The 3-piece suit has gradually become less common over the last few decades but is still considered a staple of formal men’s attire. So, when should you actually wear a vest with your suit?
A vest can be worn with a suit when the event is both formal and social (eg. a wedding or formal dinner). Vests should also only be worn under single-breasted suit jackets.
It’s rare for it to be required in any setting, but a vest is a good way to add a touch of formality to a suit.
Here are the “rules” you should stick to in order to make sure you’re not wearing a vest when you shouldn’t be.
Whether you call it a “waistcoat” or a “vest” (US and Canada), these rules will still apply.
Let’s get to it.
1. Only Wear Them With Single-Breasted Jackets
In general, vests should only be worn under single-breasted suit jackets. These have one row of buttons to the front, as opposed to double-breasted suit jackets which have a double row of buttons over an overlapping front.
The problem with wearing a vest under a double-breasted jacket is that it won’t be visible when the jacket is buttoned.
There’s almost no point in wearing one here and so it’s considered a sort of fashion faux pas.
Vests look a lot better when worn under single-breasted jackets as the top will clearly be visible even with the jacket buttoned.
People actually wear a vest under a single-breasted suit jacket in order to make it look more like a double-breasted one.
As double-breasted jackets are seen as more formal and some may say a little more sophisticated, it’s appealing to try and achieve a similar aesthetic without having to buy one.
Wearing a vest under a single-breasted jacket would be a simple way to do it.
It’s worth mentioning here that some people may still choose to wear a vest under a double-breasted jacket because they plan on spending a reasonable amount of time with their jacket off.
They want to wear a vest to still look sharp with their jacket off.
If this is the case, make sure you choose a single-breasted vest to wear under the double-breasted jacket.
While wearing a double-breasted vest under it wouldn’t be considered “wrong”, it’ll look quite old-fashioned and may also become quite warm.
2. Only Wear Them In Formal Social Settings
There are some settings where wearing a vest with a suit (i.e a 3-piece suit) would simply be too much.
While it wouldn’t be as formal as a tuxedo or morning dress, a 3-piece suit is still a notch more formal than a simple 2-piece suit.
The first step is to make sure the setting or event you’re attending is formal enough for the vest to actually make sense.
The second step is to make sure that the setting or event is social enough for the vest to make sense.
Here’s what I mean by that.
There are certain “formal” events that aren’t social. They sometimes fall into the category of work, but not always.
Examples may include interviews and funerals.
These are both events where you want to dress formally, but wearing a vest may come across as unusual or a little eccentric. A 2-piece suit would be more than enough.
Wearing a vest with a suit to a funeral would lead you to stand out from the crowd (in a bad way) and wearing one to an interview may look obnoxious.
Ultimately, vests are usually worn to settings and events which are both formal and social.
Attempts at wearing them to events that don’t fall into this category may be risky.
Examples where vests would usually be considered acceptable include weddings and formal dinners/dances.
Formal and social.
3. Always Consider The Weather
It’s important to consider the weather when deciding whether or not to wear a vest with your suit.
In warmer weather, a vest may be quite uncomfortable as it wraps snugly around your body, especially when worn under a suit jacket.
If you feel as though it may be too much, consider not wearing a vest as it may just be too warm if you plan on remaining layered throughout the event.
But at the same time, consider whether it may be so warm that you’ll be spending a long time with the jacket off in any case.
In these circumstances, wearing a vest may actually be worth doing because you’ll still be looking sharp even when you aren’t wearing the jacket.
Vests work great under suits in colder weather. The temperature may actually impact the fabric you choose for your vest (assuming the suit is casual enough for you to mix and match).
Fabrics such as tweeds insulate especially well.
4. Don’t Mix And Match With Formal Suits
A common mistake that people make is to mix and match vests and suits when it shouldn’t be done.
If the suit you’re wearing has clear formal features, it’s important to ensure that the vest matches exactly in terms of color and fabric.
Formal suits are generally made from shinier fabrics such as worsted wool that don’t wrinkle as easily. They usually also have a heavier lining and more structure at the shoulders.
In general, if a formal suit doesn’t come with a vest, it shouldn’t be worn with one. Trying to find a vest that matches the suit exactly is no easy task.
As an example, let’s say you try to wear a formal-looking worsted wool navy blue suit with a grey tweed vest. The combination would look strange and out of place. The suit is simply too formal to mix and match like that.
Casual suits, on the other hand, give you a little more freedom.
They’re usually made from more rugged fabrics and are less shiny. They don’t have as much structure and they generally have a lighter lining.
You’ve got more versatility here and you could potentially add a completely different vest (in terms of color and fabric) to add a splash of color and interest to the suit.
To sum that up – if the suit is formal, don’t wear a vest unless it comes with one. If it’s casual, adding a random (but complementary) vest may actually be a good idea.
5. Wear It For “Formal” But Not “Black Tie”
Another common mistake that people make is to wear a 3-piece suit to a “black tie” event.
While it’s true that a suit with a vest would look more formal than a suit without a vest, it still wouldn’t look formal enough for a black-tie dress code.
Black-tie will require a tuxedo – either black or midnight blue.
A suit with a vest won’t cut it.
The 3-piece suit is ideal for a “formal” dress code where the vest would actually make it clear that you’ve dressed up for the occasion.
Sticking to this rule, as well as the others, should ensure that you only wear a vest with your suit when it makes sense.