A waistcoat in BrE t, or vest in AmE, is a sleeveless upper-body garment. It is usually worn over a dress shirt and necktie and below a coat as a part of most men's formal wear. It is also sported as the third piece in the traditional three-piece male lounge suit. Any given vest can be simple or ornate, or for leisure or luxury. Historically, the vest can be worn either in the place of or underneath a larger coat dependent upon the weather, wearer, and setting.
Before wristwatches became popular, gentlemen kept their pocket watches in the front waistcoat pocket, with the watch on a watch chain threaded through a buttonhole. Sometimes an extra hole was made in line with the pockets for this use. A bar on the end of the chain held it in place to catch the chain if it were dropped or pulled.
Waistcoats worn with lounge suits (now principally single-breasted) normally match the suit in cloth, and have four to six buttons. Double breasted waistcoats are rare compared to single. Daytime formal wear commonly comprises a contrastingly coloured waistcoat, such as in buff or dove gray, still seen in morning dress and black lounge suit.
Waistcoats, alongside bowties, are commonly worn by billiard players during a tournament. It is usually worn in snooker and blackball tournaments in the United Kingdom.
Samuel Pepys, the diarist and civil servant, wrote in October 1666 that "the King hath yesterday in council declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes which he will never alter. It will be a vest, I know not well how". This royal decree provided the first mention of the waistcoat. Pepys records "vest" as the original term; the word "waistcoat" derives from the cutting of the coat at waist-level, since at the time of the coining, tailors cut men's formal coats well below the waist (see dress coat). An alternative theory is that, as material was left over from the tailoring of a two-piece suit, it was fashioned into a "waste-coat" to avoid that material being wasted, although recent academic debate has cast doubt on this theory.
During the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the manager of the England football team, Gareth Southgate, was often seen wearing a waistcoat. British retailer Marks & Spencer, the official suit provider for the national team, reported a 35% increase in waistcoat sales during England's first five games at the tournament. Fashion search platform Lyst also reported that online waistcoat searches increased by over 41% during the course of the World Cup. Part-way through the tournament, the Museum of London announced that it hoped to acquire Gareth Southgate's waistcoat in order to display it as part of its permanent collection of historic clothing. In the run up to England's semi-final match against Croatia, the blood cancer charity, Bloodwise, encouraged fans to take part in 'Waistcoat Wednesday' to help raise funds for the charity, while also supporting the England team.
The American Revolutionary War brought British influence to the United States and with it came the waistcoat. The waistcoat in the United States originated as formal wear to be worn underneath a coat. Waistcoats became more ornate including color and decor.
Waistcoat collars became longer and visible outside of the coat worn over it. These collars were stiffened and would peak out over the coat's lapel. For both warmth against cold weather or to show off special weaves and contrasting colors, men often would layer their waistcoats.