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Vest (or waistcoat): what are the pros and cons?

Do you pack a vest for your trips?
I'm thinking more of outer garments than mid-layer or formal items like waistcoats.

I'm trying to learn the ways of the elders as I start to join them, but I honestly don't see the appeal of a vest - the pro is that it saves a little weight in your bag, but the con is that it doesn't have sleeves!
I brought this up with someone just a bit older than me, and they tried to claim that a vest is useful across a wider range of temperatures than the equivalent jacket. Hmm. Not sure if I believe it, but I'm open to other arguments in favor of them.

And like with those things we aren't calling fanny packs, if there's a utilitarian case to be made, I'm open to hearing it.
Especially if I get to pronounce 'waistcoat' like they do in the UK.

Posted by
5429 posts

Yes, I did pack and use a fleece vest for a March trip to Austria/Germany -- in addition to a down jacket -- for additional core warmth. But I am highly heat-sensitive so the different levels of warmth were important to me, as was the ability to strip off the vest and put it in my Civita bag.

Posted by
77 posts

I also pack a vest for times when I'm not bringing a down jacket but want core warmth in case the temperatures dip or it is windy. When we went to Ireland/NI in May 2019, I brought a waterproof unlined jacket, a thin down vest and a thin merino wool quarter zip. (I also threw in a fleece hat, but I only needed that for one morning of hiking in Northern Ireland.) The combination kept me comfortable at a variety of different weather conditions. I use a 10-year old Eddie Bauer microtherm vest that still looks like new and squishes down to pack. Vests are great for hiking and running as well, and I don't find I need as much coverage on my arms. The other benefit is that you can layer for warmth while still having a waterproof outer layer. In contrast, my regular winter down jacket by Kuhl is water resistant but not fully waterproof. I only bring that on trips where I won't be outside for long periods in rain or sleet.

Posted by
1649 posts

My packable vest keeps me warm when it's not cold enough for a real coat. And it layers nicely under a cardigan and a shell raincoat.

It also scrunches into my purse.

Posted by
11779 posts

I've been packing an Eddie Bauer fleece vest along on hiking trips for many years. Over a t-shirt, they provide just enough warmth for crisp mornings and evenings, or an extra layer under my shell on chilly/windy/wet days. I've taken one to Europe for shoulder-season trips as well as they're very lightweight, dry quickly, roll without wrinkling, and have inside pockets for safely stowing some cash/cards, as long as you stay zipped up.

I also have a thinner, lightweight E.B. nylon vest that also rolls up/dries well and has an inside phone and zippered pocket and multiple outside pockets. It's just enough layer to cut the wind on a cool-ish day, and is nice for short city walks or trail hikes where I don't need to bring enough along for a shoulder bag or backpack. It looks like this only my older version has the waist "pulls" on the inside:

https://www.eddiebauer.com/p/20612543/vests-for-women/?sp=1&color=Black

Bonus? Both vests are nicely fitted, hide "oops" well (necessary as I am a hopeless klutz) and clean up easily. :O)

Posted by
139 posts

Ditto to the other replies. Vests are a go to item for people who get hot easily, not for people who are always cold. I have two types of vests. The winter vest is micro fiber but many use a squishy fiber filled one. The warmer weather vest is a wind proof shell like cyclists and runners use. A long sleeved water proof jacket is included. Heavier for cooler weather and very light for warm weather. As a cyclist I have arm warmers (go from my wrist to upper arm and are easily removed and stored). They often take the place of a sweater. Remember, I get hot, especially going into museums after being outside in the cold. Stripable layers that store in my small day bag are important.

Posted by
5298 posts

Well you've already betrayed your prejudice by implying vests are only for unfashionable old people 😕. Afraid of becoming your parents? Look at the outdoor/sporting goods catalogs (like REI) and you'll see plenty of vests, especially colorful lightweight fleece, marketed toward the young and active population. The pro is really that it adds temperature control (in the damp and chilly parts of Europe) while leaving your arms less encumbered for mobility. Thats why you see a lot of people wearing vests for working outdoors. Of course, if you enter the darker and more subversive fashion world of travel vests (more hidden pockets and zippers) you find other reasons for using them. And if you look hard enough in the world of un-fashion, you can find jackets with zip-off sleeves that provide even more versatility.

