Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Man Matters: The Waistcoat/Vest

These man things - hats, bags, sheds, kayaks - seem to get you going, so let me chuck one more into the pot - waistcoats. Americans call these 'vests', of course, and, I notice, 'sweater vests' are frequently regarded as another attribute of the old like ugliness. I would have mocked the colonials' use of this word, but, apparently, it is correct - Pepys called them vests when Charles II introduced them in October 1666. I have several waistcoats and, partly at my wife's insistence, I wear them often. I also leave the lowest button undone. This, I now discover, is a solid English tradition which, like standing during the Hallelujah Chorus, was ordained by a King. Edward VII, who presided over the greatest English decade, grew fat and left that button undone. This was taken as a style statement, rather like those huge, creased baggy cargo shorts which were actually a manufacturing accident but which are now worn by young men all over the world in an earnest attempt to look as dumb and deformed as possible. Anyway, here's my point: waistcoats are The Thing, The Man Thing. They can be worn in sheds, kayaks or as a dashing accompaniment to bags and hats.

31 comments:

  1. As always, Bryan, women got there first and got there better. (Think Joanna Lumley, in exaggerated male attire.)

    And remember this - in the wrong hands (and without the buttons) a waistcoat is in danger of becoming a tank top. Than which garment there is none more horrid, on your average pottish-bellied man...

    Think very carefully before you don therefore, is all I can say.

    PS. There's a drawback to your blogging fecundity you know, Bryan - since scarcely have we your breathless readers gathered ourselves up for a comment on one, than another promptly appears!

    Give us a break, won't you?

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  2. Years age I read Anthony Adverse, in it, a most crystal bit of advise. 'By the are of forty, a man, should decide if he is to be a wine or beer drinker.' A grape man or a grain man, never both as it wreaks havoc on the liver. In other words, decide on size and decide early.
    The waistcoat/vest is the sartorial response to the grain. A response to beam, battleship not attack-sub. And as with a battleship, rakish colours can be carried. Its really better if they are carried, it stops the bloke looking much as a few cwt of spuds, tied in the middle with a belt.
    Women, on the other hand have an entirely different take. French farmer, goose by the neck, bag of grain and a funnel.

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  3. I expect it will look very fetching over your David Beckham nylon football shirt worn with white sneakers.

    The cargo pants look quite practical but you have to have the right type of leg to pull it off. This is why kilts never really caught on outside of fancy dress weddings - it's a pity.

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  4. I think you should put something in about the tank top, which I believe was originally the top half of a swimming costume designed for swimming in tanks in America. It is distinguishable by the scooped neckline from the sleeveless sweater - concerning which I was once told that the characteristic fair-isle designs were the result of using up lots of bits of wool from other knitwear unravelled and recycled during the war - but wasn't this design popular in the 1930s too?

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  5. Shorts are the real issue here, surely. Any form of short is an abomination on a man over 40 , and, in many forms (yes, the cargo short) inexcusable on every ground at every age. At this time of year, tragically, English men of all ages succumb to sun-induced madness and start wearing skimpy, baggy and entirely vile clothing. Some of us, happily, are immune, but we're a dwindling minority. My own grandfathers - both of them - never wore anything less than a three-piece suit (yes, with waistcoat), whatever the sun was up to. A fine example.

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  6. Shorts are the real issue here, surely. Any form of short is an abomination on a man over 40 , and, in many forms (yes, the cargo short) inexcusable on every ground at every age. At this time of year, tragically, English men of all ages succumb to sun-induced madness and start wearing skimpy, baggy and entirely vile clothing. Some of us, happily, are immune, but we're a dwindling minority. My own grandfathers - both of them - never wore anything less than a three-piece suit (yes, with waistcoat), whatever the sun was up to. A fine example.

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  7. skimpy and baggy, difficult to pull off. it is the demise of the working class, all these new middle class fellows want to be seen as real men on their days off but they just haven't the physique honed by a life of hard graft outdoors in all weathers. now that we are all middle class, we all have legs resembling McFries.

    of course, combining this with increased obesity, the knees is the first to go. thesedays you can throw a stick in any town and hit someone who knows someone who's had their knees done.

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  8. Whoever said it was women who agonised over the way they looked?

    All you men in your sheds with your tank tops and your knees - honestly!

    "And shall I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled....

    And do I dare to eat a peach?"

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  9. Beatrice, you are not, surely, suggesting I should eat a peach.

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  10. Indeed - is not eating a peach in a shed a grave offence under the Code of Shedmen?

