From weddings to an afternoon at the races, everyone loves dressing up smart for a special occasion. Adding a waistcoat to your ensemble is a great way to steer from your standard go-to suit and put a little more effort into your outfit. 

But when is the right time to wear a waistcoat?

To help make sure your outfit turns heads — in a good way — we’ve listed 9 top style tips to tell you when is the right time to wear a waistcoat, and how to pull it off properly. 

1.Match Your jacket

If a waistcoat doesn’t usually make an appearance in your wardrobe, it can be a little daunting to know where to start. If you’re a conservative dresser, you can’t go wrong with matching your waistcoat to your jacket. This simple addition elevates a two-piece suit to a three-piece, instantly smartening up your look without taking a risk. This doesn’t mean you’ll be dressed blandly: far from it. Classic colours like navy blue and stone grey are made to look that much more sophisticated with the addition of a waistcoat.

2.Opt for a contrasting waistcoat

If, on the other hand, you want to mix up your look, a waistcoat offers the opportunity to get creative and add a new element to your suit. As contrasting colour attracts the eye, you’ll want to choose a low-key tie so that your waistcoat receives the most attention as your centrepiece. To truly embrace this style, pick a contrasting pattern or fabric to help the waistcoat stand out.  Tweed, for example, works very nicely to add a new texture to your suits. The key thing to remember is that less is more. You don’t need something loud and brightly coloured to get your point across: a pattern change is enough to sell the effect.

3.Ditch the jacket

Although you’re unlikely to remove your jacket in the winter, losing it altogether can produce some impressive outfits in warmer months. Choosing just a waistcoat allows you to dress more comfortably without looking dressed down. To make this look work, choose something more structured; double-breasted waistcoats can look incredibly polished, as can those that feature lapels. If you’re taking this approach, opt for a waistcoat that matches your trousers — this will help create the illusion of a complete outfit, rather than just looking like you’ve misplaced your jacket! 

4.Stick to shirts...

Depending on the event, switching out a button-down shirt for a T-shirt can create a well-put-together smart-casual outfit when done well. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this translates to waistcoats too. If you’re attending an event that’s casual enough for a T-shirt, a waistcoat will appear as a too-formal addition to your outfit. Instead, stick to wearing a shirt. Whatever the occasion, you can always find a suitable shirt that won’t look out of place with your look.

5.… but don’t be afraid to dress it down

Although traditionally used to smarten up a wardrobe, you can still dress down a waistcoat. As we’ve already discussed, T-shirts are a no-go, but losing the jacket and tie is enough to sell the effect. From brunch to drinks at the bar, a waistcoat is a great way to pull together a smart-casual outfit that’s a little heavier on the smart side. Textured waistcoats like herringbone and tweed are your best bet for this look, as they’re not too formal — wear with a pair of dark jeans and a casual shirt and you’re all set. 


6. Always choose tailored

When it comes to suits, you have a few options when it comes to choosing the fit. Whether you prefer a traditional suit or feel more at home in a skinny suit, you can pick a style that you feel most comfortable in. With waistcoats, however, you always want to go for one that’s tailored. Waistcoats naturally slim your silhouette, so there’s no need to choose a slim-fitting one — it’ll cling where you don’t want it to and make it uncomfortable to move around properly. Adversely, one that is too loose-fitting will ruin your crisp outline and look boxy and baggy.

7. Only select quality materials

Whether you’re pulling out all the stops or crafting the ultimate smart-casual outfit, the materials you choose can have a big impact on the finished result. The last thing you want is for your clothing to look cheap, so avoid shiny polyester and the like; you’ll end up looking like a waiter. Instead, invest in a tailored, well-made waistcoat as it can make or break a suit. If you’re unsure where to start, try tweed, cotton, or wool — whichever works best with the look you’re going for.

8. Pick your colours wisely

Choosing the right waistcoat is more than just finding the right materials; colour is everything. You may have found the perfect tweed waistcoat to wear to an upcoming winter wedding, but if it clashes with your suit, it just won’t work. You first need to decide what the focal point of your suit is going to be. If it’s your waistcoat, you have more freedom to opt for contrasting colour and pattern to your jacket and trousers. If, however, you want people to be drawn to your tie, choose to match the colour of your waistcoat and jacket to ensure there isn’t too much going on. 

You can learn more about colour coordination in our guide to matching your shirt, suit and tie here. 

9. Experiment with ideas

The best way to find out what looks are improved with a waistcoat is to try them out for yourself. At Slater Menswear, we have a wide selection of waistcoats to choose from in a variety of styles, colours and textures. Or if you’re looking for more expert advice, head over to our Style Inspiration page to learn more.