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Paul Smith vest, $365, and pant, $285 through www.holtrenfrew.com. Shirt, $49.50 through www.hm.com. Grooming, Shawna Lee for Tresemme (Judy Inc.). Shot on location at Indigo’s head office in Toronto (www.chapters.indigo.ca). (PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIM FRASER FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Paul Smith vest, $365, and pant, $285 through www.holtrenfrew.com. Shirt, $49.50 through www.hm.com. Grooming, Shawna Lee for Tresemme (Judy Inc.). Shot on location at Indigo’s head office in Toronto (www.chapters.indigo.ca). (PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIM FRASER FOR THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Work it

Office fashion: the waistcoat Add to ...

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.

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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.

Follow on Twitter: @amyverner

 

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