What do you think of when you hear the word vest? Maybe you’re like “Pshh, vests? And let my arms be cold? No, thank you.” Or maybe you just think of the ugly holiday sweater vests that your great Aunt Mildred wears to family gatherings. Yuck, don’t you put that thing near my closet. But, you know what? I think we’ve all been a little too harsh on this versatile piece.
It is quite incredible to consider the history of the vest. While it existed before, the vest did not evolve into the sleeveless entity we know today until the late 18th century. Originally called the waistcoat, the vest was worn exclusively by men (that’s not to say a few daring women didn’t try them on from time to time) and was often viewed as a sign of power or wealth depending on the pattern and quality of the item. The vest has since undergone a long and varying pattern of change and development, keeping in stride with the current fashion trends or social necessities. In the thirties and forties, we saw vests as a necessary part of three piece suits–providing both extra pockets and warmth during a time of inadequate heating (the horror!). The fifties and sixties almost eliminated them in favor of looser two-piece suits. The seventies experienced a vest uprising, and the eighties and nineties openly encouraged women to wear vests with the rise of menswear for women (think Rachel on Friends).
Now, in a time when fashion is so versatile that anyone can wear anything, vests have made a surprising resurgence and have ricocheted into a thousand different styles. While they do still remain a functional item (life vests, traffic guard vests, hunting vests), they are also readily available in a multitude of materials and styles in your average mall store. I’ve even heard that now even bulletproof vests are made to look fashionable… you know, if you’re into that sort of thing. But, if you’re not, never fear, there’s a vest for everyone out there.
Let’s say that you have a free-flowing California style, as in Coachella is your favorite weekend of the year and you can’t stand cold weather. Meet the crocheted vest. It is your new best friend. With the perpetual California sunshine, it is the perfect way to add some flair to a plain tank and cut-offs without making you sweaty. Just be sure to wear sunscreen—I’m not sure crochet tan lines look good on anyone.
Or hey, if you aren’t so casual, keep on the lookout for menswear-inspired vests, much like those worn by women in the nineties. Thrift stores are a great place to find these gems, or check out stores that carry businesswear like Express or H&M. This style looks great with a pencil skirt for a more formal look (think job interview) or even paired with jeans and a shirt (think snappy casual). If you want to get super funky, you can find a tailored vest complete with tails on the back. Although be warned, those are hard to find. I’ve tried.
Is leather your fabric of choice? Are you obsessed with the metal studs trend? May I direct you, then, to the motorcycle-style vest, styled in the classic crossover pattern, adorned with studs, or not. This item remains one of the most versatile vests, looking great with everything from high-waisted skirts to ripped jeans. It’s an excellent way to add an edge to any ensemble.
On the subject of animal goods, let me present to you the fabulous, glamorous, somewhat warm fur vest. Recently, fur vests exploded into the fashion world and have been spotted on celebrities and fashionistas world-wide, in everything from goat- and sheep-style fur to more generic short-hair browns. (Keep in mind that I am in no way encouraging people to wear real fur; please save the animals.) These vests are great for winter over a waffle shirt and under a coat. Fun tip: try a belt with it if your vest is bulky.
Finally, let’s not forget about the ever-classic sweater vest. Argyle, cable-knit, cropped, or oversized, there’s one for every taste and occasion. And no, sweater vests are not just for the academic types as pop culture often indicates. They’re stylish, look great under coats or blazers, and are, well, good at keeping your torso extra toasty. Sweater vests are definitely a must for any closet.
If I haven’t already enticed you into finding the perfect vest for your style, or wearing the one buried in the back of your closet, don’t forget that they come in many styles not mentioned in this article—sequined, draped jersey, puffy or athletic fleece. Vests are not just for three-piece suits anymore. They are for anywhere and anyone. That being said, go get your vest on.