How to Wear a Waistcoat Casually

by Jamie Wilson

Reviewed & updated: October 19, 2022 by Jamie Wilson BA

The waistcoat has been around for centuries, worn by landowners and farmers alike. It may be an everyday staple for the Shelby’s, but in this day and age not so much – but, this unique piece can in fact be worn casually. Not sure how? Let’s take a look. 

First of all, we’ll start with a little bit of history. The waistcoat became a popular men’s wardrobe staple from very early on – the 1600’s in fact. The sleeveless piece is usually worn over a dress shirt and necktie, and under a blazer as a part of men’s formal wear. The three piece suit was a smart option that every businessman in the 19th and 20th centuries owned. It was a slight upgrade to a jacket, perfect for formal events and special attire and dress codes. Today, the waist coat is not so widely spread in fashion but it does have its moments. The way it’s styled can contribute a lot to how the outfit and look is perceived.

The Peaky Blinders TV show has grown in popularity over the past year and so has their signature style. The TV series follows the lives of a criminal gang based in Birmingham during the Victorian, era so of course the waistcoat was an essential part of their everyday attire. For them, the three piece suit is a casual option, but for us right now, there’s are few things you’d probably need to change so you don’t look like you’re about the meet the Queen every time you leave the house in a waistcoat.

@cottonbro via pexels

How To Wear A Waistcoat Casually

Casual attire today consists of jeans and a T-shirt or trousers and jumpers and a waistcoat is very rarely incorporated into our wardrobes. We want to change this, but we don’t want you to end up looking like the sixth member of Boyzone when they hit up the red carpet. So, how do we do this? There are a few things you need to take into consideration before you even attempt to pull off a waistcoat.

@cottonbro via pexels

The Materials

Say goodbye to the shiny, year six prom style waistcoats and hello to some textured goodness. You want to keep things casual, so the right material is key. A cotton is best. The weave of the fabric (not that you’d probably know the difference between some of them) needs to be fairly chunky, because I don’t know about you but the thin, barely there waistcoats aren’t something that’s currently going to make you stylish. If you’re working with a thicker fabric such as wool or leather you may enjoy this suit jacket for colder days.

More formal waistcoats are made to look slick and smooth, so this is why the textured pieces add a touch of casual to the look, even if you do end up dressing them up quite a bit. Tweed has been big and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere any time soon, so investing in a tweed piece will be an investment we advise you to take. It’s warm, has a complex texture and keeps your look far from being too sleek.

@cottonbro via pexels

The Colours

Unless you’re off to a 90’s fancy dress party then keep the shirt colour and pattern simple. White, light blue or pink (depending on the waistcoat colour of course) will work best. You don’t want anything too loud because let’s face it, the waistcoat’s going to be the main part of your outfit any way. You don’t want to go too over the top, so as always, it’s best to keep things minimal when going for something a little bit different to your usual attire. If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration for formal occasions just know that a white shirt with a pop of color will make most three-piece suits look good, no matte the garment.

@Royal Anwar via Unsplash

The Shirt

Formal waistcoats today tend to get paired with pointed collared shirts, as this gives them a sleek, polished finish. So if you’re after a casual look, try something less overt like a granddad collar or button down collar if you want to get some Peaky Blinder vibes in there. This will soften your overall look meaning you’ll still be able to wear a shirt underneath the waistcoat and not go for a T-shirt which is a absolute no go. Always wear a shirt under a waistcoat, otherwise you’ll be looking like you’ve been stuck in a year 2000 time capsule. One last thing to remember when choosing a shirt is to keep it long sleeved. Short sleeves can look untidy and you want to keep things looking neat even if you are going for the casual look. You will enjoy a stylish vest and a double-breasted waistcoat when making your fit work.

@Music HQ via Unsplash

The Trousers

Your trousers are probably the most important part of your outfit as they are what makes the look less formal, pushing it more onto the casual side of the spectrum. Realistically, you want to stick to a pair of trousers and not jeans. If you’re incorporating a classically formal piece into your look, you can’t forget all the classic style rules and not pair it with something that’s on a similar aesthetic level.

Chino’s are a good option and can be worn instead of your suit trousers as a casual alternative as they still have some structure and formal heritage. Darker colours will work best, especially if you’re going for a dark grey waistcoat. So keep things on a similar colour palette and you’ll be good to go. Ultimately we’d prefer it if you did still keep the trousers matching the waistcoat, so this does mean being fairly formal. But like the Peaky Blinders have shown us, a pair of tweed trousers and chunky lace up boots can actually look like everyday attire. It may sound like we’re giving advice for you to go back in time and wear a three piece everyday but if you have some wide leg tweed trousers, a matching waistcoat and Dr Martens on then you’ll have a nice, modern day version of the Peaky Blinder look. The best go-to is something lightweight and that offers the right fit for your headed event.

@Duané Viljoen via pexels

The Shoes

Finally we come to the last part of the outfit – your footwear. You want it to look casual so no shiny, dress shoes. You’re going to be wearing trousers, so best not to wear trainers – and anyway, a waistcoat and a pair of trainers has never been a thing. The shoes you want are Dr Marten’s or something similar. Lace up boots or brogue style shoes in a black or deep red will finish off your waistcoat outfit nicely. Not too casual and not too smart, quite ideal really. Navy shoes and a black tie with black trousers will look so good together.

How to Wear a Waistcoat Casually

  • Wearing a waistcoat casually doesn’t mean with jeans and a T-shirt, you still need to stay fairly smart.
  • Keep the materials textured, tweed works well and it keeps you away from the shiny stuff, such as shiny polyester.
  • Trousers should always be worn with your waistcoat. Trousers are the new jeans, so you should invest in at least three good pairs.
  • Boots are the way forward – they’ll help casual down (if that’s a thing) your outfit.
@Dmitriy Ganin via pexels

On That Note

Casual waistcoats will never be really casual. If you want to look good in a waistcoat then you need to sacrifice your whole look and go for a smarter approach. Looking for exclusive offers? Make sure that you aim for similiar textures for your part of a three-piece suit to get both quantity and quality. Trousers and a shirt can be incorporated into a casual look a lot easier than you may think. Today’s fashion has moved away from the super casual and we are now looking smarter each and every day. If you’re stuck on how to wear a waistcoat then just think Tommy Shelby – the Peaky Blinder that always looks effortlessly cool in a waistcoat on a day to day basis.

Feature image from pexels

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