Old Dogs & New Tricks

A penchant for odd waistcoats and a little experimentation recently got me thinking about a quirky phenomenon: seldom-used articles of clothing that suddenly become indispensable and favourited pieces. Items that perhaps seemed like a wise investment at one time and stare back at you from the fringes of the wardrobe; once-serviceable garments that unexpectedly lose their preference and serve only to remind of their prior glory; even happenstantial additions lacking a proper purpose can often find their way to a newfound vivre with a little serendipity and inspiration.

A few years back I had Coppley make me a hopsack vest in a subtle cream colour with the intent to complement a suit or a blazer. Neutral by nature, the fabric lets the texture speak for the garment rather than brash hues or distinct patterns. After enjoying my first waistcoat - a traditional tan tattersall with blue, burgundy, green and black in the check - I was excited to further my exploration into contrasting tailoring.

And I rarely wore it.

I could match it easily enough with a navy or grey suit; even my tobacco gabardine partnered earth tones with little effort (that is, once I bothered to experiment with the pairing). I just never seemed to reach for it in the morning.

My initial reticence stemmed from the unfamiliar: it was my first lapelled waistcoat, which adds an air of formality. I'd often question my ignorance as to its appropriateness with my outfit, fostering doubt. Secondly, though subtle, the vest was like a vast pat of butter in colour, and I'd yet to wrap my head around the nuance of the tone. And lastly, well, it just wasn't my tattersall vest that I'd become so fond of.

I'm not sure of the moment that crystallized my appreciation for my cream hopsack vest, though I'd wager its favour was earned in a series of educational episodes. I first wore it with my tobacco gabardine suit for a charitable fashion show and drew a considerable response from the aesthetic; eschewing more rugged options and creating a smart black-and-tan motif with my charcoal flannel suit; even substituting in for the matching vest to my three-piece Prince of Wales suit paired with aplomb

Eventually, that cream hopsack waistcoat fostered its way into regular rotation and is often the first piece I grab to experiment with new suits, new shirts, et al. Sometimes it comes down to a little appreciation. Others, bearing witness to a similar item well-executed by a peer opens a new door to possibility.

Or perhaps I don't yet have the right accompaniment, and a later purchase catalyzes a new outfit with a once-purposeless item, such as my slate blue grenadine tie. Perpetually orphaned, I've recently made use of pairing the neglected neckwear with that Prince of Wales suit and a black merino sweater. I'm refining a couple of additional new uses for the tie, some of which may or may not bear fruit. A little patience and curiosity can add unexpected depth to your wardrobe without the added cost.

Ryan W.A. Clark

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