Eight Ways To Wear A Gilet

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Eight Ways To Wear A Gilet

Words by Mr Dan Rookwood

1 November 2020

To the uninitiated, a gilet (otherwise known as a vest in the US) might seem like a rather pointless item of clothing, akin to fingerless gloves or snoods. However, this garment was in fact born out of practicality. The grandfather of the modern gilet is believed to have first appeared around the 15th century and was then known as a “jerkin”. A sleeveless peasant jacket, usually made of leather, this trusty companion kept the wearer warm while allowing unimpeded movement for those out working all day.

Fast forward to the 21st century and things have moved on considerably. Technical fabrics allow for lightweight options and increased breathability, meaning functionality is still at the fore, and new designs mean there’s a style to suit every taste. With the transitional season in full swing – and the prospect of damp, chilly commutes to work on trains stuffed to the gunwales – a gilet seems like a pretty smart layering choice. And, after a long time on the periphery of what would generally be considered stylish, the much-maligned bodywarmer has been ushered in from the cold to become something rather fashionable.

The current wealth of gilets on the market means there’s something for everyone, whether you prefer wool or nylon, slim-fit or quilted, a bold statement piece or a versatile basic layer. Whatever your style, here’s how to wear a vest to impress.

01. Dress down structured tailoring

These are the peak days of sports luxe, when tailoring can be worn in a high-low combination with sportswear, serving to dress down the formality of the former and dress up the informality of the latter. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the very Milanese pairing of tailored separates with a gilet. Here, the gilet is worn underneath a peak-lapelled blazer, providing an interesting contrast in texture; the addition of a soft layer balances what would otherwise be a rather stiff ensemble. Styled this way, the gilet allows the wearer to dress for the office without looking like “a suit”. Popping the lapel is optional.

02. Add a pop of colour

The flattering fit of a well-cut lightweight gilet means it can be worn as a waistcoat, without adding unnecessary bulk to your svelte silhouette. Styled underneath an overcoat, as demonstrated here by model Mr Johannes Huebl, a gilet is also an easy way to bring a contrasting colour and texture to a muted autumnal outfit. Eye-catching, but not garishly so.

03. Give performancewear a chance

On a mild day in autumn or spring, you can often get away with a gilet in place of a bulky coat, as demonstrated here. A light synthetic-down gilet will pack into a ball, saving space and weight in a work or weekend bag. Performance brands tend to include practical elements such as insulated and protective pockets to keep your hands warm and your phone safe. For optimum versatility, the gilet should be plain and neutral in colour (navy, black or charcoal grey), so that you can easily incorporate it into your wardrobe. A patterned gilet would clash with the plaid here, but a plain one complements it – and turns this brushed-cotton shirt into outerwear.

04. Warm up a lightweight jacket

As we have mentioned, a gilet’s lack of sleeves makes it very useful for layering without restricting movement. Anyone who has tried to wear a jacket on top of another jacket will know that it neither looks nor feels comfortable in the arms and shoulders. Investing in a well-insulated gilet from a specialist outdoor brand such as Patagonia will enable you to get more wear out of lightweight jackets such as bombers or blousons, so you can mix up your look rather than wear the same winter coat(s) for months on end.

05. Choose a shearling collar in place of a scarf

Some jackets will not comfortably accommodate a gilet underneath, especially those that have been tailored or altered to fit. In these instances, a more substantial gilet, such as this shearling-lined, leather-panelled version, will need to be worn as an outer layer. This on-trend example may not look like performance apparel, but it is still extremely functional. The bulk of it will add warmth to your torso, while the shearling collar will do the job of scarf. Another thing to note is the layering lengths. When worn on the outside, it’s OK if the gilet is shorter than the jacket underneath (and in such cases, the gilet would normally be worn unfastened). When worn on the inside, the gilet should ideally not hang down lower than the outer layer – it tends to look untidy.

06. Why not try a pattern?

The more colourful, patterned and textured the gilet, the more of a statement piece it will be, but the less often you will be able to wear it. This busy ensemble works because the minor colours in the gilet are echoed in the rest of the outfit for a pleasingly synchronised look. But, to use diving parlance, this routine has a high level of difficulty. (Top marks to photographer/stylist Mr Dapper Lou.) As a general rule, we would suggest pairing a statement gilet with plain and simple pieces to avoid making too big of a splash.

07. Experiment with texture

If technical fabrics such as nylon and synthetic down are not your style and you want to wear something more luxurious and tactile, look for gilets made from heavy-gauge wool, tweed, cord or suede. These understated and grown-up additions to your autumn wardrobe have a country feel to them, and will ensure you blend in while walking your dogs on a crisp Sunday stroll; there’s nothing more conspicuous on a rural ramble than an outfit that suggests you’re about to ascend the north face of the Eiger.

08. Stay practical

A key argument in favour of the gilet is its practicality. It keeps you warm but not uncomfortably so, regulating your body temperature with the sartorial thermostat known as a “zip”. This down-filled version from Moncler – which, along with Canada Goose, leads the way in technical yet stylish down-filled outerwear – is ideal for the man about town who doesn’t want to be forever faffing about with a cumbersome overcoat. And if you need to squeeze onto public transport (or even a packed catwalk front row), you can easily remove your padded layer and use it as a cushion without worrying you’ll crush it.

Mostly ’armless

There are plenty of drainpipe-skinny legs, too, along with crystal-embellished leathers, logo tees and a range of seriously desirable accessories, including next summer’s must-have sunglasses shape, the Bug. And we’re thrilled to announce that certain items are exclusively available at MR PORTER, including one of our personal highlights, a leather varsity jacket embellished with a motif by Upstate New York artist Mr Scott Daniel Ellison – part of the collection created in collaboration with 14 of the designer’s favourite artists. As ever, Slimane may be a dreamer, but he knows exactly what people want.