top of page


January 27, 2022


An example of the waistcoat from the 1920s (Zagreb, Croatia)

The waistcoat is one of the few items of clothing whose origins can be precisely determined by historians. In the 17th century, during the time of the English King Charles II, the waistcoat was a part of men's clothing, which by royal decree in 1666 became a standard element of court dress. This move should be understood as an attempt by the English to overcome the great influence of French fashion at the time. In the decree, this garment was called a vest, and it should reach the knees, be close to the body and follow the cut of the coat. Thanks to the decree, the vest became one of the most important European fashion trends by the 1670s, especially among the nobility.

In the 18th century, the original name was replaced by waistcoat, which alluded to the new appearance of that garment. Namely, the waistcoat became a part of the clothing around the waist where it stopped, unlike before, when it was knee-length. Until the 19th century, the waistcoat was still primarily worn in noble circles, and with its patterns and materials, as well as colour and details, it was an expression of wealth and status. The shape of the waistcoat as we know it today originates from the middle of the 19th century. Most waistcoats were produced to match the suits and jackets with which they would be worn, meaning they were constructed of the same fabric and colour.


An early example of a waistcoat from the time of the English King Charles II.

Although at the beginning of the 20th century the waistcoat was still considered a fashionable piece of clothing, its popularity soon began to wane. Rather than wearing a waistcoat reflecting wealth, it was seen as little more than a place to store a pocket watch. As suits became softer and men replaced pocket watches with wristwatches, the waistcoat lost popularity. However, the vest did not disappear from men's wardrobes. Many men continued to wear a knitted waistcoat in winter and a lighter version in summer. However, back then, the waistcoat was seen as an item that simply accompanied and matched the rest of the outfit. In addition to being a part of men's clothing, during the 20th century women also began to wear vests, especially as part of the masculine-feminine clothing movement. Today, the waistcoat is as common in women's clothing as it is in men's clothing.

Prince Albert (1819-1861)

In the 19th century photograph of the English Prince Albert, Queen Victoria's husband, we see how the waistcoat accentuated the tight waist, an imperative of men's fashion. At that time, at court, the waistcoat was the norm of clothing, along with longer coats that followed the body and pants that were of the same colour and pattern.

Style Icon_ A Look Back at Bob Dylan’s Most Iconic Outfits.jpg
Bob Dylan
Sticky Keith.jpg

Keith Richards

Michael Hutchence

With the advent of rock 'n' roll in the middle of the 20th century, clothing conventions changed, and the new musical era also laid the foundation for new styles, which is also evident in vests. Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, and Michael Hutchence, three musical idols  that often come to my mind when I think of the fashion of the period, were fond of wearing waistcoats. This garment, in their case, was much simpler than it was in, for example, the 18th century. However, it should be noted that despite the simplicity, rockers wore waistcoats that stood out, a characteristic of waistcoats from earlier centuries. Musical idols especially often wore it at concerts so that their hands remained free so that they could move around the stage more easily.

Julia Roberts's Red-Carpet Style Evolution.jpg
The Photodiarist.jpg

Julia Roberts devedestih
via Pinterest

Emmanuelle Alt
via Pinterest

In parallel with the introduction of dressing on less formal occasions, the waistcoat has also become a part of women's fashion. A great example of a fan of the waistcoat is Julia Roberts, who in the 1990s often combined it with suits, creating creations devoid of any formality. Namely, Julia wore the vest on her naked body (like the previously mentioned Hutchence), and thus played with the "formality" of this garment. Along with Julia Roberts, a devotee of the waistcoat is the until recently editor of French Vogue, Emmanuelle Alt. She is proving that the vest continues to be a central element of the outfit, despite its steadfast simplicity and excessive decoration and extravagance. Finally, it should be noted that many fashion houses are introducing this garment into their ready-to-wear collections. For example, in the Celine spring 2020 collection, designer Hedi Slimane, inspired by the sixties and seventies, used vests equally inspired by Prince Albert's accentuated waist and the style of three musical idols.

Celine, spring 2020
Celine, spring 2020
Celine - Fall 2020.jpg
Celine, fall 2020

From proper dress at court four hundred years ago to its recent appearance on the runway, the waistcoat undoubtedly belongs to the made-to-last garments. Originally a piece with long sleeves that expressed power and luxury with its patterns and wealth of materials, it became more and more simple and accessible. All of this demonstrates the variety of uses one piece of clothing may serve, as well as how, over time, its appearance and the messages it conveys can change. It will be interesting to see how the next generation interprets this classic coat worn around the waist.

bottom of page