Monday, 24 November 2008

Go Vest, Young Man

 “The Vest is Back.”  It was a headline in a Sunday Supplement.  Vests, it said, are cool.  Paradoxically, I suppose as warmth is their main intention.  The whole idea of vests being “back” feels a little odd.  For many men, vests, or singlets, never went away. And here let us pause to reflect on the link between singlet and doublet.  Are they perchance related?  The combination of gloriously colourful Royal Shakespeare Company Tudor doublet – historically accurate pre-trousers -   and grey M and S vests is  an odd one.  Not a good look, I’d guess. 

 But is/was the vest ever a good look?  Surely these are garments bought by mothers for sons, and their purpose is to spark family arguments before languishing for a long time at the bottom of a sock-drawer, only to be  torn up for  a new life as dusters. That was one way they came back. But this style article I skimmed recently was a celebration of the return of the classic retro Omo-white vest, as modelled by male er models, who’d look good in anything. The Omo-erotic vest, if you will.  The prodigal vest.

 Before dealing with that,   let us remember, briefly,  the string vest.  Hi tech!  The notion was that somehow, warmth was trapped in the holes. This amazingly slight garment, which could also double as a keep-net for anglers, was hailed as a thermic revolution in male underwear.  Never mind the tufts of tummy hair  protruding through those gaping  gaps, the unsightly unravelling, the inevitable greying  and the ghastly coloured versions.  Let us not dwell on their short lived counterparts, string pants  (yes they did exist).  In fact let us move swiftly on through vest-history:

 The vest’s nemesis was of course the T shirt.  Sporty, coloured, modern and often bearing a message, slogan or advertising copy.  For me, this garrulousness is just as bad as string.  I have one Jack Daniels (pyjamas only) two Mandolin Brothers (advertising a great musical instrument store on Staten Island, New York, mention my name for discount) and one United Nations model.  Khaki, small logo.  The rest are silent.  There are few statements I want to make that I can’t make with my mouth or word processor.  Jokes worn on T shirts (My mum went to London and all she bought me etc) wear thin. 

 And I put it to you that the T Shirt is essentially outer-wear and not a vest at all.  The benefit is that even worn as underwear, the T shirt can serve as instant outerwear when the weather changes for the better.  Just take your shirt off and you’re cool.  Literally and textually, depending on the message displayed. Whereas the vest is made not to be seen.  Sunbathe in a vest and you look like you belong on a building site or Margate beach.  

OK, agreed, that translucent nylon shirt n vest look is so seventies.  But vests fell out of favour, I’d say.  They didn’t go anywhere.  Shirts just got thicker, that’s all.  By the way,  I have just discovered that Omo has disappeared and is only available in Zambia and Sweden.  Sorry for any inconvenience caused.

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