Posted by
876 posts

Do you have/use one at home?

I have a fleece vest that I thought might be useful, but I rarely seem to find the occasion that calls for it, so I doubt I would take it on a trip.

Posted by
1711 posts

I love a vest because of all the answers above - Arm mobility, extra warmth, packable, lightweight, an extra pocket, easy to take off if temperatures fluctuate. As an outer garment only, I wear them if we are driving to our destination and will not be outside too long. Although I was given one recently which is meant to be worn as a jacket alternative - bulkier, lined, hooded - which I will test out this winter.

Posted by
2548 posts

I think it might actually be more of what you wear at home and prefer? Wear your usual clothes. I typically wear vests as I like the lack of restriction and bulk on my arms. I have a dressy vest, quilted vest, fleece vest, down vest, etc. I don't have any 'travel' vests per se, but never say never. I like to dress fairly nicely, but I could care less about fashionable unless if fits my practical purposes. I don't equate vests to old (er) people...but I am, so maybe that is why. I equate them to activity and locale. In college and beyond, vests were the comfortable option when skiing (still are, I assume) or just living (Maine college). A vest is always part of my plane outfit...usually a pretty reversible, light weight vest.

PS, I have yet to bring a heavy jacket/coat on my winter trips. I bring a light jacket to wear over my vest should I be cold.

Posted by
3212 posts

You live in North CA. What do you wear when chilly? I think it is a personal choice - not one related to age or 'traveling' specifically.
I went through the pretty 'waistcoat' type vest stage in the mid-90s, but not now. I own a down vest, but rarely wear it in Ottawa, though plenty of people do. I have it as a layer to be worn under a light weight jacket/coat for transitional season travel.
It certainly adds that insulating factor without the bulk of a full sleeved polar fleece jacket under a water/wind proof jacket...depending on the size of the arm hole and body of course. Typically, as long as you have some arm covering, it doesn't need the same insulation factor as the body does.
I cannot see it replacing all outerwear as you will need to contend with wet and wind and there it doesn't compete with a true coat.

Posted by
11779 posts

Do you have/use one at home?

Yep, all the time during the cool/cold seasons. I have at least 7-8 fleece vests in different solid or patterned colors that get a lot of wear, both inside and outdoors, during the cool/cold months. My husband has a few as well. And no, vests ranging from fleece to wool to down-filled to lighter shell types are definitely NOT just for "elders!" They're worn by people of all ages here in MN. As suggested, just take a look at an E.B., LL Bean, REI, Columbia, North Face, ScotteVest, etc. website? You're not going to see much grey hair! Example:

https://www.columbia.com/c/womens-fleece-vests-puffer/

Posted by
477 posts

A vest is a viable tool for temperature regulation and transporting things. If you want to turn a vest into an everyday carry item, you need to practice with it for a few months before traveling. You've got to get comfortable with the pocket layout, temperature control, leaving it on all the time, and loading it up for the day.

After decades of wearing vests for the practical reasons stated above, once I started international travel, I reverted to more conventional layering. Matter of taste and preference for me, that's all. I did not need the pockets (I carry a shoulder bag), I did to need the temperature regulation, I did not want to keep track of a clothing article that would be used only part time. However, other folks love their vests.

Posted by
7840 posts

Oh yes, I wear one at home all fall/winter/spring and have it handy when I travel to higher elevations in summer. I also always pack it for European trips. I generally travel in March, April or May or End of Sept/Oct. I do tend to be warm so I can be plenty warm with a puffy vest with my waterproof shell layered over it. To me they are functional for active things such as shoveling snow as well as running around or putting on an extra layer around the house.

Last year (wow that was a lifetime ago!!), I was in Paris the end of March and was comfortable with layers of a long sleeve tee, a long sleeve drifit over that and a puffy vest. Most of the locals were still wearing heavy wool coats but this layering was comfortable to me.

I also don't think it has to do with age. I've worn a polarfleece vest for at least 20 years, transitioning to the puffy vest a few years ago. I'll also say that vests are pretty common in the Mountain West. But if it doesn't work for your regular clothing at home, I'd not just pack one for travel.

