vests have a V-shape opening between the 3rd and 4th shirt button. If your vest opens lower, that may demand fewer buttons on your vest, even if you’re a taller guy.

Larger guys

If you’re a larger guy, then a vest will fit on you differently than slimmer guys.

First and foremost, don’t wear a vest that is too slim. How will you know it’s too slim? Well, it probably won’t feel too comfortable, but it will look too tight because the buttons will show tension around them. This has the undesired effect of making you look larger than you are. So,  you’re better off wearing a vest that feels comfortable and doesn’t wrinkle due to the tension of the fit.

If you have a large stomach, vests can sometimes accentuate it in profile view. With the bottom of the vest hanging straight down over your waist, instead of following the contour of your body. For slimmer gentlemen, the vest lies flat against the trousers. Therefore, if you’re a little bigger, consider wearing a vest that is just slightly shorter in front length than what may be considered normal. This will make for a more flattering shape.

Shorter guys

If you’re a little shorter than most men, you might want to consider a 4 button vest, although I feel like a 5 button front works for lots of guys. And one benefit that accompanies wearing a vest if you’re of modest height, is that an overly long neck tie can be hidden by the vest.

The two most versatile vests

One of my clients once told me that vests were confusing enough for him that his previous shopping experience was going to the store and just crossing his fingers that it all works out! After reading through this article, you should be well prepared to make some good buying decisions.

Indeed, there can be quite a few options out there, but if I condense my advice down to two styles, here’s what they would be:

Your dressy vest

Whether it’s for a wedding or work, a dressy vest is going to be made in a sharp looking fabric. This means that the cloth will be more suit-like and less tweed/textured looking. Probably less pattern too. And if there is a pattern, it should be relatively subtle to keep the vest versatile for other uses.

  • Matching cloth to your finest suit, or a subtle contrast
  • 5 button front
  • V-shape
  • No lapel
  • Lining back, but not too wild
  • Trim fit

Your casual vest

For casual occasions where you won’t be wearing dress pants, but more likely denim, I really like a more robust cloth like tweed or something like a flannel. It will be something you can wear during the fall and winter months when you go out with friends, or maybe even to the office. Basically, for anytime that you want to dress up a little, without feeling like you’re overdoing it.

  • Textured fabric
  • 5 button front
  • V-shape
  • No lapel
  • Cloth back
  • Semi-trim to trim fit

The cloth back makes it a little easier to wear the vest all on its own. And I should note that adding in a lapel would be just fine. And with a more textured cloth, it might even make for a countryside look, which isn’t a bad thing. The fit can be just a touch more relaxed since you might find yourself wearing a heavier shirt underneath.

Wrap up: buying a vest in 2019

There you have it, a complete guide to buying the right vest for you. If you take just one thing away from reading this article, I hope it’s that a vest is not just a vest. A vest can be dressy, casual, and anything in between. The romantic in me will always think of a Steinbeck or Hemingway novel, a story where I’ve always envisioned the protagonist in a vest and jacket. Nostalgic charm aside, the vest is a an enduring classic in today’s sartorial climate.

What are you waiting for? Take the plunge and be a more stylish version of yourself this season with a vest!