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The Compass  /  Ask a Black Lapel StylistStyle  /  Vest and Suit Button Rules- The “Must Follows”

Vest and Suit Button Rules- The “Must Follows”

Suit vests. They’re not as common as they once were, but are still one of the most stylish articles of men’s clothing. 

In this post, we’re going to cover everything you need to know about suit vests, including vest and suit button rules. From black-tie rules to blue tuxedo rules, I’ve covered the many nuances of men’s style. Luckily, there aren’t that many rules associated with wearing a suit vest, but there are still a few that you should know. 

We are going to cover these rules and everything else you need to know about suit vests in today’s post.

Let’s get into it.

Suit Vest vs Waistcoat: Is there a Difference?

The main difference between a suit vest and a waistcoat is in the name. In the United States, we refer to the garment as a suit vest. Conversely, in the United Kingdom, they call it a waistcoat. Both are sleeveless garments that are worn on top of a shirt. 

That said, some will say that a waistcoat is more formal than a vest. By this definition, a waistcoat is what you would see as part of a three-piece suit, whereas a suit vest is what you would see over a button-down shirt.

In this guide, we use the two terms interchangeably.

Vest and Suit Button Rules – The “Must Follows”

These tips will help you wear that suit vest with confidence and style, whether you are wearing it in the office or for your friend’s wedding. 

Buttoning Your Vest

We’re not big on rules, but we stand by the “never button the last button” rule. Vest or no vest, buttoning the bottom button will make you look like a rube, plain and simple. 

If you do have a vest on, the bottom button on the vest ought to remain unbuttoned as well. To learn how to wear a vest casually solo, read here.

Suit Buttoning Rules With a Vest

When it comes to the rule of buttoning your suit when you’re standing and unbuttoning when you’re seated, you have a bit more leeway.

When you’re seated, definitely unbutton it. Sitting with your jacket buttoned puts unnecessary stress on the button closure, which in turn can lead to potential garment disasters. Adding a vest to the mix will only put more strain on the button, causing an odd pulling in the chest and through the back.

When you stand, if we’re speaking proper formality, button-up. On the other hand, a three-piece suit with the vest buttoned and the jacket open can exude a nonchalance that looks pretty boss (see the above photo).

How Should a Suit Vest Fit?

Knowing how a suit should fit is one of those essential things that every guy should know. This is especially true when it comes to your suit vest. A well-fitting vest completes the outfit, whereas a poorly-fitting one ruins it. Because of this, we highly suggest getting a suit vest that is fitted specifically to you. 

Here are a few things to look for:

The Body

A suit vest is meant to be worn close to your body. It should be slim fitting to accentuate you, but should not be too tight so that you look like you’re bursting out of it. It looks best when it is slightly tapered at the waist. 

Also, there is ideally an adjustable buckle at the back of your vest to allow. This allows you to tighten or loosen the vest as needed.

The Length

Getting the right length suit vest is key to it looking like it fits well. Luckily, it is pretty easy to tell if the length is correct. In short, the vest should just cover your waistband and not show any of your shirt underneath it.

How To Choose The Right Suit Vest 

You want a suit vest that will last you for years. So, when buying one be sure to look for one that is both versatile and well fitting.

Here are 6 essential tips to remember when buying a men’s vest:

#1: Stick With The Same Material

Choosing a waistcoat with the same fabric as your suit best. Otherwise, your suit ensemble will have an eclectic and unflattering appearance. So select a wool vest if your trousers and jacket are made of wool. If the rest of your suit is linen, grab a linen vest. Etc. 

#2: V-Neck Opening

The neck hole or opening is important because it determines how the vest material will cover and fit your body. Ideally, it should cling to your body, especially around the back of your shirt’s collar, without riding up or without creating any gaps. A v-neck opening helps to enhance your suit, and allows your dress shirt collar to show more visibly.

#3: Color-Coordinate 

The vest usually matches the color and material of the jacket and pants. For example, choose a darker vest color if your suit is black or any darker shade. If you have a patterned suit jacket, your vest should also have matching patterns. If it’s a black-tie event, your three-piece suit set, including your vest, should be all black. 

All that said, you also can opt for a vest color that contrasts with your suit as long as it follows the color wheel. For example, a light gray vest goes well with a royal blue suit set.

#4: Watch The Length

As we mentioned above, the vest length is super important. Ideally, it should cover your waist and fall about an inch below the waistline of your pants. Your shirt underneath should never peek through the vest. If this happens, it means your vest is too small.

#5: High-Quality Buttons

Your waistcoat will usually have an odd number of buttons. However, this may depend on your height. A standard 5-button vest may not look good on men taller than 6 feet. In this case, a 7-button waistcoat is more suitable.

Button quality matters. Good-quality waistcoat buttons are usually made with embossed metal such as silver, brass, or mother of pearl. Ideally, they’ll be made of natural materials. Buttons made of cheaper materials may easily fall off and will generally break down more quickly.

