Investigating Vests

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My uniform has expanded greatly over the past year. It used to consist of blue OCBDs, khaki chinos and penny loafers, but now it includes ties, blazers, sport coats, and corduroys. These additions have made getting dressed much more interesting and life in general more enjoyable. This got me thinking about what I could add next. If you read the title of my post then you already know that the answer is a vest.

Navy Vest 1961Navy Vest 1961

The vest has long been a part of classic American style. It is also a look that illustrates the British influence (They call them waistcoats) on American style. However, it is the image featured at the top of this post from the Deerfield academy in 1961 that piqued my curiosity. This picture from the “Hey Day” of the Ivy League look shows young men sporting vests in a truly casual and fun way. While I am not nearly as young as those pictured it made me think that I should not be intimidated by the vest.
Red Vest 1961                                   Red Vest 1961 (Red vests are more common than one would think.)

There are a lot of things that I like about the idea of adding an odd vest to my wardrobe. A vest can dress up a blazer or sport coat and at the same time they do not have to look “dressy.” In fact, when they are paired with cords and a tweed sport coat the look is more country mouse than city mouse. Plus, since it is not often that I get to wear a suit the addition of a vest allows me to add a level of formality to the flannel trousers and blazer look that I am more likely to wear. Not only can it dress up or down an outfit, but they are great for adding texture, color and patterns to an outfit especially, because they available in so many materials, patterns, and colors.

Roycur in Tan Vest 1968Roycru in tan vest then

Roycru Tan VestRoycru in tan vest todayTan VestEnsiferous in tan vest

I started looking for vests on my own, but I quickly turned to a few people who wear the vest well for advice. Luckily for me they were more than happy to help me and they gave me a few tips on what I should be looking for in a vest that fits into the TNSIL cannon. I will pass these tips along. They also allowed me to use a few of their pictures for this post for which I am very grateful (Billax, Roycru, and Ensiferous thank you!).

Navy Vest Navy VestVest Variety 3

Above are all examples from the Ivy master Billax of how vests can add texture and color to an outfit.

So, what does the Ivy League vest look like? This vest has 6, not 5 buttons and the bottom button is left undone, the vest should be long enough to cover your belt, it has 4, not 2 pockets, and one of the most important things to remember is that when you are wearing your vest with a blazer of sport coat you are not to remove the jacket in public.

Where do you find this vest? If you are interested in a vest I would recommend looking at Orvis and to my own surprise J.Crew whose vests almost all fit the description above.

Tartan Vest ThenTartan vest thenTartan Vest TodayTartan vest today from Ensiferous

I can’t wait to add the option of a vest to my growing closet.  I have decided to pursue a tan wool vest, because I think that it will work well with both my navy blazer and my brown tweeds. I have already lost out on one on Ebay, but I will not let that discourage me, because I know that while patience itself is bitter its fruit is sweet.

oxford cloth button down
Jerrod Swanton is a simple man interested in simple, classic, and traditional style.

7 Comments on "Investigating Vests"

  1. Mark says:

    I applaud your enthusiasm and willingness to try more looks. I went the vest route once and found that while I loved (and still wear all the time) wool or cotton sweater vests, the more traditional vest you are describing looked almost “costumey” on me. I have seen others pull it off well – and you highlight three individuals in your piece who look great in them – but I looked like I was trying to hard. You’ll have to try and see if it works for you; my guess is it will as you have a trad look by nature and a unstudied comfort in the clothes. Also, your choice of tan wool is low-key. I look forward to seeing pictures when you make your acquisition. All that said, and I know it is a different route, do think about the sweater vest – it echoes a trad look, is versatile and quite comfortable (it keeps the core warm without overwhelming the arms, especially if paired with a jacket) and looks great with the jacket off.

  2. oxford cloth button down says:

    Mark – Thanks for the comment. You hit my one concern right on the head. I never want to look like I am wearing a period costume or like I am part of scene. That is one of the reasons why I wanted to include pictures of people wearing a vest today to illustrate that it is still being done. Will it look right on me is still unknown and you are correct that this is the most important factor.

    The sweater vest is a great alternative and I have actually been looking at a cardigan sweater vest. It might be my next purchase if I can’t hold out for my tan wool vest to come along.

  3. Bill says:

    Nice article, OCBD, with a clever headline. Well done!

    The photograph showing the college man from back in the day is exemplary. It’s one step more sophisticated than that of the lads at Deerfield Academy taken in 1961. The lapped seams and swelled edges of his Sport Coat are an ideal part of the Ivy League look in the early sixties. Paired with that bold tartan vest, it’s a classic look from the apex of the style!

    It’s a pleasure to read your blog.

  4. Erik says:

    I chuckled when I read this because I had been thinking about vests as well. I watched an older season of Mad Men and saw both Duck Phillips and Lane Pryce wearing vest separates with their suits or sport coats. Duck is more Ivy, wearing a tan vest with his trousers and sport coat and Pryce is classic British, wearing a non-matching vest with his suit. I liked the look and was curious if it would be a good addition. But, I’ve worried it would seem “period piece” like. I typically wuss out, and just wear a button front sweater vest. A decent compromise.

    Any makers you recommend?

  5. oxford cloth button down says:

    Bill – Thanks for the kind words and I could not agree more about the apex of style.

    Erik – I would check out J.Crew and Orvis. I posted a link to their vest sections in the post. Let me know if you take the plunge!

  6. HerrDavid says:

    Agree with Mark 100%. Sweater vest all the way! Less costumey (for folks like me, at any rate) and much more versatile.

  7. James Redhouse says:

    @Mark and HerrDavid:

    A sweater vest serves to keep one warm; a real vest is an accessory, like a necktie or a pocket square; it serves to add some individuality to one’s Ivy uniform.

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