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Are vests too much?
October 15, 2012 11:31 AM   Subscribe

Are 3pc suits considered too formal and stuffy? Are they just a fad experiencing resurgence? Is the vest a crowning touch or a fashion police felony?

I need to buy a couple more nice suits for work, and I'm seeing some offerings with vests which I kind of like. I don't see that many men wearing 3 piece suits, though, and while I find them kind of classy, I'm not sure if it's a good thing for daily business wear.

Context is in IT systems/sales relationships.
posted by Thistledown to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (35 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
IMAO they are fucking hot and awesome and should be worn without shame but YMMV.
posted by elizardbits at 11:34 AM on October 15, 2012 [14 favorites]


You have to ask yourself, am I a hipster? Might I look swell in a cap? Then the vest is for you. Otherwise I find that a vest is a pretty formal look so it might be much in a sales/tech position.
posted by saradarlin at 11:34 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Three-pieces suits look sharp as hell. You can always choose not to wear the vest if you want to go more casual/generic on a given day.

Wearing a mismatched suit and vest can also look awesome if the tie contains both colours (ie, white shirt, grey vest, black jacket+pants... tie = black/grey/yellow check, or something like that).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:39 AM on October 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


They look great for formal events, and you can leave out the vest for business day-to-day stuff. If you have a 3-piece suit, you can wear the suit and add the vest for your holiday party. Awesomeness abounds.
posted by xingcat at 11:39 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am/have been a professional services consultant int he industry for about a decade now, I only rock the 3 piece at banks and financial services customers...the ecom, retail, medical, tend to be less formal.

With that said, I've never felt like I got strange looks when out at a customer site in one...no matter how formal/informal.
posted by iamabot at 11:40 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you work in a very formal workplace, perhaps, something like a banker or serious financial advisor wouldn't be out of place wearing one.

If you're very fashionable and getting a very nice, stylishly cut suit from a name manufacturer or buying a very nice vintage suit and having it tailored, perhaps.

Three piece suits are very formal, so you'll have to wear a good tie, the right kind of shirt, and very formal dress up shoes. It's not something you can throw on 10 minutes before leaving and look good. It's like wearing a tux to something more casual. You can pull it off, but you have to make the effort or you'll just look ridiculous.

I'd find it too formal for IT, personally speaking.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:42 AM on October 15, 2012


They are harder to pull off than a two piece and you can run the risk of looking like a bit of a tool.

.. especially in sales, where it can be a bit big tie/big shirt collar sometimes. If you go with a 3 piece suit, then make sure the rest of your kit isn't all big and brassy.

If you are on the larger side, it can make you look older rather than young and sassy.

They are also bloody hot to wear in summer, so think about that.

My only advice is this: if you're going to wear one, wear a decent one. A cheap looking 3 piece suit makes you look like a minor league snooker player.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:43 AM on October 15, 2012 [6 favorites]


What part of the country (and, for that matter, which country) are you in, and what industries are your clients typically in?

Not to be a downer, because I agree that three-piece suits can be formal and classy, but business dress isn't always about fashion or style or self-expression or whatever. If you don't see too many men wearing them, that might be a bit of a red flag.
posted by box at 11:44 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


i loves me a vest.
posted by violetk at 11:45 AM on October 15, 2012


If Ianto Jones is wrong, I don't wanna be right.
posted by mochapickle at 11:47 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


I love wearing three-piece suits. I think Mad Men is helping to bring them back.
posted by 4ster at 11:48 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


They don't have to be formal at all. See: worn with no tie, or worn with a non-matching vest. Also, pants, shirt, no jacket - with or without tie. Super hot but you don't ahve to look like that for this look to be stylish.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:50 AM on October 15, 2012 [5 favorites]


In my opinion, a three piece suit reads as "trying too hard." It takes a lot of effort to get the shirt to fit under the vest without bunching up at all, and everybody knows it. If the message you want to send is that you put a lot of time into your appearance, then that's a good way to do it. However, if you do this, you better make absolutely sure you look sharp, otherwise the message is "I still can't manage to look good despite all the time I put into my appearance."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 11:52 AM on October 15, 2012


If you don't want to blend in with the sheep, you'll have to make sure your suit looks sharp, because wearing a three piece is a lot like singing in public: you don't want to sing off key.

So: vintage or modern, make sure it's tailored for good fit and easy movement, make sure it's crisp clean and spotless, make sure it suits your personality, and make sure you practice wearing it at non-critical times so you know how it feels and how you feel in it before you step out on stage.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:54 AM on October 15, 2012


A full 3-piece is far too over the top for normal business operations, might as well bring in a top hat while you're at it. Unless you're ripped as hell in which case go for it.
Acceptable:
Business casual
+tie
+sweater (or sweater vest) and tie
+tie and jacket
+sweater, tie and jacket = maximum allowed
+vest and tie

Be weather conscious
posted by MangyCarface at 11:58 AM on October 15, 2012


If you have to ask this question (don't feel bad) then no, you shouldn't wear this to work. This is a look someone with a stylish track record could pull off in a business setting, not something you can just show up with and have no one bat an eye at.

