You may not know it, but there’s a good chance you’ve worn a waist coat in your life. Waist coats are vests that that worn with suits, but this simple definition hardly does justice to the long and winding road of waist coats. Though they’re paired with suits today, waist coats actually came before suits. There are many types of waist coats now…but the only reason they exist at all is because of one king who decided to change fashion forever.
A History of the Waist Coat
Waist coats are often seen paired with suits. However, the waist coat actually pre-dates the suit by over one hundred years. The story of how the waist coat came to involve a king who lost his head, a huge fire that destroyed a city, and an ages-old rivalry between two nations.
England had been going through a bit of turmoil in the 1600s. And calling their struggles a bit of turmoil is a very British way of understating the horrific circumstances the country was facing as it quite literally ripped itself apart. In the early 1600s, the common people and noble folk of England had enough of dealing with their king. In fact, they were fed up.
The King Who Lost His Head
At that time, the King of England was Charles I. And he was like many English kings in that he felt that he could do as he pleased, spend the money he wanted to spend, and basically just run the kingdom as if it was his own personal playground. This had been done before by many, yes, but England was tired of rulers who acted as though they could do what they wanted.
England had a Parliament, it had laws, and the King was still supposed to work with the nobles in order to establish some sort of laws for the land. King Charles repeatedly disagreed with Parliament and did things they told him not to do, such as raising taxes or starting wars England couldn’t fight.
So…they cut off his head. There was a huge Civil War more than 200 years before the United States would have its own Civil War, and in the end, the King was removed from his crown in an extremely literal way.
England did reinstate its monarchy, as you know, by eventually putting the deposed king’s son on the throne. Charles II became the king, and his reign would be marked by some of the worst disasters in all of British history. It was not a good time to be king. But weirdly, it turned out to be a bit of a good time for fashion.
The King Who Saw His City Burn
The Great Plague hit the city first, leading to widespread death and illness that compromised the city in all ways. People could not work, which led to shortages and suffering of all types. Then, a fire very famously broke out in the year 1666. As legend has it, the fire broke out on Pudding Lane.
From a bakery, the fire spread to a huge portion of London, burning many homes and historic buildings in its wake. This is the fire that destroyed the Globe Theater, where Shakespeare put on his plays, among many other London landmarks.
Clearly, this was not a happy position for Charles II to be in, particularly when his father, who was king before him, got his head cut off by an angry mob. He needed to do something to turn the public option back in his favor.
And he was going to do it with fashion.
The King of Clothes
Charles II was always a man who liked to dress well. He is often depicted in movies and TV shows set during his reign with very long, very curly hair worn under a glittering gold crown that he almost never went without. He wore long, embellished tunics covered in lace and embroidery.
And he often had a pack of little dogs yapping after him. They were King Charles cavaliers, and yes, the breed was named for him.
He was a very fancy-looking man, and that was okay for a king and all. At least, it was for a bit. Then, most of the people of England lost their lives or their homes or their businesses or all of their possessions due to illness, fire, and a Civil War that had taken place not that long before. And as Charles II had seen with his father, it wasn’t a good thing for people to dislike their king.
So he was going to step up and make a change. And he was going to sharply set himself against the King of France, a historical rival for the King of England going back to around the 1000s or so. The two countries had long warred with each other over various issues and often wrestled over the same pieces of land over and over again.
And at that time, the French court was extremely elaborate. Court dress was incredibly over the top, and the King of France spent excessive amounts of money on fine fabrics and trimmings for his incredible clothing.
England’s King decided that he would strike a different tone, opposing France and winning the hearts of the people at the same time. He decreed that all men, including himself, would henceforth wear a vest. This was a simple piece of clothing, quite a contrast from the heavily embroidered tunics of the day.
It was knee-length and fitted on the body, made with plainer designs and materials than the lavish silks, velvets, and brocades that were common in men’s court attire at the time.
The King declared that vests, or waist coats, were the norm. And so they were. Perhaps England would have continued to keep him as king whether he changed the dress code of the day or not…but Charles II sure wasn’t going to take any chances. After he made the vest a standard piece of fashion, it was. It soon began to evolve, and after the king declared it to be so, the vest was a style staple that has been a big player in the fashion world ever since.
Vest Vest Evolution
Waist coats became shorter by 1700. They were now above the knee and often featured a cutaway in front to give space for the wearer’s legs. Double-breasted styles, with two rows of buttons, were the most popular. The waist coat became incredibly stylized and elaborate in the 1800s and much more plain in design throughout the 1900s.
Today, there are many different types of vests, from the ornate and elaborate to the simply elegant ones made with denim. Whatever those are. Take a look at the different types of waist coats and what makes them all unique.