Posted by
1443 posts

I wear a vest when traveling in Europe. Lots of pickets, including a ‘Napoleon pocket’ which provides good security.

Posted by
425 posts

"I'm trying to learn the ways of the elders as I start to join them"

Our millennial daughter used to tease her baby boomer parents about our vests (we have wool, fleece, puffy down, packable down and microfiber). But last Christmas she asked for a packable down vest. So I guess us boomers are ok after all.

Posted by
5572 posts

I pack a puffy down vest to supplement my go to layers (base layer, fleece jacket, wind/rain hooded jacket) for winter travel. My thinking is the down vest adds body core insulation with less bulk and weight than a full down jacket. That said, the fleece + shell jacket are usually more than adequate for winter activities and I rarely deploy the down vest. The down vest does pack to a relatively small volume. Pro is added core insulation is needed with minimal packed volume (down is compressible). Con is no arm coverage.

Posted by
1395 posts

Thanks to everyone for your testimonials and comments - it seems like a vest is just the thing for people who tend to overheat easily, unless they are the perfect item for those who often feel cold, and it works great for people who want to carry a lot of stuff and for people who don't want to carry a lot of stuff. It's like the Rorschach garment!

What I do at home and on travel for chilliness is wear an overshirt - I have the Ur-overshirt from LLBean, the Hurricane (flannel inside and treated canvas on the outside, but any durable slightly oversized shirt will do, and what you can do is have it buttoned and tucked, or buttoned and untucked, or unbuttoned , with the sleeves down, or the cuffs rolled, or the sleeves rolled up to the tabs ...
So, I'm getting versatility from the overshirt that seems pretty similar to what you're claiming for a vest, but perhaps shifted over a bit in the temperature spectrum. I can wear it alone, or over a tee or over a polo or over a thin sweater or combinations thereof, or under a coat or a shell or a heavy sweater - or a vest :-)

To clarify the ageism, I am not a millennial. I am one of the forgotten middle children in the generational drama between boomers and millennials, a GenX. Part of the silent minority. :-)
We GenX spent our youths trying to fit in with our boomer elders, and now are spending our middle years trying to calm our millennial juniors. Our own time in the spotlight was brief. Julia Roberts and Leonardo DiCaprio burned so bright, but lights that burn bright last half as long.
(For this comment I looked up J. Depp and G. Clooney and learned that they are both actually Boomers)

Posted by
284 posts

Avirosemail,
I am also one of those forgotten Gen X. My first thought on reading your post, was why would anyone wear one! Must be a generational thing. I much prefer to take thin merino wool sweaters. They don't have pockets, but really who wants to load down their clothes with stuff in the pockets. And you can call it a jumper if you want to sound like the British!

Posted by
3360 posts

I have worn vests in the past, but for fashion not for warmth. The olive green fringed leather one that matched my olive green velvet knee high boots comes to mind. It was 1968 ... but I digress.

A few years ago I bought some vests, made of fleece or quilted, to coordinate with other clothes for travel, or not. I thought they'd be useful, similar to what's been said already. I never wore any of them more than once. I tried a vest with pockets and found it to be more trouble than it was worth, and dorky looking on me. Our Gen X kids and their kids got them all.

I'm much more comfortable wearing light sleeveless, short sleeve or long sleeve layers under a fleece or shirt with long sleeves, topped with a jacket of some kind.

It's not my core that gets cold. In fact, I overheat if my core has too many layers and start opening up when that happens.
If my arms are cold I'm very uncomfortable.

For me, covering my arms adequately and opening up my core when I get too hot works best. That's been true, no matter where I've lived: TX, OH, OR, WA, Germany or AZ. And if I don't use vests at home, I certainly won't when I travel.

Posted by
1395 posts

I appreciate your speaking out, Lisa and Lo!
For you other vest enthusiasts, though,
what do you think of this Columbia Silver Ridge II ejemplo?
https://www.columbia.com/p/mens-silver-ridge-ii-vest-1778661.html?dwvar_1778661_color=257&pos=29

The lighter colors in this model vest are speaking to me. Or maybe to someone standing behind me.
I've noticed in reading other reviews that when the zipper starts right at the hemline instead of a little above that could make sitting and squatting a little tougher?

