How to Wear a Waistcoat

Not that difficult I hear you say…. Slip arms through arm holes. Button up. Voila. However, wearing a waistcoat can be a bit more challenging than that.

Waistcoats are wonderful things. They can dress up or down an ensemble, depending on a whole host of other factors. Is it knitted or fabric, chunky or svelte? Single or double breasted, solid or patterned? And that’s before we ask what you are planning to wear it with.


So how to wear a waistcoat? First things first. Make sure it fits you well. Too loose and it looks like a high vis vest. Without the hi vis… Too tight and there will be unsightly bulges. And it will be uncomfortable. It’s a waistcoat, remember, not a girdle.

So you want something snug but not too tight. If you are getting gaps between the buttons, it’s too tight.

Protocol suggests that you leave the bottom button undone, a bit like your suit jackets, never button the final button. Legend has it that a certain member of royalty became too rotund to be able to do up the final button on his waistcoat and it became a fashion. Whatever the origins it’s now de rigeur.

Waistcoat v too high
Waistcoat v too high

Speaking of buttons you want the V of the top of the waistcoat to fall to at least the third button of your shirt. Personally I like it if the V barely covers the fourth button of my shirt.  If it’s above the third button you don’t gain the full advantage of the tapering V shape which frames the face.   The example above is too high in my view and the final button is buttoned. Two mistakes IMHO.

Some get around this problem by leaving the top button of the waistcoat undone as in the pic below. I prefer to get a deeper cut waistcoat.

If you are wearing a waistcoat with formal or semi formal trousers you ideally should give some thought to how your waistcoat will interact with your waistband. Ideally the waistcoat should reach the top of your waistband so that there is no shirt visible between the bottom of the waistcoat and the top of your trousers. It’s not called a waistcoat for nothing. The waist should be covered. Completely.


This is often quite difficult to achieve with modern trousers which sit on the hip rather than the waist. So the trousers don’t rise high enough to be overlapped by the waistcoat.

But have a look at older pictures and you will see the sleek look is in part achieved because there is no break in the line which runs from waistcoat to trousers.


If on the other hand your waistcoat is being worn with jeans or some other very informal trousers, then you can be a bit more relaxed about how waistcoat and waistband interact.  The example above deliberately leaves a lot of shirt exposed.  And it looks great.

As a general rule, avoid wearing a waistcoat and a belt together, again unless it’s a very informal look as above.  A pair of braces would be very neatly hidden under a waistcoat and you avoid the bulge of the belt underneath the waistcoat all around the waist.

Finally a waistcoat needs some confidence. If you are going to wear one don’t look apologetic about it. Wear it like you own it.

2 thoughts on “How to Wear a Waistcoat

  1. Gave up on buying three piece suits off the peg because it is nigh on impossible to find a suit with trousers cut high enough around the waist to avoid the risk of unsightly shirt exposure.

    Can’t abide waistcoats worm with jeans and casual cloths. In my book that is almost as bad as wearing a suit jacket with jeans. Makes you look like a member of an aging boyband.

    1. Roger that bro….

      On both counts.

      If you are going to wear a jacket with Jeans go for a Blazer. better yet, drop the jeans and go for some chinos….

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