What Are the Different Types of Waist Coats?
Waist coats are vests that are just a little bit fancy because they’re worn with suits rather than as standalone items. However, the waist coat can stand on its own as a separate piece of fashion. Take a look at the different types of waist coats, and you’ll start to find ways to integrate them into your wardrobe.
Many waist coats are made with a lightweight back piece made of satin or silk rather than the same material as the rest of the waist coat. A cloth-backed waist coat is different. The entire shell of this waist coat, front, and back, is made with the same material throughout.
Waist coats are made with a different material in the back, so they are more comfortable to wear with a suit jacket and somewhat lighter in weight and cooler thanks to the thin back fabric. Cloth-backed waist coats provide some warmth, and they still look good even if you remove your jacket. If you want to have the ready option to remove your jacket and still look very put-together, a cloth-backed waist coat is a good pick.
Double-breasted waistcoats have two rows of buttons down the front, and they often look more formal than other waist coat designs. This waist coat typically has a straight bottom rather than points. This makes length very important, as you won’t have any extra vest points or pieces of fabric to work with.
The double-breasted design adds a little bit of extra fabric to the design where the buttons are, which creates a little extra warmth.
The horseshoe waist coat is so named because it has a very wide scoop opening down the front. This creates a distinct silhouette that, as you might have guessed, resembles a horseshoe. This is a formal waistcoat that is usually worn with a formal suit or tuxedo. Horseshoe vests may be single- or double-breasted.
The shawl collar waist coat is a double-breasted design. The lapels of this waist coat are wide and uniform in size, rather than tapering, to create the shawl collar look. This is a very formal waist coat and also a very classic design that dates to some of the early days of waist coat wearing. You will usually only see this worn with a tuxedo or in clothing that is meant to evoke an earlier era.
Like a single-breasted suit, a single-breasted waistcoat has a single row of buttons down the front of the design. This design has a slimming effect on the torso, and it’s a universally flattering design. This is also a classic look. You can’t really go wrong with a single-breasted waistcoat.
Typically, these waist coats have five buttons. However, designs may range from three to seven buttons. The bottom of this waist coat is often somewhat pointed, which further aids in slimming your trunk visually.
With a Lapel
A waist coat with a lapel is just that: a waist coat that has a lapel. This is an extra piece of fabric that is folded back over the front of the vest to create an extra lip of fabric lining both sides of the V-opening of the vest. Lapels may match the color and material of the rest of the waist coat, or they may be made in a different contrasting or complementing color in a different fabric to create texture. Velvet, satin, and silk are commonly used for lapels.
Types of Waist Coats
There are many different types of waist coasts to choose from with little variations that give them a distinct look. Waist coats are traditionally worn with suits, but you can wear them in other ways to up your style game. Start playing around with waist coat fashion, and you’ll find that it’s fun and easy to add this to your wardrobe to really spruce up your look and add some style to anything you want to wear.
Waist coats are interesting pieces of fashion, and there’s a lot more going on than you might have thought at first. So if you still have questions, we’ve got the answers. We searched for the most commonly asked questions about waist coasts, and we found all the info you need to be an expert at wearing this iconic and truly royal piece of fashion.
How should a waist coat fit?
How do you know when your waist coat fits properly? A waist coat should hug the body, but not tightly. The buttons should not bunch up or pull the fabric.
Length in waist coats also matters. How long should a waist coat be? There is a simple answer. The waist coat should be long enough to cover the waistband of your pants with about an inch to spare. Your shirt should not show under the waist coat.
Can you wear a waist coat with jeans?
If you want to wear a waist coat with jeans, do it. You can absolutely pull off this combination if you’ve got the right supporting garments. Choose shoes that are a little dressier than sneakers, such as loafers or even boots.
A button-down shirt with the sleeves rolled up is a perfect way to bring all the elements together.
Should your waist coat match your suit?
Waist coats are often made to match suits in three-piece suit designs.
However, waist coats can also be standalone items, and you can always choose to wear one that doesn’t match your vest to add color and embellishment to your overall look. There are many ways to wear a waist coat, whether you choose one that matches or you choose to wear one that’s going to stand out. Play around with both looks and have fun with it.
Is a waist coat the same as a vest?
All waist coats are vests, but not all vests are waist coats. In other words, a waist coat is certainly a type of vest. But it’s a type of vest that can be worn with a suit.
There are many, many different types of vests, including work vests like fishing vests and bulletproof vests, that are worn with casual wear or uniforms and never with suits. These vests are not waist coats because there are many other types of vests other than waist coats. But waist coats are stylized vests and they have become their own distinct fashion item within the vest style family, branching off into many of its own differing styles and designs.
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