A Guide To Gilets - The Autumn Essential
It’s that strange time of year where the British weather can be as changeable as our Prime Ministers. As the clocks go back, the mercury will inevitably plummet in due course, but at present it’s not as simple as just reaching for the heavy winter jacket.
We’ve all been there - you look out the window before you head out and the sun is shining, as you turn the key in the lock and set off on your travails you’re pretty smug in your sweatshirt and slacks. By the time you’re a few hundred meters down the road greyness rapidly descends, the heavens open and you look less cool cat and more drowned rat.
Or worse still, you’re having a great time a few beers down outside your local before sunset arrives and the shivers set in. Your fingers numbing against that icy, once refreshing beer. You wish that the airy cotton covering your torso could be replaced by polar bear fur.
Step forward the underrated king of layering flexibility; the humble gilet. Over a tee on a sunny and breezy afternoon or beneath an overcoat on frosty mornings, the gilet is a must have item for this time unpredictable time of year.
Once thought of as a garment for the ageing farmer, the salty trawler man or the soldier on the battlefield, it was hardly an item of choice for the fashion-savvy. However, the past few years have seen all of this change, with everyone from rappers to bankers rocking vests. Here we take a look at a few of the different styles and how to wear them.
The Canvas Gilet
One company has been key to taking the canvas vest from functional workwear to a casual wear classic; of course that’s Detroit-based super brand Carhartt.
Their original workwear label created the sturdy and hardwearing item with tradesmen in mind, and their fashion forward sub brand Carhartt WIP (Work In Progress) made some subtle adjustments to make it more at home on the street. Thankfully, the top drawer workmanship remains.
It’s brilliant in its simplicity - constructed in rigid 12 oz. organic cotton canvas that softens with age with a quilted interior, a ribbed collar, two slide-in pockets to keep your mitts warm and a simple woven patch with the iconic “C” branding. Perfect.
Initially available in their core black, navy and their own Hamilton brown, you can now pick up one of these surprisingly warm fellas in a host of colours that change season by season.
They’re primarily thought of as a streetwear item so go really well with hoodies, baggy pants or jeans and crisp white trainers. For the same reason they don’t tend to team so well with smarter looks, like heading to the office or a suave restaurant.
The Wadded Gilet
This could well be the style of gilet who’s target market has changed the most in recent times. Originally mainly produced by heritage country favourites such as Lavenham and Barbour, they’ve now become a firm favourite for urbanites too.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take long for more modern brands to catch onto this new market. Everyone from London-based favourites Folk to Uniqlo, the Japanese hallmark of reasonably priced basics, are now producing popular iterations of this classic item.
They’re padded with everything from synthetic materials to down and in diamond or linear designs. They range from a lightweight additional layer to thick, alpine trek ready gear from the likes of North Face or Canada Goose.
Depending on which style you go for, these can be suitable for almost any outfit and usage. For example, opt for a smart navy or black one in a thinner density to go over a shirt and under a car coat for the office or a chunky puffer-style one as a standalone piece for the colder months.
The Utility Vest
These are the ones that were initially designed for the military market. They tend to be made in a thinner, more flexible fabric than the quilted versions and have numerous pockets for keeping various kit safe.
For these reasons they have since become a firm favourite of adventure brands such as Nike ACG (All Conditions Gear) and Snow Peak. Because these brands now have a larger mainstream following (often referred to as gorp core) you’ll be as likely to see them on the streets of South London as the Scottish Highlands.
Again, these are a harder style to adopt in more formal environments, but work really well with a range of casual outfits including jeans and sweats. Obviously, they also look great when worn with other outdoorsy items such as cargo pants and hiking boots too.
The Waistcoat Gilet
Waistcoats have been worn by the well-heeled for generations. Historically, they were commonly worn as part of a sharp three piece suit, and still often are for formal occasions.
However, these beauties can now also be found in a more casual guise. Often still made of more traditional materials such as wool or tweed, these modern versions seem to take inspiration from vintage workwear.
Commonly the zips associated with most other types of gilet are replaced with buttons, and the pockets tend to be more prominently positioned on the front of the garment rather than concealed at the side. Modern day workwear brands such as Universal Works and Sir Plus offer a great range.
These type of gilets tend to work best when teamed with a workwear inspired outfit, loose chinos and overshirts are good options. They can also work really well with smart casual outfits based around loose tailoring such as unstructured blazers and pleated trousers, ideal for an evening wedding invite or a less formal meeting.
The Fleece Gilet
Another design that, until more recent times, was frequently associated with the rural farming community is the fleece gilet.
Whilst not being ideally suited to wet conditions, some of these can offer surprisingly good warming and insulating properties.
Originally largely seen in block colours, fleece gilets are now available in a range of different thicknesses, piles and patterns. Some eye catching check and tartan styles have been gaining popularity over the past few years.
They work well as a stand alone item when worn casually over a long sleeve tee, sweatshirt or hoodie, and add texture and density to an outfit. Some of the chunkier styles give a rugged, outdoorsy vibe.