April 28, 2013 by Ville Raivio
Odd vests, or waistcoats in Blighty, are tailored vests sold without a complementing jacket and trousers. They are surely among the rarest sights on the street or office, though not as odd or impractical as their name suggests. Victorian portraits and pictures are filled with examples of fancy vests, crafted from Chinese silks or softest velvets, the choice of gentlemen around Europe and America. ‘Apparel Arts’ and ‘Esquire’ prints from the 1920′s onwards portray a rarefied conception of the American man: homburgs and fedoras join hands with reverse-calf shoes and odd vests.
One Beau Brummell preferred cashmere vests, which may just be the optimal use for this fine fabric: unlike trousers and jackets, vests are rarely subject to abrasion. A cashmere vest provides great warmth and several years of use. Anthony Eden, a bit of a clotheshorse himself, favoured white notch-collar linen vests in summertime, as mentioned in Spokane Daily Chronicle. As well as bringing some warmth during fall or winter, odd vests hide blousing shirts or ample guts. One vested layer of colour or pattern may enliven an otherwise dull appearance.
Odd vests dimished greatly, along with three-piece and double-breasted suits, with World War II and its subsequent fabric rationing. The advent of better housing, air-conditioning and relaxed social mores lead to vests being regarded as something quite fussy, definitely sultry or most unnecessary. The 1970′s, though now largely reagarded as a sartorial mistake, were the last decade to meet hordes of regular three-piece users. The yuppie years dealt a death-blow. Most examples in use today are pale in colour and remain as part of formalwear, namely morning suits, with which they bring a touch of colour to an otherwise somber, grey look. Thus, weddings and formal horseraces are the usual venues for odd vests, save for the occasional ‘fun’ Christmas vest. Yet they can be much more.
Odd vests can be cut and made from any material, yet not all fabrics work as separates. Stripe suitings are a clear example. Historically, odd vests have been favoured in complementing colours and textures. Tattersall vests with nearly everything, white or cream linen in spring and summer, pastels with morning suits, tweed vests in country use, strong shades in doeskin vests. Velvet and flannel odd vests are other options. Clear rules for odd vests cannot be laid down, as light colours have been worn with darks and displayed widely in prints or ads. Even Tattersall vests, usually loud and bright countrywear, have been opted with suitings. What can be noted, though, is that odd vests are usually lighter in colour than jackets or trousers. I feel odd vests are among the most difficult pieces in any wardrobe, best reserved for advanced studies in fabric and pattern matching. Pictures and prints are the best guides, unless one has perfect taste. This tends to help. Odd vests, then, are best worn simply with confidence.
Portrait: © Rose Callahan