Updated: After such great response to our fall guide to how to wear a vest, we’ve updated this to be more season specific for the warmer months. Enjoy!
We’ve gotten some vest questions, which line up with confusion that we’re seeing on the streets. So we’ve put together a quick guide on how to look your best when wearing a vest (yes, it rhymes …).
What’s confusing about the vest is that it would make sense that you could wear it just like you would a jacket or blazer, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up looking like a sideline photographer at a football game … or a Girl Scout.
These Girl Scouts are super cute, but as as you get older and are trying to make a fashion statement with your vest, this vest + short sleeve T-shirt look often doesn’t translate into the stylish realm. Image: stcatherinesal.com
There are two types of vests, generally speaking, that women are wearing this season: a short vest and a long vest. The long vest is a bit more forgiving, but here are some general rules for both.
With a shorter vest, wearing a shirt that is noticeably longer helps balance the look. If you are petite, be careful that the top is not too long, as it will overwhelm your frame. Wearing this with a long-sleeve shirt is a great look. Image: elleapparelblog.com
A long vest is easy and forgiving to wear. Depending on your frame, you may need to have the vest tailored for the perfect length. A good seamstress can help you find that perfect length, but as a rule of thumb, consider having it be the same length as your favorite sheath dresses. Wearing this option sleeveless is a great look! Image: harperandharley.com
As a general rule (and we’ll show you how to break it in just a sec), stick to sleeveless tops beneath your vest or long sleeves. As explained with the Girl Scouts, it just looks better to avoid the short sleeve nine times out of 10.
In fact, when we looked at what Nordstrom offers online in the fall, out of the 344 vests they have for women, all professionally styled to make you want to buy each and every one, only 20 were styled with short sleeves. All the rest are styled showcasing bare arms or long sleeves. This was even when cold weather was coming! There’s a reason: it generally looks better to pick longer sleeves or no sleeves.
See? Go sleeveless or pair with long sleeves for the easiest way to style a vest. Image: Nordstrom.com
If you are going to wear a short-sleeve T-shirt or blouse with your vest, one way to keep it polished is to match your top color to your bottom color, providing a column of color under your vest. You can also wear a sheath dress under the vest for the same effect.
Here is an example of how a neutral, almost monochromatic outfit can look ultra-polished under a vest. This deep grey utility vest takes a more feminine shape when paired with a simple grey tank and white denim. The vest is $79. Details here. Image: Nordstrom
If you’re in the market for a denim vest, this is a fantastic option. Its light wash works year round and the slight distressing is on-trend for the season. Pair this with an all-white ensemble for a fun, fashion-forward look. This denim vest is $89. Details here. Image: Nordstrom
Or wear one with a white tee (or tank) and your jeans, as that is just a classic look.
I’m being very picky here, but this works well because the short sleeve is actually a longer short sleeve, and because the white top with jeans look is always classic. If this sleeve were a Hanes tee, it wouldn’t be fabulous. The difference of an inch can make or break an outfit. Image: Sazan
This lightweight long vest is ideal for warmer weather and looks fashion-forward and polished when paired with simple dark denim, heeled mules and a tank. We love this for a unique summer look! This vest is $98. Details here. Image: Nordstrom
A faux suede vest in a light shade, like this champagne color, is another fun option for warm weather. We love this one for it’s long, flattering length and fun metal accents. This one is $59. Details here. Image: Nordstrom
Wearing a vest (especially the military-inspired green vest) with a striped dress or striped top just plain works. Do it! Here are some examples:
How fabulous is this? If you want to substitute white jeans … do it! Red jeans? Yellow pencil skirt? Great! Love the leopard flats, but sandals and espadrilles work as well. Image: sparkandchemistry.com
Here’s Mary from Happily Grey in a striped dress and army green vest. As the weather warms, sleeveless or even a short sleeve dress with this vest would be great. And, for our imagination hats once again: I can’t wear a denim vest because I wore them too much in high school, but a denim vest, red vest, black, white … they all work with this dress if the vest is sleeveless and the right proportion (longer) with a drapey look OR a nip at the waist (or one that belts). Try belting with a brown, leather belt for another look. Image: happilygrey.com
Here is an example of an olive green military-inspired vest that we love. The short sleeves and cinched waist are flattering, while the spacious pockets are useful and practical. Here, you can also see how a cap sleeve can work under a vest when paired with fitted, neutral bottoms. Find this vest for $88. Details here. Image: Nordstrom
Why is the short sleeve so hard to wear with a vest? The vest has its own visual breaking point at your shoulder. When you add another breaking point, the one of the short-sleeve top, a few inches down the arm in a different color, it’s a lot for your eye to take in. Add a different neckline on both and a different place where it ends across your hips or legs, and the short sleeves end up adding a bit of chaos that many times tilts the outfit into being off balance. But if the top is the same color as the bottom (i.e. white jeans + white tee + your vest OR gray pants + gray short-sleeve top + your vest) you can pull off the short sleeves more easily. Or match the color of the top to the vest as another option.
Vest options that are the easiest to work with are black, white, army green and faux fur (for cooler months). After these options, consider adding a color that works with your favorite colors or perhaps a rich suede or leather.
An army green vest, one that nips at the waist and falls a few inches longer than your hips, is one of the most versatile pieces you can own. It’s been a huge hit for years and continues to be strong. Image: asequindressatbreakfast.com
Now go buy a vest or take that one you haven’t been quite able to get right and wear it with confidence!
A great shoe to pair with your vest? Check out this article we just wrote on the lace-up flat. It’s fabulous: Lace-Up Flats: The On-Trend Shoe You Need NOW!