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An Expert Guide to Men’s Waistcoats

The World Cup dream may be over for England – but it’s generally agreed that making it to the semis is a stunning achievement for our team. And the chaps are not coming home just yet as there's a 3rd place game against Belgium to look forward to. At the helm; Gareth Southgate. Cool, collected, committed, and stylish too, with his surprise choice of sharp tailoring making headlines and sparking yesterday’s #WaistcoatWednesday trend. So, what is it about the waistcoat that’s caused such a resurgence – and what’s the best way to get Southgate’s look? Our good friend Jake Allen, Founder of Bespoke Tailors King & Allen, has plenty of hot tips to share with you.

Yes, a waistcoat makes an obvious style statement (and flatters most physiques) – but it’s also more of a practical garment than you might have first thought. For one thing, it’s incredibly versatile: it keeps you warmer in the winter and, during the hottest summer action, you can remove your jacket and still stay looking eminently cool – as Gareth Southgate has beautifully demonstrated from the technical area, even during the semi-final’s most nail biting moments.

Jake Allen
Jake Allen

Go Simple with Single Breasted 

One of the most common off-the-peg styles, the single-breasted waistcoat is a great go-to that suits everyone’s body shape. If you’re looking to customise your look, consider adding more buttons (or indeed, taking some away) from the conventional five-button style. For most body shapes, we’d recommend a pointed finish to the hem, as it elongates the torso, which has a flattering effect. With its mix of smart style and total wearability, it’s not surprising that Southgate has gone for this style to support his most important career endeavours to date.

Noose & Monkey
Noose & Monkey

Go Traditional with Double Breasted 

This is a more traditional option – perhaps better for Autumn and Winter, since it’s difficult to unbutton without looking a little messy. But, for a particularly formal occasion, the double-breasted waistcoat makes for an elegant and timeless look. Since the bottom hemline tends to be straight, not pointed, make sure that you try before you buy, to avoid any messy ‘shirt overhang’.


Accessorise Black Tie with the Horseshoe 

The most striking style on offer, the horseshoe is the favoured option for very formal occasions. It lends itself really well to black tie, since it offers a modern alternative to the traditional cummerbund, which can feel cumbersome to wear. The deep opening also allows for showing off shirt studs, bibs and pleats, whilst covering the waistband of your trousers.

Photo: Craig Landale
Photo: Craig Landale

Lose the Jacket with a Lapel 

Any bespoke waistcoat can feature a lapel and it’s a great choice for very warm weather, since it formalises your waistcoat to such an extent that you could easily go jacketless and still look up to scratch. Lapels also offer lots of options to add your own style in a bespoke suit. You can experiment with colour, contrasting cloth and even add a signature stripe to make the look your own. The signature stripe is something you can get at King & Allen and involves having a few words or a phrase stitched into the cloth, much like a pinstripe. It’s picked up a lot of interest this week, thanks to a photoshopped meme of Southgate’s waistcoat saying: ‘IT’S COMING HOME’. Sadly, it’s not real, and sadly, we’re coming home without the World Cup trophy for real - but given England’s stunning performance during this season we think he’d have every right to get several full signature stripe suits made up to mark the achievement.


Cut Your Own Style with Cloth Backed 

The cloth back isn’t to be confused with the traditional lining back – historically, lining was used as a practical solution as the back of the waistcoat was never intended to be seen. But, in modern formalwear, the cloth lining is coming into its own. Matching a cloth lining to the rest of the waistcoat is a really smart look, potentially eliminating the need for a jacket in hot weather. Whilst, in cold weather, the cloth adds an extra layer of robustness to keep you warm. For a statement piece, you could even contrast the cloth – but be careful, there’s a difference between statement and just plain odd!

Other Sartorial Style Options 

England’s performance right up to the semis tips the team to go from strength-to-strength before our next big chance in 2022 and, if he keeps this up, Southgate’s bound to be back in the spotlight again. Here are three of our best insider tips we think he might love to wear for future big matches: 

Statement cloths: Tweeds, tartans, velvets, herringbone, brocade…the choice is endless, and don’t forget that your waistcoat doesn’t have to match your suit. Choosing a contrasting colour or pattern can enhance a suit no end. Would a union jack waistcoat be too much? One thing’s for sure, if anyone can carry it off, Gareth Southgate can. 

Pocket watches: Pocket watches are very much back in fashion, thanks to the Peaky Blinders style trend, and they can look debonair if carried off with confidence. Perhaps this might be the best way to check extra time on the pitch too.

Add a show button: The bottom button rule dictates that you should never do up the bottom button of your waistcoat or jacket. This is a convention driven by practicality – born out of the irritation of having to fasten and undo your button every time you stand or sit. However, it also creates room for the addition of a ‘show button’. It could be a personal tribute, carry an engraved message, feature a precious material, or even – might we venture – be styled as a football? Or maybe that’s just one step too far…

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