The belt and the vest are a classic combination…right? After, don’t you wear both items when you have on a nice suit? That is what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? Is it okay to wear a belt with a vest? We consulted style experts and fashionistas and the answer to this clothing question might just shock you. When it comes to pairing a belt and a vest, there are some pretty strong opinions and a couple of serious rules.
Where Did Vests Come From?
So who was the first person to wear a vest? The vest has become so much a part of the suit that it’s the added element in the famous “three-piece suit.” But weirdly, the suit and the vest have different origin stories. The vest is actually even older than the suit, though vests are often paired with suits in modern clothing. Actually, vests came first. They were worn in somewhat longer lengths when they first appeared in the colonial era, around the year 1660. Vests were always worn belted in these earliest versions. They added a stylized layer to the otherwise rather plain colonial outfits.
Vests became shorter in the late 1700s and became paired with the suit until vests were a regular, standard part of all men’s suits. Vests, or waistcoats as they were called, were an integral part of fashion and in the Victorian era of the 1800s, they were a highlight of the suit. This is the era when vests became highly embellished and colorful. They were meant to be the focal point of the outfit, sort of the star. Heavily embellishments and ornate designs appeared. Patterned vests became much more popular.
The vest was incredibly popular during this time. Not only was it the focus of the outfit, but it also held the pocket watch. All watches were attached to chains, which were secured to a button on the vest. The watch was round and fancy and slipped into a little pocket right on the vest. You see this in movies that are set in the past all the time. In fact, the pocket watch continued to be a thing well into the 1900s.
Women and Vests
Sure they started out as men’s fashion but women noticed vests, too. As far as fashion historians can tell, vests were first worn by women in France in the late 1700s. However, they weren’t wearing them to look cute. They wore them as symbols of revolt against the government, a show of rebellion. Remember, France overthrew its monarchy in the late 1700s and King Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette ended up losing their heads. Yikes. Talk about making a fashion statement.
Women found they liked wearing vests even when not staging a violent revolt against the monarchy and during the 1800s, lots of vest looks were incorporated into women’s fashion. They became even more popular in the 1920s, when women’s fashions started to change dramatically.
Modern vests are made in all sorts of different styles and materials. These were long styles, cropped styles, zip-up designs and button-up styles. Single- and double-breasted vests are classic and often paired with suits. Vests may have lapels or not and the V opening on the front can be very wide or very small.
Wearing a Vest
Vests are still seen in formal wear all the time, though they are also worn casually and with semi-formal looks. Style experts say that no matter what you do or what kind of vest you wear, there’s one rule that must always be followed: never button the bottom button. But…why?
The rule that you must leave your bottom vest button undone is one of those odd rules of fashion that style experts say everyone must follow and yet no one really knows why. It does actually make it more comfortable to sit if your bottom button is undone but style legend says there’s another reason for this rule. And like many items of fashion, this one has something to do with the British royal family.
Clothing legend says that King Edward VII, son of Queen Victoria, got so fat that he could no longer button the bottom of his vest. Members of his court immediately copied the look because they thought this was the new clothing trend and they didn’t want to look out of style. This is how it became the norm to wear a vest this way. No one knows if this is really where the tradition of leaving the bottom button undone is from but it’s one of those stories that’s so weird, it almost has to be true.
Belts and Vests
So what about wearing a vest with a belt? While people wear this combination literally every single day and you will see it everywhere, real style experts say this is something you should not do. When it comes to menswear, they advise wearing suspenders with a vest, never a belt.
According to Gentleman’s Gazette, a style authority on men’s fashion, “when you wear a vest, always skip the belt in favor of side adjusters or braces because a belt will always make your vest stand away from the trousers waistband, which looks bulky and crowded.” In other words, you will get a much more tailored and streamlined look by not pairing a belt with a vest.
However, the combination of a vest and a belt is pretty considered to be standard. It’s such a normal thing to wear a belt with pants these days, you probably never even think about whether or not you have on too many items when you slip on your belt. Once, it was much more common to wear suspenders but these days, you see belts far more often. So as you put on each layer, you may not even consider that the belt isn’t pairing well with something else you have on.
But many style experts say that a belt and a vest together just make your outfit too busy. You want a cleaner, more sophisticated look whether you’re dressing for casual, business casual or semi-formal wear. So choose a vest and add suspenders or don’t, or forget about the vest and wear just a belt by itself. You can wear a belt with a vest. It’s easy to get away with this because it’s one of those common fashion mistakes that everyone makes. But if you want to follow the strict rules of elegant style, choose between the two. There are other ways to play with layers in fashion.
Wearing a vest might be a little trickier than you thought! If you still have questions, no problem. We’ve got the answers to the most common questions asked about wearing a vest with a belt, so you know everything you need to know to make this look work.
How should vests fit?
Your vest should fit you well because if it’s off even a little, it’s going to be super uncomfortable. Vests should fit close to the trunk of your body but not so close that you have trouble twisting and turning. The vest should also be just the right length if you’re wearing it with a suit. Cropped vests and long vests are fine to wear with casual looks. But if you’re wearing a suit, whether you’re dressing in a feminine or masculine style, the vest should be long enough to cover the waistband completely.
Also, armholes. The armholes of the vest should be large enough that you have a full range of motion with your arms. The shoulders of the vest should be sitting up off your natural shoulders, but flush.
Should your vest match your suit?
Does your vest have to match your suit? If you’re going for a traditional or conservative look, you should match your vest to your suit. Ideally, they will be made with the same material in the same color and pattern. However, you can wear a vest in a different color and material for a look that pops a little more. In fact, you’ll see this at weddings a lot. Even at formal events, you can wear a vest that is different to create a style that stands out a little more. In conservative environments, however, this might look a little too informal.
Should your belt match your shoes?
If you decide to wear a belt, should it match your shoes? It’s a simple styling trick to match your shoes and your belt but it’s not a rule that has to be followed. This is a good way to create a matched look but you can still create a nice overall look as long as your belt matches something you’re wearing. A black belt and a black tie, for example, creates a matched look just as well as matching shoes.
Articles of Style – How It Should Fit: The Vest
Fashion History Timeline – Vest/Waistcoat
Fashion Magazine – The Surprisingly Gendered History of the Vest
Gentleman’s Gazette – How to Wear Men’s Waistcoats & Odd Vests
Real Men Real Style – How To Properly Wear Your Waistcoat | Guide To Good Vest Fit