Fashion A to Z: V for Vest

Welcome back to Fashion A to Z. We are exploring the history of the vest.

The garment started with men’s fashion and was called a waistcoat, which we Americans call the vest.

women's blush utility vest

It’s been part of men’s outfits since the days of King Charles II, who by royal decree in 1666 made it part of court attire, mostly to set himself apart from the influence of fashion from France. Samuel Pepys noted in his diary that the king had, “declared his resolution of seeing a fashion for clothes which he will never alter – it will be a vest”.

Back then every waistcoat was ornate and elaborate. The waistcoat initially had sleeves. By the 1750s the sleeves were removed and by the late 19th century it had evolved into a shorter, closer fitting garment. For women, the vest arrived much later and had several forms before being what resembles the menswear garment today. The first form of the vest was a fitted bodice worn with an evening gown.

I had some difficulty pinning down exactly when vests became popular for women, but women began wearing men’s clothing in the 1920s when they entered the work force in WWI. In the 1930s a few actresses appeared on screen in men’s suits.

The vest is the ultimate in versatile mid-layering. It formalizes a man’s suit, dresses up a sport coat, or stands on its own over a long-sleeved shirt. Vests run the gamut from casual fleece to formal wear. Vests are now accepted for both men and women.

Unless a woman is just really into menswear fashion, you will most likely find women wearing a few different styles of casual vests, such as:

A Sleeveless blazer vest- these work well with casual and business attire. They were really popular a few years ago, but their appeal has waned.

sleeveless blazer

A denim vest– the summer version of a denim jacket, perhaps also not as popular as it used to be.

denim vest outfit

A quilted or puffer vest– These still remain super popular in the fall and winter

quilted vest with distressed jeans and sneakers outfit

A utility vest- Another popular form suitable for all seasons

women's utility vest outfit

Do you wear vests? What’s your favorite style?

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