That said, you can always have the vest just in case, and wear the suit without it.
posted by Patbon at 11:59 AM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you wear it with a fedora all bets are off.
posted by elizardbits at 12:00 PM on October 15, 2012


I vote for buying one new suit with a vest and getting used to wearing it gradually by wearing it to more formal occasions like a wedding or a funeral, or a really nice dinner out. If you feel comfortable with it at those occasions then add it to your work attire occasionally. Something to think about though, if you do get a vest be sure to have it cleaned when you have the rest of the suit cleaned, even if you haven't been wearing it regularly, or your suit will be unevenly faded.
posted by SweetTeaAndABiscuit at 12:16 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It works for Patrick Jane on the Mentalist because it suits his character. As the post in the link DarlingBri gave upthread mentions, he makes it look effortless. It doesn't look pretentious or stuffy, he wears it without a tie, sometimes without the jacket and his sleeves rolled up but still looks 'smart'. He can pull it off because he's attractive, charming and very fit - no unsightly bulges or weird pooches but also because the character is slight eccentric so it really works for him. I couldn't say whether you could pull it off but IMO if you like it, go for it.
posted by missmagenta at 12:16 PM on October 15, 2012


I actually own a three piece suit that I wear semi-regularly, but it is something I wear to church or formal-but-not-black-tie evening events.

Context is in IT systems/sales relationships.

It's not impossible to wear a 3 piece suit in this situation, but it would be difficult to pull off. Part of the problem is that you are already going to be better dressed than all of your customers, so it strikes me that wearing a vest on top of already wearing a suit would be Just Too Much.

I would get the 3-piece suits, but leave the vest at home when making sales presentations and save it for those nights when you're at a charity dinner.
posted by deanc at 12:17 PM on October 15, 2012


I would get one three-piece, and ensure you could wear the vest with either suit. Much more flexibility this way.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 12:29 PM on October 15, 2012


I adore the 3 piece ensemble, but it is hard to pull off well. I wear mine for more festive and social events. For business meetings I've found it still works, but more often than not I leave the jacket off. If you have a lean build a vest with no jacket can look rather sharp.

If the vest only costs a bit more, go for it. You can always leave it out and still wear the outfit as a 2 piece.
posted by dgran at 12:30 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really great information, thanks!

regarding the questions:

1) I'm in the Washington, DC area - in dealing with some Federal clients, I'm noticing the suits are decidedly nicer than your garden-variety sales rep (I'm on the sales engineering side) and the general air and attire are slightly more formal, so this might be okay.

2) I've got a tall, thin build. I wouldn't say I'm in Olympian shape by any standards, but I don't have any bulging bits, so I can wear things with a longer silhouette, for example.

3) I've been known to wear a vest with jeans and a nice dress shirt and my wife gets all you-look-hot-oooh-take-me-out-somewhere when I do this, so that's a good thing.

4) I am planning on buying a couple anyway, so getting one with and one without the vest would give me several options.
posted by Thistledown at 12:34 PM on October 15, 2012


Unless you are over 50 I would judge you just like a fedora wearer. Personally. But I am a judgy-pants.
posted by dame at 12:51 PM on October 15, 2012



3) I've been known to wear a vest with jeans and a nice dress shirt and my wife gets all you-look-hot-oooh-take-me-out-somewhere when I do this, so that's a good thing.


I'd definitely say you can pull it off then!
posted by missmagenta at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2012 [4 favorites]


1) Three pieces just aren't very comfortable in this day and age. When they were prevalent, central heating was not. Unless you are never hot a three piece + jacket + tie is just too many layers.
2) The run the risk of costume-yness and therefore are just not appropriate for someone making sales calls unless they are in an avowedly fashion forward business.
3) IDK - a three piece w/o a jacket on isn't a three piece. Its a hipster in a nice pair of pants.


At the end of the day its doable, but like other questions here, if you are asking it, you aren't the guy to pull it off.
posted by JPD at 1:00 PM on October 15, 2012


In my University, the computing school has one lecturer who wears a three-piece; he is unquestionably the least cool tutor there, despite being a really nice guy.

Damn he looks snappy in it though.

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posted by fearnothing at 1:21 PM on October 15, 2012


As others have said, you might want to give thought to timing / context, but let me throw my vote in for sharp as hell. Witness: Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer). Guy looks like he was born in a three-piece suit. Work it! Own it!
posted by hapax_legomenon at 1:37 PM on October 15, 2012


1) I'm in the Washington, DC area - in dealing with some Federal clients, I'm noticing the suits are decidedly nicer than your garden-variety sales rep (I'm on the sales engineering side) and the general air and attire are slightly more formal, so this might be okay.

