The vest lends harmony and continuity to the appeal of the well-attired male—the vest is the frontispiece, the escutcheon, the heart of the suit; it is emblematic of a man’s unremitting commitment to winning the trifecta in the tailoring game.
Without a vest the suit is two degrees of separation relying on a striking tie or an eye-catching shirt to make a fashion statement; but with a vest the suit reclaims its preeminent place as the body’s main event, reducing all else—shirts, ties, pocket handkerchiefs—to little more than accessorial status.
In decades past, the vest was often ornamental, bespangled with gold chains dangling with Phi Beta Kappa keys and engraved watches concealed in fob pockets, and those wearing vests tended to be older men with bellies no less prominent than the majestic positions they held in polite (and not so polite) society. Teddy Roosevelt liked wearing vests. So did Al Capone.
I, too, favor vests, and, in addition to the dozens of three-piece suits that range through my wardrobe, I own many separate vests of various colors and fabrics that I wear with my sports jackets. Instead of bearing a watch in a vest pocket, I use one of the tiny pockets for carrying small bills that I relinquish at the request of street peddlers, and the other vest pocket contains the three-by-three-and-a-half inch soft leather case that holds my credit cards and drivers license. I have a tailor that makes these leather cases to the exact size of my vest pockets, although such small cases can also be purchased ready-made in such shops in Manhattan as Bottega Veneta.
It seems to be that in the past year or so I have noticed more and more men in their twenties and early thirties wearing three-piece suits, which is perhaps reflective of this era in which young men are eager to project what the Italians refer to as the “bella figura”—a conscious effort to making a fine impression in the hope of eliciting a favorable reaction—especially during this competitive period of recurring job interviews. Whatever the reason behind it, it’s a trend I can wholeheartedly endorse.