There was nothing so very remarkable in that; nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” (when she thought it over afterwards it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on…
Odd vests (Known as “waistcoats” in England) worn under work suits have a lineage. Sometimes they are silk and sometimes they are wool. With the wool ones you generally match the finish of the wool to the suit, flannel with flannel, barathea with worsted. The colors for wool vests are medium to light grey, buff or cream. With silk vests, anything goes in terms of color and pattern. However, a silk vest should still look somewhat manly and use the type of silk used for neckties.
Nicolas Grace wearing an odd silk vest with his city kit in the House of Cards series
There is a tradition of wearing silk vests in West London amongst the club set and, to a lesser extent, in the city which ebbs and flows. Right now it is on the ebb and with the global economy what it is at the moment, I wouldn’t count on the return of any such sartorial ebullience anytime soon. About 10 years ago, when the Movie Four Weddings and a Funeral came out, there was a revival for colorful and bold odd vests in silks. They were worn mostly for weddings then and they are almost exclusively worn for weddings now; they are still quite popular for that purpose.
Circa 1830-40 the double breasted waistcoat came into style in England and has not altered much in cut to this day.
At the best of times, to sport a vest for general city day wear you’ve got to be someone with a lot of confidence. A colorful odd vest is something of a signature; a flamboyant one. You would have to be either a very dapper dresser or a dandified one; certainly one man in a million.
This illustrates a point about traditional clothing which falls out of use; sometimes it becomes costume and other times it is still acceptable but can only be worn by those who feel they can carry it off. It all depends on who you are and how you wear it.
Drake’s draws the line art and colors it
Deciding that an odd silk vest to be worn with a day suit might be a natty detail, the search began for an appropriate silk to make up. At first, I found a lot of UK stores and websites which offer them ready made but I found nothing that attracted me. These vests were often cut in a formal style that would not go with a business suit and the patterns and colors were a little too festive.
In any case, I wanted the vest made by my tailor and thus preferred looking at silk swatches. But of the myriad tie silk swatches I looked at, nothing seemed quite right, either too wild or too sedate. I began to realize that my vest was not going to be had without considerable ingenuity.
Vanners then uses Drake’s Line art and digitizes it to work with their weaving looms. Silk quality, weave type, colors and pattern are all carefully set
I mentioned this to the tie designers at Drake’s who had made theme ties in the past and that I hoped I might get a piece from old stock. I thought that a vest with a repeating skull or Hindu god motif might be more amusing than a stylized geometric silk. Unfortunately, these theme silks were already all made into ties; nothing remained.
Despondent, I consulted my white rabbit who, being in touch with his sartorial spirituality, struck a Zen pose for me. The resulting mantra provided the inspiration I was looking for. The rabbit himself. After all, he had been kind enough to lead me, Virgil like, through the many circles of English tastes; why couldn’t I use this opportunity to show him how grateful I was? In many ways, he was already my sartorial constellation. Why not then immortalize him as such?
Drake’s were tickled enough by my almost English form of madness that they decided to indulge me. Drake’s did all the artwork by hand and different versions of the rabbit were tried out in several sizes and colors. Although many other colors looked good as art, we decided that a white colored rabbit would be best because other shades might defeat the symbolic purpose.
I was ecstatic by the enthusiasm displayed by both the tie designers at Drake’s and the weavers at Vanners over this vest idea demonstrating that I am not alone in my sartorial insanity.
Once the general design by Drake’s got the green light, the silk weavers at Vanners enthusiastically took a hold of the project. After all, this is an English classic about an English classic. Vanners scanned the drawings from Drake’s but then had to do their own artwork, digitally coloring the drawing to match the many silk tints they carry. After the colors were set, Vanners arranged the rabbit in both a larger size and frequency to optimize its use as a vest.
Vanners then created a “sample blanket” which demonstrated the rabbit in several different color ways. Once I chose which colors I liked, the design was placed a little closer together and the weaving began in a crisp ribbed silk. Two versions were created, one, like normal necktie silk, woven on the bias and the other set the rabbit motif differently to make it easier to tailor into clothing.
I took the silk to be made up by my tailor, Nino Corvato, into a single breasted style with a grey backing and two bottom welt pockets (Four welted pockets being rather passé) .
The vest construction is very soft which is a virtue of Nino’s dual Neapolitan-Brooks Brothers golden age training. When I tried the finished vest on it was feather light and fit so fluidly that I forgot I was wearing it.
Necessity is truly the mother of invention. Or in the case of traditional items of clothes, reinvention. Because nothing satisfactory existed on the market, I ended up with a more personal item.
This vest represents a perfect example of dandy, silk designer, silk weaver and tailors all working in perfect harmony. And, although it drew inspiration from my desire to be nattily unique, I am merely a cog in a well woven and sewn sartorial machine.
I have now paid homage to a white rabbit with a sense of style who in spite of his eternal feeling of obligations elsewhere takes the time to lead me through the English aesthetic.