Posted by
3212 posts

It's a nice looking vest, but I will say I see them for warmth rather than utility. I didn't read the reviews but were there comments about limited pocket access or loss of overall silhouette when all pockets are in use? I like that it has the pockets inside rather that external patch pockets that can get baggy or sloppy looking but that is also the feature that can limit pocket volume and look bumpy and bulgy when in use.
As to hem zip comment, you know your body type best to know whether strain in that area is common. Itherwise uou would need to develop the habit of lifting up at least the front hem to reduce strain before bending or squatting.

Posted by
615 posts

“Especially if I get to pronounce 'waistcoat' like they do in the UK.”

Bad news - if you bring what you refer to as a vest to the U.K., it may well be referred to as a ‘gilet’! Pronounced in the French manner. But English has a long history of ‘permanently borrowing’ words from other languages and including them as if we thought of them!

Posted by
3212 posts

But English has a long history of ‘permanently borrowing’ words from other languages and including them as if we thought of them!
And, of course, English has evolved in the 'colonies' based on a vocabulary that often 300+ years old.
The same reason Canadian French is not understood by many in France.
But, a 'gilet'...I would never have guessed. Obviously, 'gilet jaune' didn't click.
Avirosemail, I think you need to keep your waistcoat for indoor wear. Historically, it has always been the type of vest you wear under a suit....or similar look.

Posted by
5956 posts

Fashion terminology pedantry from a British point of view.

Waistcoat - sleeveless with button/ zip fastening designed to be worn under clothing.Usually tailored. Modelled by fashion god, and my major crush, Patrick Grant.

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/fashion/features/patrick-grant-interview-designer-y-fronts-bow-ties-and-why-jarvis-cocker-eddie-redmayne-s-sartorial-superior-a6934441.html

Gilet - sleeveless with button/zip fastening designed as outerwear. Modelled by fake Patrick Grant...disappointing

https://www.debenhams.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/prod_10701_10001_055010530895_-1

Tank top- sleeveless sweater as modelled by this fashion icon from my childhood. Usually knitted.
https://www.steve-p.org/sm/menaswomen1.jpg

Vest- traditionally a sleeveless knitted undergarment, as modelled by a further style icon of my childhood. Now more likely summerwear
https://images.app.goo.gl/9fAFsb2FMjUauRsA6

Hope this clarifies? :-)

Posted by
5298 posts

emma, thanks for more lessons language differences 🙂 So my fashion icon, Onslow, wears a tank top, which we would usually call a "sweater vest". We call a sleeveless t-shirt a tank top, or in derogatory slang, a wife-beater.

Posted by
5956 posts

When I googled him there are photo's of Onslow rocking a tank top AND a vest at he same time. It's quite the look!
As a Gen Xer brought up on Coronation Street, Onslow will always be Eddie Yates to me.

Posted by
24193 posts

Fashion terminology pedantry from a British point of view.

You learn so much about people on this board. Debenhams? Really?

In all other respects, bang on.

I always think of Onslow in the vest. Tank top for dramatic presence.

Posted by
425 posts

Sorry for the ageism. Just trying to make fun of my personal generational battle.

Back to the pros and cons of vests. Despite owning virtually every type of vest I don’t travel with one. Unzipping or unbuttoning vests when I overheat simply means that the vest slaps around and my back, shoulders and neck are still hot. I prefer something with sleeves so I can tie it around my waist. My day bag isn’t big enough to fit a vest inside. If you are concerned about squatting/bending at the waist consider a shorter vest or one with a two-way zip.

Posted by
2548 posts

Avirosemail,

On my one RS tour there was a woman who wore Columbia vests(s). She had two similar vests, but I think different makers. One was black and one was ecru. She was thin/smallish chest. With the black one, adding a scarf would dress it up. For me, the upper chest pocket would not be too noticeable, but as I have breasts, I attempt to avoid all pockets on the chest. I also prefer some type of dart or princess seam to give them some shape...hard to find, but they show up periodically. I don't buy vests for their pockets, but don't mind when they have side seam zippered pockets because then there is a gap of material inside that will hold a small sack of valuables pinned, should the need arise. I often use the gap for my second pair of glasses...sun versus regular.

