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Depiction of 18th-century European waistcoat

The vest is a sleeveless garment worn on the upper body and must be close fitting.[1] More often than not, it ends near the waist.[2] Any given vest can be simple or ornate or for leisure or luxury.[3] Historically, the vest can be worn either in the place of or underneath a larger coat dependent upon the weather, wearer, and setting.[3] Sometimes though, a vest is worn over a short- or long-sleeve shirt.[4] There are many types of vests, made of a wide variety of materials, those of which serve various functions and purposes and allow for variation both within and across cultures.[2] A vest might be closed in the front and pulled on over the head or can contain various frontal material like buttons or zippers.[4]


Vests around the worldEdit

The term vest is used widely in the United States and Canada and is often worn as part of formal attire or as the third piece of a lounge suit in addition to a jacket and trousers.[5] The term vest derives from the French language veste “jacket, sport coat," the term for a vest-waistcoat in French today being "gilet", the Italian language veste “robe, gown,” and the Latin language vestis.[5] The term waistcoat is used in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries.[5] The term vest in European countries refers to the A-shirt, a type of athletic vest. The Banyan, a garment of India, is commonly called a vest in Indian English.[5]


The vest is a continuation of the 17th century - 19th century English waistcoat that spurred from the Middle Age doublet (clothing) and gambeson.[6] Various types of waistcoats may have been worn in theatrical manners such as performances and masquerades prior to what is said to be the early origins of the vest.[7]

On October 7th of the year 1666, King Charles II of England revealed that he would be launching a new type of fashion piece in men’s wear.[7] Scholar Diana De Marly suggests that the formation of such a mode of dress acted as a response to French fashion being so dominant in the time period.[7] The item King Charles II was referencing on that day was a long piece donned beneath the coat that was meant to be seen.[7] The sleeveless garment may have been popularized by King Charles II, based on the facts that a diary entry by Samuel Pepys (October 8, 1666) records that ‘the King hath yesterday Council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for will be a vest, I know not well how; but it is to teach the nobility thrift.'[5]

The general layout of the vest in King Charles II’s time stands as follows: buttons very closely sewn together arranged in two rows lined the front body of the vest underneath a wide open coat face.[7] This piece, however, was only deemed popular for an average of seven years upon arrival to the public sphere.[7] However, while the vest died out in elite city spaces, it is said to have lived on longer in provinces and by the year 1678 was introduced to the realm of international high fashion.[7]

Preliminary timeline and evolutionEdit

1800 British Male Court Coat and Waistcoat: Made of Embroidered Velvet and Satin


Circa 1660–1700Edit

King Charles II inaugurated the "vest" (waistcoat) along with the modern ideal of the three-piece suit.[8] The waistcoats of these three-piece ensembles were the same length as the coat worn over it, most likely knee length, and could be worn for either warmth or display.[9][6]

Circa 1700–1750Edit

The coat, waistcoat, and breeches were crafted from the same fabric. Around the turn of the century, the waistcoat became shorter, ending just below the waistline, allowing the breeches to stick out.[10] When the weather was cold men often would wear more than one waistcoat to stay warm.[10] As time went on, the vest that matched the coat and pants was worn for formal wear while a vest of different type or fabric acted as a more casual mode of contrasting dress.[10]

Circa 1750–1770Edit

Nearly half way through the century, waistcoats became longer and overlapped with the breeches.[9] Stylistically waistcoats and the rest of the suit began to change in that they matched less.[10] Instead of consisting of the same, highly decorative fabric, it became popular to wear a waistcoat that complemented the coat and breeches instead of matching it perfectly.[10] For instance, men would mix solids and patterns within the waistcoat, coat, and breeches to create a different look.[10]

Circa 1770–1800Edit

Waistcoats became shorter, ended at the waist, and were constructed similarly to the coat.[9] This way of styling the vest also was popular in the 19th century throughout the advent of the modern Three-Piece Suit.[9] In order to let the shirt show through, the neck of the vest was left undone.[6] By the turn of the 19th century, it became popular to utilize embroidery and brocade material.[6]

