Ask the Rakish Man: A Belt with a Three-Piece Suit?

Hello everyone, and welcome to The Rakish Man. My name is Léon Philippe and I am here with all the right responses to your sartorial queries. I’ve poured my first glass of Grand Marnier, so let’s get started.

Dear Léon,

I’ve heard that you’re not supposed to wear a belt with a three-piece suit. But I see celebs and models doing it in the fashion mags all the time. What’s your take on this? Is this rule now obsolete or must I never wear a belt with a vest?

-Vested in Virginia

Dear Vested,

Thank you for your query. First of all, never read the fashion mags. They are a corrosive influence on today’s society, lousy with false idols and thoroughly corrupted by their corporate paylords. If you must read something aside from my own scribblings and those of my merry band of fellow bards, then I recommend you supplement with some Bulwer-Lytton or, if you want to indulge your apparent interest in the lives of the depraved, perhaps some Evelyn Waugh.

Now, back to your query. It’s true that some traditions in male clothing are arbitrary and exist only to advertise a familiarity with the arcana of the ruling class. In fact these are some of my favorite traditions. But the injunction against belts with three-piece suits does not belong to that group. This rule has its own raisin d’etre, and I hope it will live a long life yet. But to explain why, we must journey together deep into the anals of menswear history.

When lounge suits were first worn in the last quarter of the 19th century, it was always with a waistcoat. Belts were also near-unheard of; most men wore braces. These two customs buttressed each other, like playing cards arranged into architecture, or sanity and delusion arranged into human psyche - when one fell, the other soon followed.

Wearing braces does not require a vest. In fact I often wear braces without a vest. But once upon a time braces were considered to be underwear, and showing them in public would be tantamount to a woman showing her garter belt. The vest kept the braces hidden from view.

A vest, however, does require braces. The first reason is that trousers worn with a vest must have a fairly high waistband. This is to prevent any shirt from showing below the vest, which is a sight often seen but never welcome. Braces are much better at keeping the trousers high than a belt, which must be constantly cinched and yanked at in order to function.

But even should you sir-mount this obstacle, you have another waiting for you. As I said, when worn properly, the vest should cover the belt. But belts are bulky, and therefore produce a bulge at the midsection, and no gentleman would ever produce a bulge at the midsection.

I admire your allegiance to the three-piece suit, Vested. There are few of us that remain. But now, in its final days, let us remember the three-piece suit at its finest, when it was worn without a belt.

By the by, since you won’t be needing those fashion mags anymore, please forward to me any editions featuring Rooney Mara, Uma Thurman, or especially any kind of Sigourney Weaver retrospectives.

I remain, Sir, your faithful and obedient servant, etc etc


Ed. note: If you have a query for The Rakish Man, please send an email to david at nomanwalksalone  dot com and I will make sure he sees it.  

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