Does the expression "Two's a couple, three's a crowd" apply to men's suiting? In other words, you've got the jacket and the pants. Do you really need a vest, too?
The waistcoat seems to have become one of those pieces that strike men as more hassle than must-have. Sure, a three-piece suit suggests formality and attention to detail, but it can also appear affected and, in some cases, dated. It's an added layer that, even subliminally, may act as a barrier. Not to mention the fact that vests on men of a certain girth have an unfortunate way of reinforcing the midsection.
Yet instead of doing away with the waistcoat, men's clothiers continue to reintroduce them, whether in a classic navy suiting context as Ralph Lauren did this spring or with added flair. Michael Bastian's khaki double-breasted shawl collar version, for instance, might just be the standout of the season. Looking ahead to fall, Simon Spurr, a New York-based London expatriate, is showing a large-check three-piece suit that will either leave colleagues dizzy or delighted by such a bold statement.
So how does one wear a waistcoat without looking like Daddy Warbucks or the Monopoly Man? In the summer, a vest can replace a jacket on a day that's free of any important meetings. But don't take it as seriously as a jacket. Wear it more casually, unbuttoned and with your shirt sleeves rolled up.
If you are buying a waistcoat separate from a suit, make sure it's day-appropriate as opposed to evening. Only a sartorial maverick could risk a tuxedo-style waistcoat worn, let's say, with ripped jeans, loafers and no socks. Those inspired by Mad Men would be best to keep the look as traditional - grey three-piece suit, white shirt, basic tie - and as tailored as possible.
Finally, a note about belts: Traditionally, they are not to be worn with vests, the theory being that a waistcoat hides the suspenders. Sweater vests are another subject altogether: one that demands a semiotic style analysis of preppies, golfers and granddads alike. Now that's a crowd.