From waistcoat to vest: timeline and evolutionEdit

United StatesEdit

Circa 1750–1850Edit

The American Revolutionary War brought British influence to the United States and with it came the waistcoat.[9] The waistcoat in the United States originated as formal wear to be worn underneath a coat.[10] Waistcoats became more ornate including color and decor.[9]

Circa late 1800Edit

Waistcoats were styled with new and patterned fabrics but just on the front.[9] Around this time it became popular to use less expensive, contrasting fabric on the back of the waistcoat design, allowing the owner to not spend as much money on the waistcoat as a whole.[10] The fabrics utilized in the creation of these plain, unseen back panels were linen, cotton, or any other type of fabric used to line clothing items.[10]

Circa 1870Edit

Waistcoat collars became longer and visible outside of the coat worn over it.[9] These collars were stiffened and would peak out over the coat's lapel.[10] For both warmth against cold weather or to show off special weaves and contrasting colors, men often would layer their waistcoats.[10]

Circa 1890Edit

The term vest completely replaced the British term waistcoat in American common vernacular.[9] Vest style followed the guidelines of 1700s England using the same fabric for the three-pieces, and sometimes used patterns of plaid or checks for contrast purposes.[9]Circa 1900

Around the turn of the 20th century, men were still wearing vests for luxurious occasions. Vests sometimes even included embroidery or hand-painted designs.[3] At the same time, men began wearing the vest apart from the totality of the three-piece suit and more casually with a variety of bottoms beyond the suit pant (khaki or jean).[9] Waistcoats can be double-breasted with buttons set in a horseshoe pattern. The lower and top buttons may be left undone although not for ridng or hunting. Beyond this, some vests were made of certain durable fabrics to withstand being worn for outdoor sport such as fishing or hunting.[3]

Circa 1970Edit

In the 1970's women began wearing vests as part of their work attire. By the late 1990s and early 2000s it became fashionable for women to wear vests as part of their casual wear.[9]


Today, there are many types of vests. Some types of vests include but are not limited to:

  • Biker (motorcycle) vest: The cut-off is a type of vest typically made from a denim or leather jacket with sleeves removed. Popular among bikers in North America and Europe, they are often decorated with patches of logos or pictures of biker related subjects.[5]
  • Fishing vest: carries a profusion of external pockets for carrying fishing tackle.[5]
  • Billiards or pool competitions : vests-waistcoats are worn as formal attire by competitors.
  • Army : many regiments especially cavalry have their own regimental waistcoats to be worn with formal outfits.
  • Fringed vest: hippie movement of the 1960s inspired this folk style.[9]
  • Hunting vest: padded sleeveless jacket.[5]
  • Sweater vest: (American and Canadian English) This may also be called a slipover, sleeveless sweater, or, in British English, a tank top. In Australia, this may be colloquially referred to as a baldwin.[5]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b "Vest". Merriam-Webster.
  3. ^ a b c d Pendergast, Sara; Pendergast, Tom; Hermsen, Sarah (2003). Fashion, Costume, and Culture: Clothing, Headwear, Body Decorations, and Footwear through the Ages. Detroit: UXL.
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i
  6. ^ a b c d Davies, Stephanie Curtis. 1994. Costume Language: A Dictionary of Dress Terms. Malvern: Cressrelles.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g De Marly, Diana. "King Charles II's Own Fashion: The Theatrical Origins of the English Vest." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 37 (1974): 378-82. doi:10.2307/750857.
  8. ^ Kuchta, David. "The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity." University of California Press, (2002).
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lynch, Annette and Mitchell D. Strauss. Ethnic Dress in the United States: A Cultural Encyclopedia. 2015.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Condra, Jill. 2008. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Clothing through World History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.