Written by: Sondra Wolfer
The gilet and the waistcoat clearly sit on the same branch of the fashion family tree. The bodywarmer is there along with them, as is the vest across the pond in the US. All of these garments evolved from a sleeveless leather garment called a jerkin worn by male European peasants in the 15th century. Over the ensuing centuries, the look was adopted by the aristocracy, women, and the military. Today, gilets and waistcoats are casual layers that offer welcome warmth on crisp days.
But is there any discernable difference between these autumn and spring wardrobe staples? The answer is very little and, truth be told, it’s nitpicky. But let’s break it down:
In today’s fashion, the words gilet, waistcoat, and bodywarmer are often used interchangeably to describe an upper body garment that buttons, snaps, or zippers up the front, doesn’t have sleeves, and is often quilted or puffed to provide extra warmth for the torso. But this mixing and matching of terms does not apply to the sleeveless, woven garment that buttons up the front and is frequently worn with a suit and tie. This more formal piece is almost exclusively referred to as a waistcoat.
There you have it. Any of these words essentially refers to a sleeveless jacket, but if you’re a discriminating sort, feel free to differentiate waistcoats from the rest of the quilted pack. Regardless of what you call them, do incorporate them into your cool-weather wear if you haven’t already.
Why Wear a Gilet or Waistcoat?
Those 15th-century peasants were onto something. The gilet keeps your core plenty warm whilst giving your arms full range of motion, something you won’t get wearing a coat. That’s what makes gilets so popular among outdoorsmen. You need your arms free when horseback riding, shooting, or fly fishing. Many sporting gilets will also offer plenty of pockets to keep any gear you need handy.
As for a traditional woven waistcoat, wearing one offers a bit of warmth and loads of natty style.
How to Wear a Men’s Waistcoat or Gilet
Woven, button-front waistcoats work with casual or dressy looks. Wear a traditional waistcoat over a fitted button-down shirt and tie for a sophisticated look at the office or on a date. On weekends, pair a waistcoat with a casual button-down shirt and your favourite jeans or cords. When summer comes around again, a waistcoat looks smart with a linen shirt and rolled sleeves.
Quilted, puffer, and fleece gilets and waistcoats lean towards the casual, sporty side, but possess a go-with-all versatility you’ll love. A solid gilet over a flannel shirt offers a hint of lumberjack panache. And a quilted gilet with a few of your favourite jumpers is going to carry you handsomely through the transition seasons. Gilets can also be worn under a winter coat for extra protection on frigid days.
By any name, you’ll be glad you have this versatile layering piece on hand to add a stylish layer of warmth to your cool weather wardrobe.