I recently purchased a vintage Brooks Brothers full-dress waistcoat – or “weskit” as the British might say – to see how it would compare to my inexpensive modern version. As I suspected, there is an exquisite attention to detail in the Brooks Brothers model that is notably absent from the budget version:
- the Brooks Brothers garment is constructed of a very fine piqué which looks much more elegant than the waffle-iron gauge of the budget version
- the revers are actual folded-back lapels versus sewn-on panels of fabric intended to imitate lapels
- the hip pockets are functioning pockets versus sewn-on welts that only give the impression of pockets
- the cloth-covered buttons are removable allowing for the use of waistcoat studs, a sophisticated personal touch
- a hidden loop attaches to the trouser waistband to keep the waistcoat from riding up the torso
- the two halves of the neckstrap button together allowing for easy passage through the loop on the back of a proper formal shirt that prevents the waistcoat strap from riding up the back of the neck; conversely, the neckstrap on the budget version attaches with a buckle that must be taken apart when worn with such a shirt (once when it is donned and again when it is removed)
- the neckstrap and backstrap are constructed of matching cotton instead of utilitarian elastic
To the average observer there is not much visual difference between the two models when worn as part of an overall formal kit. But for the wearer the unseen differences speak volumes about his approach to dressing up (and, I believe, to life in general): Does he take personal pride in holding himself to higher standards or does he settle for the convenience of a superficial façade?
Fortunately Brooks Brothers still sells this waistcoat*. If you decide to buy one you will find that its skillful construction hides the button fasteners so well that the buttons appear permanently attached. In actual fact, they are accessed by sliding your hand in between the two layers of fabric on the reverse side of the waistcoat’s front (shown below) and pulling that portion of the garment inside out.
Once removed they can be replaced by waistcoat studs – typically called waistcoat buttons – available either on their own or as part of a set with cufflinks and/or shirt studs. Both the original and replacement buttons fasten in the same manner as a shirt stud, either with a ring like a key ring, a clip like a hair pin or a (fixed) backing. (Note that high-end English manufacturers often include mother-of-pearl buttons with the garment.)
A final word of advice for any fine piqué waistcoat: find a dry cleaner who knows how to press these fabrics properly so your textured waffle-weave doesn’t get flattened like a pancake.
October 8, 2014
*Customer comments on the Brooks Brothers web site indicate that the current model does not have removable buttons.