#6: Check The Pocket

Nicer vests will have a working pocket. These are often sewn shut with tack stitching to help the vest keep its shape. When you take your vest home, snip the threads to open up the pocket. Also, avoid placing bulky items in your suit pockets as it could affect your vest’s shape. 

Frequently Asked Questions

There are many nuances surrounding suits and suit vests, and as a result, most guys have many questions about them.

Here are a few of the most common questions about suit vests:

How do I clean a suit vest?

If you want your suit to last, you need to know how to clean it. To clean your suit vest, we recommend getting it dry cleaned.

Make sure to hang your suit vest properly to prevent wrinkles. When it does get wrinkled, use a suit steamer set on low. Never iron your suit vest, especially if you are unsure of the right temperature to use.

Should the vest match the pants?

Should you match your vest to your jacket and trousers? Yes and no. They do not always need to match, but they look extremely stylish when they do. If you are planning on getting only one suit vest, I recommend getting it to match your suit. This way, you always have one three-piece suit option. Not matching the vest to the pants creates a notably more casual look. If you’re interested in this type of look, we wrote a whole guide on how to wear a suit vest casually.

Can you wear a vest without a jacket?

The short answer is yes. A vest without a jacket can look great on its own, but I would suggest avoiding a vest made of a shiny material. When wearing a vest without a jacket, it is even more essential that it fits well (see guide above). 

Can you wear a three-piece suit without the vest?

A 3-piece suit, which includes the vest, is a more dressed-up alternative to a 2-piece suit ensemble. You can also wear a suit without a vest, but it’s no longer considered a “3-piece suit”.

More Interesting Articles on Men’s Style

Looking for more great articles on dressing well? We’ve got you covered. Here are some of our favorites:

  1. Wear the perfect navy suit with this guide on the best navy suits combination for your next special occasion.
  2. Are black shoes the only best choice for formal attire? Learn about the 7 types of dress shoes for men to match wth your sleek suit ensemble. 
  3. These tips on how to wear a vest casually will help you wear a suit no matter what the event is. 

Conclusion

Wearing a suit vest is a great way to stand out and look dapper. Wear it casually or wear it with a 3-piece suit, either way you’ll look great. Just be sure to get one that is high quality and that is designed to fit your body.


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32 thoughts on “Vest and Suit Button Rules- The “Must Follows””

  1. Mohammed says:

    I really need help with this one, so already bought a black 3 piece suit for my graduation project presentation, but I’m hesitating with the vest, is it too much for this kind of occasion? If not, while presenting to the jury, next to a big screen, is it okay to button the suit while wearing the vest?

  2. Cassie says:

    This bothers me. With the vee cut into most modern vests it is unnecessary to unbutton the bottom button. If the vest it cut straight across, then yes. I explain this to new hires during training.

  3. Thomas Meyer says:

    Looked up images or photos of King Edward VII and it showed three photos of King Edward VII of England with him wearing his waistcoats with the bottom button as buttoned. One waistcoat he was wearing had seven buttons that were all buttoned top to bottom. So one photo somebody found with him having a waistcoat with the bottom button unbuttoned became a rule that doesn`t really make a rule because of him, as he also wore his waistcoatd most often with the bottom button fastened. You can look it up yourself and magnify the photos and see for yourself.

  4. Vishant Ror says:

    I have navy blue upper and ice blue waistcoat .which color pant or trouser should I wear ??

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Well, you can’t go wrong with matching your pants to your blazer, but it sounds like charcoal gray trousers would coordinate well with this outfit too.

      1. Vishant Ror says:

        And what color of bow or tie should I have to wear ???

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Your outfit sounds like a good contender for a navy tie or bow tie if you want to add some punch to your look.

  5. Richard Robertson says:

    Vests for man and women are an excellent choice for making their ensemble look trendy, fashionable and useful at the same the time. These vests are usually made of comfortable material which makes it possible to wear them for long hours as well.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      You’ve got that right, Rich. In fact, some of our favorite vests are made from a wool/cashmere material, like this one. Vests are especially great in the colder months when you need another layer of warmth.

  6. Dr Dre says:

    Hey, i was wondering if a royal blue vest would go well with grey pants and a white or navy blue shirt?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      We’d recommend the white shirt, not the navy blue one, with a royal blue vest. The two blues could look a little strange together.

      So that answers this particular question, however, if you were a Compass subscriber you’d have seen our articles that go into much more depth on why it’s important to pick clothes colors not because they go with each other, but because they go with you, like our articles on Mastering Men’s Fashion From the Inside Out and how to Pick Shirt Colors That Match You, Even If You Have No Eye For Matching.

      To get articles like these sent straight to you regularly, so you don’t have to hunt around for this stuff, enter your email address in the box below and subscribe.

  7. Raghav Arora says:

    I think men must unbutton atleast 3 buttons if their shirt .. This gives a sexy and masculine look ..I always have my 4 buttons unbuttoned and I get great comments from girls .. If you want to attract someone this is a great idea ..And when it comes in visiting a bar have ask buttons unbuttoned is highly delightful

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Hmmm…we were referring to the bottom buttons on jackets and vests , Raghav, not the top buttons on shirts. Sounds like you’re referring to a more casual setting where anything goes.

