In the movie Catch Me If You Can, when the young imposter/con man Frank Abagnale sees Goldfinger and sets his sights on impersonating 007, the ejector seat and grille-mounted machine guns on Bond’s Aston Martin aren’t what he insists on getting just right. It’s the three-piece Savile Row suit. A vest on a man goes a long way to making him look suave, confident and powerful without having to revert to gadgets. Consider also Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair. He’s always the coolest man on the screen and in the caper, often styling with a gold chain and pocket watch.
Part of the charm of a vest—or waistcoat, if you want to put on Anglo airs—is the way it tidies up an ensemble. It can hide away billowing shirtfronts or guts that creep over the belt line. Moreover, a vest creates sight lines that frame the chest, while drawing the eye to the face. It’s a good look for almost any body type. The bonus for cigar smokers is that its pockets afford accessible storage for lighters and cutters.
An entire three-piece suit isn’t necessary for pulling off a vest. You can wear a vest that contrasts your suit coat or your jacket and slacks. Or the waistcoat can be the only coat you wear, with jeans and a shirt. Furthermore, your jacket can stay unbuttoned without looking slovenly. In fact, only a few caveats apply. Your vest should cover your belt. With the exception of the bottom button, it shouldn’t be worn unbuttoned—unless you’re into the Wild West sheriff look. And do not pair vests with short sleeve shirts—unless, of course, you’re riding with a motorcycle gang. In which case, go with cutoff sleeves or no shirt at all. Just don’t expect to ride with James Bond.