That being said, here is a sample of my vest solutions: 1. I have a Costco puffy vest per the recommendations of over one year ago on here. I keep it in my motherlode Jr for my weekly travels. I've not yet used it for my weekly travels, but did use it for an autumn trip to the beach a year ago. It takes up so little room, why not? It doesn't look bad, really, but it is quite informal. I have the lavender grayish one. 2. I have a couple of Landsend Marinac vests. One older, which I loved. One newer that really hasn't been used much due to C-19. (Looks like the newer one has not great reviews...I love the older one, but I like the newer one because it is longer). They both dress up fairly well with scarves...in my opinion (not opera dress, but with accessories a nice restaurant, etc. IMO). 3. The third type of vest is harder to find. These would be tailored and made out of a nice material. My go to is a reversible, princess seamed older vest from Chico's...maybe 10 years? (I hate shopping.) It is nice fabric, thinly quilted, collared. It is my go to travel vest, particularly as part of my plane outfit. Navy on one side and a lighter white, ecru, navy print on the other. I receive lots of compliments on the print side, which I rarely use because I am a plain clothes person and like to blend most of the time...

I think vests make most people think of skiing or multi pocketed travel. I just wanted to point out a few of the other possibilities. And, my plane outfit vest got me upgraded, IMO, a few years ago.

Posted by
3360 posts

Based on my 1 data point, I'd say that pocketed vests designed for men are not a good solution. The chest measurement is larger than the hip, which sounds great if you are well-endowed up top. But it's not necessarily a good thing because the shape is wrong and the armhole may gap dramatically.

At the hem end, the vest may be too small for a curvy woman. That's what causes the binding at the hem. Regardless of weight, my bust measurement has always been slightly larger than my hip one. But my hips weren't enough smaller to keep the hem binding from happening with the one pocketed travel vest I tried.

The Columbia one you linked is obviously for a man. If you can't go to a store to try them on, be sure to get the garment measurements from the vendor.

For more options than you probably want to see, do a Google Images search for women travel vest. The RFID ones are overkill IMHO and I can't imagine how heavy, crinkly and stiff they probably are. Selling fear, those manufacturers.

Posted by
1395 posts

On the other possibilities front, I notice that for a third of the price of a ScottE-style travel vest we can find a nice sadri, or what in the USA is nicknamed a Nehru vest, which a large part of the human population wears over their kurta or kameez in chilly weather.
I like the look of some sadris in natural fibers, and as long as I stay clear of red states here in North America, I could probably wear one without being beaten or killed.
https://www.snapdeal.com/products/men-ethnic-wear-nehru-jackets/filters/Fabric_s~Woollen?sort=plrty

And a great thing about a sadri, like with a spurran instead of a fanny pack and a jumper instead of a pullover, in postcolonial middle class India they are also known as waistcoats (pronounced 'waskit', in the British manner).

Posted by
1395 posts

Lo, let's keep this forum rated PG !
And I linked to the Columbia vest for a man because that's what I am -
have been one all my life.

Posted by
2548 posts

Whoops, I had no idea. LOL Disregard my input.

Posted by
1395 posts

Wray, I'm sure your comments will be helpful to some readers, no need for any changes in regard.

Posted by
3212 posts

After the vest image this morning I figured out we weren't dealing with a girlie girl...at the very least, but wasn't going to presume. 'They' have a place.
Regardless, sometimes as tourists we will never blend in so if cultural clothing suits you, embrace it...though I found the political sidebar a little distressing. I am guessing it was not without experience. I am sorry about that.
Wear what works for you and is at least respectful if in a more conservative society. If you tend to prefer an overshirt with all its flexibility, then go for what you know. Don't waste precious luggage space with items you think you 'should' pack.

Posted by
3360 posts

Oops! I didn’t know either. Sorry about that.

As a woman who has often bought mens' clothes over the years because of size issues (have long arms) or utility (want bigger pants pockets), a woman linking to a man's vest wouldn't be much of a surprise to me. 🙂

Posted by
2548 posts

Lo, My thought exactly when I saw the man's vest. Through the years, I've owned various men's clothing that just happened to fit better than some women's styles.

Posted by
615 posts

Onslow? “Oh, nice.....” 😂😂

But let us not forget the hero of the string vest, daringly combined with pinstripe suit and plimsolls, Rab C. Nesbitt! As he might put it “See me, right? See me? Fashion icon for scum! Because, I will tell you this boy, I will tell you this....etc., etc.

