The humble men’s waistcoat appears at first to be a straightforward garment, one that shouldn’t prove too much bother. However, men far better than us have spent their lives wracked with confusion about the age-old question: whether to go double or single breasted. Ostensibly it’s a choice between one row of buttons or two, but of course it goes much deeper than that. Choose correctly and be the best-dressed at the wedding, the prince of the party, the apple of Ascot’s eye. Make the wrong decision and, well, you might look a bit naff. Below, you'll find all the discerning details and differences between single and double breasted waistcoats.
The difference explained
A single breasted waistcoat has a sole row of buttons down the front, with a small overlap to permit fastening. This simplicity means that it is often seen as the more casual of the two. A double breasted alternative has two rows of buttons, and the front overlaps sufficiently to allow both flaps to be attached to the opposite row of buttons. Some find this cleaner than having one long row of buttons and it is also seen as the more formal of the two. The traditional advice is that the DB better suits tall, medium builds, as it is cut to flatter broad shoulders and narrow waists, while those with a slim frame should consider a single breasted waistcoat.
The dress code
For everyday wear, a single breasted waistcoat worn open with a Grandad Shirt and jeans is a safe bet. The wider flaps on the double breasted mean that it needs to be worn buttoned-up, making it instantly more formal. For black tie events, the cut of the waistcoat is more important than whether it is double or single breasted. The waistcoat should have a scoop or shawl collar, to show off the pin tuck or textured shirt. It also needs to be long enough to fully cover your shirt should you unbutton your jacket.
For weddings, what you’ll wear will depend on what the invite says, whether you’re the groom, usher or guest. If it says morning dress either double or single breasted is fine, but be sure to choose a contrasting colour to your coat to avoid looking like you’ve wandered in from a funeral. For white tie receptions, the only rule is that your waistcoat should be white. If you’ve been asked to dress just plain old smart, or haven’t been given a dress code at all, anything goes! A single breasted suit looks sharp worn open over a double breasted waistcoat, a la three-piece savant David Gandy. If wearing a single breasted waistcoat under a double breasted jacket, just be careful of your proportions. You should only see a few waistcoat buttons rise above the jacket, and as a rule of thumb, stick to jackets with at least two buttons.
Whatever you choose, there are a few rules which must always be observed when it comes to waistcoats.
1. Never fasten the last button. This goes for all waistcoats, as well as jackets. There are a few reasons given as to why this is, with most crediting the Queen’s grandfather King Edward VII – who apparently struggled to fit his royally-rotund stomach into his clothing and was forced to leave his bottom button open (more on that here). Regardless, leaving your last button undone means that you can sit down comfortably, with many waistcoats cut in such a way that you shouldn’t ever fasten it anyway.
2. Make sure yours fits properly. The waistcoat should finish just above the waistband of your trousers, hiding your expertly-tucked shirt. Use the back fastener to ensure a snug fit without corseting yourself – like all tailoring, a waistcoat should follow the line of your body, but not hug it too tightly.
3. Always mix and match. While there are some that love nothing more than a three-piece all cut from the same cloth, there’s a danger of veering too far into Peaky Blinders territory. At Sir Plus, we see waistcoats as an opportunity to have some fun when dressing formally, and always advocate choosing a contrasting colour to your jacket. Even better, choose a different colour for your trousers, and make sure your pocket square and tie clash.