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  11. I also forgot to mention the fact that it is NOT DONE to wear a belt with a waistcoat. I do so I am afraid.

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  12. Eat one Bryan - go on, I dare you!

    After all, what's good enough for TS Eliot you know...

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  13. Good grief! I'll be parting my hair behind next, And, anyway, there is no internal evidence in that poem that Eliot ever actually ate a peach himself.

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  14. In the shed the men rave and rant
    Of how to build a septic tank.

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  15. who makes up these rules?! the belt must have it over the vest, I'm certain. where would a man about town hang his equipment if he didn't have a belt?

    do bum bags count as belts? not that I really know what one is...

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  16. Sorry, I don't understand waistcoats and wouldn't know how to get going on the subject, but I was thinking about baggy shorts just the other day - it was my generation that brought them in in the early nineties and since then there has been no change in tennis or football or on the street. Can fashion experts account for this? Perhaps the shorter short never really recovered from Wham!.

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  17. Code of the Shedmen

    1. All measurements pertaining to shed construction, maintenance etc will be given in feet and inches.
    2. No phrases of foreign lineage, with especial mention to the French language, will be uttered within the premises of the shed. For instance, instead of saying 'fait d'accompli', a shedman should say 'a done deal.'
    3. No wine or marijuana in the form of grass shall be consumed within a shed. Ale, lager or hashish are all fine.
    4. No music of an electronic nature shall be played within a shed.
    5. No peach or similar unmanly fruit or vegetable will be consumed within the premises of a shed or within a perimeter boundary extending to 6 feet outside the walls of the shed.
    6. No lamp shades may be used within a shed.

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  18. Steady on with the lampshades, Andrew. I had a friend who bought a beach hut - a sort of shed - and immediately installed a ghetto blaster and a chandelier. Both were nicked on Day One. But I saw what he was trying to do.

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  19. Sting struck a massive blow in the fight for sartorial elegance in this live performance.

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  20. And you didn't try to stop him, Bryan? You find out who your real friends are in such critical moments.

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  21. is it not funny that in this ever changing at the speed of light world that we're still okay to dress much like our great grandfathers did - where's the progress?

    those orwellian style predictions of unisex boiler suits and ankle boots were all wrong. only pete townshend bothered - he was a mod, you know. they knew about clothes. (okay, the teds were smart, I'll give you that, but they copied each other - I guess there must have been original ted - proto-ted. he may have been your guy VII, I don't know.)

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  22. Ted Hughes. And he looked good in anything...and nothing. He not only dared to eat a peach, he let Sylvia bite *him* -- the first time they met.

    I love waistcoats, but can't make the husband wear one. Must be an English thing (your liking 'em, I mean).

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  23. waistcoats are tricky. Designed to confine and restrain a man's bestial urges, to civilize him if you like, they instead encourage violence and vigilant justice. Any fan of The Untouchables will recall that Sean Connery's tough Irish cop (with a Scottish accent) Malone wears a waistcoat, and he's not a man afraid to administer a beating.

    "you want to get Blair, here's how you do it - he pulls a knife, you pull a gun; he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue; and you wear a waistcoat. That's the Chicago way."

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  24. I'll only wear a waistcoat if it is hand woven of fair trade organic, locally grown fibers and dyes by indigenous craftsmen of color and blessed by a shaman. (That's the last time I'll cross the organic mafia!)

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  25. Ah but what kind of Shaman? Prada have one in house, I am told.

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  26. Prada isn't local enough. I'll hit up one of the local Lakota casino barons to see what they charge.

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  27. Doesn't Daniel Craig carry off his James Bond waistcoat in an erotic manner not usually associated with the shedocracy? Wouldn't Samuel Beckett have worn a waistocat with a wondering elegance, in a do-you-believe-in-the-waistcoat-to-come kind of a way? It's questions,not answers, that are important here. And what archaic female apparel would be appropriate to the male shed/waistcoat mood? No female presence in the wooden womb? Or an occasionally allowable Nora Batty wrinkled stocking top? A Lady Chatterly silk? A proletarian 1950's frock and apron? Just wondering. A shed has the potential to be a man's consolation and a woman's fantasy.
    Kind of.

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  28. Craig didn't wear a waistcoat, surely?

    Waistcoats are too spivvy if you're thin, and too Pickwickian if you're fat.

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  30. I have to say, I've been known to lie fully dressed before. Thanks cubby, Always glad to know when clothing is optional!

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