(I would refer puzzled US readers to You Tube where there are several pieces of ‘Rab’. You may need the subtitles on though....)

Posted by
331 posts

I don't think vests are a generational thing at all... both of my daughters (teen and 20's ages) and their friends wear them all the time. Then again, we live in Vermont.... not exactly a fashion Mecca.

I have tried them off and on over the years when I've gotten them as gifts. And given all of them away eventually. Like Lo, I'm not warm if my arms are cold. But I am someone who is always warm, and I'm usually very happy inside in just a LS shirt. If I need more layers, my arms have come along for the ride or I'm still cold. Ditto for being outside, even when I'm active and moving around.

My daughters, on the other hand, are always cold (I guess genetics has nothing to do with temperature regulation). Vests are a go-to choice for them on top of a LS shirt, or even as an extra layer under a thick fleece sweatshirt.

So, you just have to experiment with what works for you.

Posted by
11779 posts

Onslow: a wee town in Iowa. I have been there. I do not know if any Onslowians wear vests.

Avi, I do like the vest you linked, and in the lighter hues as well although "Grill" is a pretty great color.
Ah, the Nehru jacket... They were not uncommon back in the 60's. The young fella that was my very first official (sort-of) date wore a patterned Nehru jacket; very Beatle-esque at the time!

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/474355773249345095/

Posted by
339 posts

In general, vests help keep your body-core warm, while allowing your arms freedom of movement and ease of breathability. If you're doing some kind of activity such as outside labor, skiing, climbing, Nordic skiing, etc... where you arms are doing the majority of the work, a vest is nice, as you're not completely covered up, you don't over-heat but, you're able to maintain some kind of coverage. For travel, vests allow you to layer, you can match a vest up with a long-sleeve shirt, and look smart and presentable and you're not concerned about packing another jacket. I traveled to Basque Country and wore a down-vest with a thick flannel, it was perfect for evenings out.

Stylistically, vests have increased in popularity; outdoor brands are much more commonly worn then a generation ago; just about every outdoor sportswear brand has vests ranging from fleece, soft-shell or, insulated, just take your pick. As wearing suits has decreased in the workplace, its not unusual amongst the office workplace to wear a dress shirt, stylish denim or, chinos and a vest as the 'work uniform'. Fleece vests such as a sweater-fleece such as Patagonia's Better Sweater Fleece or, The North Face Gordon Lyon's are hugely popular; basic thermal fleece can also be had for very inexpensive costs. Light insulated vests like price-sensitive synthetic or, more premium down vests are more warmth efficient, as their baffle lines can also add a touch of style and visual interest. Soft-shell vests like The North Face Apex Bionic gives some structure over fleece and provides nice wind protection and abrasion resistance.

Posted by
1395 posts

Emma, that 'appalling gilet' Dom is wearing in the photo looks good to me, although I can't see how, when one's budget (for clothes) is limited how that item makes sense when you need a blazer and a coat.

@zcorsair -- you've given me yet another opening, by pointing out that 'outdoor companies' are making in-roads into new markets that would have been outside their consumer base a generation ago, to point out that the utility or performance appeal is a way for them to convince people who wouldn't normally wear synthetics to do so. But every time I bring up this pov, it upsets too many of our fellow travelers, so I won't bring it up now.

Posted by
339 posts

Here's some more food for thought, my father has taken quite a liking to his Ibex's Shak Vest. Since I got it for him almost a decade ago, he's purchased a second and then the company was sold to new ownership, pausing their business and thus the style is no longer available. Hopefully it returns, he's almost worn-out the second....

Its a sharp looking vest, just enough pockets but, using Merino wool, so it has some hand and warmth qualities (soft but, not boiled-wool irritating) the other examples I provided don't. Reputable Merino wool brands like Icebreaker, and Smartwool, along with hunt brands like First Lite and Kuiu have solid wool options to consider.

If you need some humor
https://www.instagram.com/FullyVested.SF/?hl=en

Posted by
11444 posts

I don’t wear or bring vests .
I d rather have a light fleece - if hot it’s easy to take off and tie around waist or shoulders with it’s sleeves .