But do balance that against the fact that this is not a fashion-forward town. If your clientele is moneyed but conservative, it might fall flat. But it is a look I love, and would enjoy seeing more of, done well.
posted by EvaDestruction at 1:56 PM on October 15, 2012


The three piece suit is making a comeback, but I agree with most of the other posters that it is a look that is hard to get exactly right. Otherwise you end up looking like you are headed to a wedding. I can picture the difference in my head, but I can't articulate it. Think of the suits that Barney from How I met Your Mother wears. They would look good as three piece suits.

I would definitely NOT wear it with a belt and your fly zipper hanging out. That looks awful. It's also not part of the suit he is wearing, but is so close that it looks like a mistake rather than a choice. And for Christ's sake, you don't button the bottom button.
posted by gjc at 7:54 PM on October 15, 2012


Three piece suits are not in any way coming back as business attire in the ordinary sense of the world. As a piece of costume for your role as cocktail party bon vivant, or gallery empresario or boutique-hotel-concierge, sure.
posted by MattD at 8:53 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


Not to sound like a broken record, but I agree with the general sentiment of "if you even have to ask, you shouldn't be trying this."

Here's the thing about men's clothing, the most important factors to looking good are, in descending order:

1) Fit and proportions (cuff size, sleeve length, shoulder padding, fit around torso, lapel size, trouser length, etc)
2) Combinations of color, textures and patterns (including ties, belt and shoes)
3) Accessorizing WITH RESTRAINT (pocket square, nice watch, tie pin/clip, etc)

You should start with simple single-breasted suits. You'll know that you're nailing #1 if you become very picky about having your clothes taken in / let out so that they fit you perfectly (and that doesn't have to be expensive). #2 is apparent when women start complimenting you on your choices. At this point is when you can start thinking about experimenting with different styles of suit, i.e. 3-piece, double-breasted, mandarin collar, etc.

Now, here's the thing about men's clothing: it is meant to play tricks with our eyes and project shapes and silhouettes in order to convey thoughts/feelings that our lizard brains understand: power, strength, invincibility, invulnerability, etc. This is true of men's clothing throughout history and across most, if not all, cultures. Indeed, you will also find commonalities with many wild animals, e.g. a lion's mane, an iguana's neck flap, etc

For example:
- long jackets, coattails, kurtas, shrouds, pajamas, etc all lengthen the torso, broaden the shoulders, and hide the belly / protect the abdomen
- high collars, scarves, ruffles, etc shielding the neck, especially the jugular and the trachea
- accessories like ties, scarves, etc to shield the breastbone
- lapels, collars, v-necks, etc i.e. the inverted triangle that widens the chest, emphasizes the shoulders and distracts you from the belly

So, what does this all mean in the context of the 2- or 3-piece suit?

1) You should *NEVER* be seen in only a shirt and a tie. Sadly, most Americans and many Brits lack any understanding of this. Continental Europeans are a bit more aware of it. The problem is that, through various optical illusions, a shirt *with* tie but *without* jacket or vest makes you look like a weakling. The shoulders look small and the neck looks constricted, especially without the inverted triangle effect of the jacket lapels or open collar.
2) A shirt *without* a tie is OK, but you *must* unbutton the top collar. Again it's the inverted triangle that expands the chest (that's why cholos look so wierd, like they're choking).
3) Wearing just the vest over your shirt is fine, with or without tie (but again, unbutton the collar if removing tie). With tie is more formal (protecting the neck and breastbone). The vest hides/protects the abdomen and emphasizes the chest and shoulders. This is the chief advantage of a 3-piece -- you can discard the jacket if it's hot or you're sitting down (so you don't wrinkle the back) and still look fairly well put-together.
4) If you're wearing a 2-piece suit, your jacket must be buttoned (bottom button always undone, by convention) in order to protect/hide the abdomen. With a 3-piece suit, the jacket can be unbuttoned if it's hot or you need more range of motion, but the vest must always be fully buttoned.

What you must understand is that a suit is, essentially, non-functional armour. We no longer do battle with spears, swords and axes, but we still appreciate physical strength. So you should assemble your suit in a way that makes you look strong, always.
posted by wutangclan at 11:25 PM on October 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


The only person I know who regularly wears a 3-piecer is (1) a high-powered lawyer, and (2) a bit of a Scottish character in a New York world. Thus, both the formality of the environment and the slight off-beaten-path character of the man sell it just fine. But it is A Thing that is being sold, even if not a Huge Thing.

Hope your experiments turn out well, especially given your wife's response! :))
posted by acm at 8:02 AM on October 16, 2012


A salesman should look somewhat better dressed than his clientele... unless he is selling formal clothing.

3-pc suits don't fit this description.
posted by IAmBroom at 8:29 AM on October 16, 2012


The only person I know who regularly wears a 3-piecer is (1) a high-powered lawyer, and (2) a bit of a Scottish character in a New York world. Thus, both the formality of the environment and the slight off-beaten-path character of the man sell it just fine. But it is A Thing that is being sold, even if not a Huge Thing.


This is exactly the only sort of person who can pull this off in a formal business environment.
posted by JPD at 9:03 AM on October 16, 2012


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