  8. John says:

    What color of necktie would match a vibrant rose dress shirt?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Without seeing it, it’s pretty hard for us to come up with a match, but here’s how we styled our own red shirt into a photo shoot with a simple blue knit tie.

      So curiosity is killing us and we gotta ask: what about the above article made you think of this question?

  9. Roch Wolfe says:

    Beg pardon, but does it take a Yank, like myself, to bring up the explanations for leaving said button undone? The most popular one being that the always sartorially splendid Edward VII “invented” this fashion. It is said that as his waistline expanded, his waistcoats and vests remained unbuttoned.

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Ah yes, Roch. Never fear, we covered the topic more extensively in our story on suit buttons.

  10. Richie says:

    Hi,am going to a wedding this summer n was wondering if i can wear My navy blue suit with a black bow tie,white shirt,black shoes n black belt. Thanks

    1. Black Lapel says:

      The outfit sounds appropriate, Richie. There is one thing we would recommend reconsidering: the bow tie color. We save our black bow ties for our black tie outfits (aka tuxedos). When not in a tux, we recommend a bow tie in a color. In this case, we would also suggest a patterned bow tie since the rest of the outfit is all solid colors.

  11. Sooraj says:

    Hi Blacklepel!
    I ve been following your site for quite a few days and found it interesting. Need a help from you guys. I ve purchased a black casual shirt, khaki pants and black shoes to wear it on my friend’s wedding. Suddenly my friends are insisting to wear blazers. What colour of blazers will go with this combo? Tried finding but i feel no one can help me out more than you guys!

    Waiting for your reply.

    Cheers!

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Warning: What follows is some tough love.

      The original outfit is super-casual, so we’re not surprised that the groom asked for blazers. We’re only surprised that the groom didn’t tell you to wear a full suit. How do we resolve the situation? First, let go of the black shirt idea immediately. Unless the wedding is at a night club, a black shirt is not appropriate. Instead, go with a white shirt. You cannot go wrong with a white shirt. They look good on everyone and they have a bright and airy quality that is appropriate for a festive event like a wedding.

      As for the blazer, avoid the urge to go with black. Black blazers don’t do anyone any favors. If you’d like to opt for a dark color, go with a navy blue or charcoal gray which will contrast nicely with a white shirt but be much more forgiving to your hair and eye color and skin tone than black.

      Finally, a tie may still be optional, but since you’re adding a blazer, a pocket square is the smart choice. You can offset the color of your jacket with a saturated color in the pocket square, or just keep things simple with a white one. Either way, wearing one is essential to pulling off a sophisticated stylish look.

  12. Antwon says:

    Valentine’s day is fastly approaching and I wanted to dress in something different this year. I was thinking of a gray suit, with a black shirt and black shoes. The only conflict I have is deciding on what tie to wear. I was thinking of either a purple-gray-black patterned tie, red-gray-black pattern or just a solid color. Any feedback? If not these kind of ties, then what do you suggest?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Our advice is not to wear a tie. Black shirts and ties rarely come off well. So if a black shirt is in the cards for this Valentine’s Day, we leave the tie in the closet.

      If you’re not married to the idea of a black shirt then there are some options to consider. Judging by your description of the outfit, it sounds like you’re going for the monochrome look. We approve. In that case, take a look at our story on the Accidental Minimalist where we lay out a framework for dressing with little or no frills but still looking great.

  13. Chris says:

    Looking to rock a slim fit, modern grey suit with a blue w/ white dots bow tie. What style shirt should I choose with it? Checkered or solid? Colors or white? Thanks

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Sounds like you’re a good candidate for our story on matching shirts and ties. There we lay out a system for matching patterns.

      We focused on neck ties, there, though. When it comes to pairing bow ties with shirts, we say err on the side of simpler. Choosing to wear a bow tie is already choosing the road less traveled. No need to overdo it. Avoid the kind of sartorial pyrotechnics that some guys try to pull off with busy patterned shirts and in-your-face bow ties. Stick with a solid white or light blue shirt.

  14. Arthur Felter says:

    What about cardigans?

    1. Black Lapel says:

      Treat a cardigan like a vest and leave the bottom button unbuttoned, Andrew.

      1. Jovan says:

        Better yet, leave two undone. I alternate between the first and last or the last two.

        1. Black Lapel says:

          Now you’re talking, Jovan. Two buttons undone on the vest is a varsity move. Nice!

          1. Jovan says:

            I meant the cardigan, but I’ve seen some guys pull it off on vests.

          2. Black Lapel says:

            Got it, J. As you noted, it works with both cardigans and vests. In both cases it’s a bit more fashion forward but we’ve got no problem with that.

          3. Jovan says:

            I don’t know that I’d call it that, but it’s stylish.

            A good example is in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (and yes, that’s George Peppard before “The A-Team”).

            http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2008/07/23/fashion/Breakfast_at_Tiffanys_span.jpg

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