If there was one defining moment for the waistcoat, it was of course Kate Moss’ patronage back in 2005. Long after King Charles II, who first inaugurated the style back in 1660, Moss wore hers for trudging through the mud at Glastonbury, teaming them with a pair of tiny hotpants, wellington boots and a red-eyed Pete Doherty on her arm.
Over the next 12 months, she made the waistcoat her signature piece. She chose open sequinned versions for the Isle of Wight festival, white styles for society evening events and bohemian incarnations with floaty tops for wandering around London. She wore grey, black, red and white styles, some were left open, others were styled with skinny scarves. Sometimes they’d be worn solo and other times with T-shirts, vests or perhaps a romantic shirt. Moss reclaimed the waistcoat like she’d rediscovered her favourite childhood toy – and, after initial resistance, we followed suit.
The thing that made Moss’ take on the waistcoat so appealing was in the styling and her ability to play with the context in which we typically expect to see a piece. She did the same thing for the floral tea dress that became a sell-out piece in her Topshop collection. The waistcoat is traditionally associated with eveningwear and here was Moss wearing it in its purest form as a shrunken vest to music festivals. There is something irreverent about taking a piece so linked with the Etonian elite and playing with its meaning. It was also an easy way of looking dressed up if you threw it on with a pair of trousers for the evening.
For 2020, the waistcoat is back. It is unclear whether or not we have Gareth Southgate to thank (his perchance for the style during the 2018 World Cup prompted his M&S version to sell out) but it is clear now that the fashion industry is finally on board. At the Saint Laurent spring/summer 2020, Kaia Gerber wore a very Moss-inspired early-Noughties look – a tiny black vest and matching micro shorts. She even completed her ensemble with a pair of knee-high boots, a more refined take on the supermodel’s Glasto wellingtons.
Louis Vuitton’s came printed and styled with wide-leg trousers, an outfit since worn by Lea Seydoux. Gucci’s are more retro-inspired and colourful, while Celine’s have a more 70s’ feel. Givenchy and Acne’s are both longer in length, making them a perfect summer workwear solution. Looking ahead to autumn/winter 2020, waistcoats look set to stay, with Jil Sander and Burberry both showcasing differing styles. The waistcoat’s country friend – the gilet – has also made a comeback, with Ganni, Moncler and R13 all bringing the item to the fore. Margherita Cardelli, who is co-founder of Italian tailoring go-to Giuliva Heritage Collection, has long since incorporated waistcoats into its collections.
“I love wearing a waistcoat with a suit… it defines the figure and make the look feel sexier,” she told us. “It’s all about the androgyny.”
Cardelli backs the waistcoat, not only in terms of its flattering components (it does, after all, frame the body and highlight the waist), but also because of its versatility. She recommends wearing it spezzato – the Italian word for mixing and matching different suit jackets and trousers to create a new suit. “Playing with colours and fabrics definitely makes it an easier piece to dress down,” she says.
The tomboyish edge of a waistcoat is a huge part of its charm. Borrowing from the boys is hardly news, and tailoring is booming. At Matches Fashion, the shopping destination increased its buy of suit jackets by 77% and tailored trousers by 64% for spring/summer 2020.
“Waistcoats compliment this trend,” says Matches Fashion buying director Natalie Kingham. “They’re very versatile and can be worn with a shirt underneath for an androgynous feel, or solo which feels a bit more feminine and modern. A key look from the SS20 catwalks speaking to this trend was from Junya Watanabe and Commes des Garçons who took a directional approach to tailoring by fusing the front of a waistcoat onto a shirt.”
Of course, it’s not just Moss who pledged her allegiance to the waistcoat – there’s plenty of inspiration to google if you’re in need. Diane Keaton in Annie Hall was a famous patron – her three-piece suit and hat is her most famous look to date. Diane Kruger and Olivia Palermo are both fans of longline versions, and if ever there was an argument for leather styles, it’s Brigitte Bardot wearing one over a polo neck in 1968. Carrie Bradshaw’s white waistcoat and trouser combination, as worn in the first Sex and the City film, is among her most memorable. There are numerous ways to style it – as a shrunken vest with high-waisted trousers for the evening, a longline version with tailored trousers for work this summer, or open with a pair of jeans and a loose-fitting top for the weekend – look to Saint Laurent for details.
One of the key challenges of summer style is what to wear as a top layer. A waistcoat, particularly the elegant longline styles, is a great way of pulling together a summer outfit when the weather isn’t as it should be. Even shorts and T-shirts can look polished with the help of a longer waistcoat. Whether you wear it to the office or in the fields of Glastonbury, with modernity or knowing nostalgia, the waistcoat is back.
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