I’ve just added an extensive review of the history of evening waistcoats to the Vintage section of The Black Tie Guide. As I poured over visuals spanning two centuries I was most struck by the tremendous diversity of waistcoats offered in the 1930s, the golden age of formal wear.
In today’s world where distressed jeans are marketed as high fashion apparel it’s almost impossible to fathom a time when menswear magazines featured glamorous full-page ads for individual components of a proper evening wardrobe. Even in the midst of the Great Depression manufacturers were poetically extolling the stylishness, elegance and quality of their seemingly endless array of waistcoat offerings: three- or four-button single-breasted models, double-breasted models in a wide variety of configurations, models with shawl or notched lapels or no lapels at all, and models with straight, pointed or curved waistlines. Just as foreign is the advertisers’ reassurance of the social propriety of their latest styles, a fundamental concern in an age when sartorial authorities regularly issued stringent guidelines for “correct dress” and tailors referred to waistcoat measurements in terms of “regulation length”.
Notably, most of the proffered styles were depicted in their white full-dress incarnation rather than the black semi-formal option. I suspect this is because they were a much more noticeable aspect of a gentleman’s evening wardrobe as they were worn with open tailcoats unlike their ebony counterparts which were largely hidden behind closed dinner jackets.