Tedious Trend Two: Waistcoats and their Ilk

Too many photos, too little time…This post should have appeared a while back, but life has been filled with travel and tasks demanding completion. But now we can finally turn to this vital subject…tedious trends in Beijing.

Notice the number of waistcoatish things on the street over the last five months? It was some kind of virus. From April to September, the number of men and women sporting them grew exponentially, by the day, and so did the types of waistcoats. Starting out, it was the usual trendy kids, but pretty soon peasants, cleaning ladies, mothers and engineering students had caught on. The trend goes back to the runway, but in New York and presumably Paris and London, it has not gained the sort of traction that it has in Beijing. On my last trip to NYC, I only saw a few ultra-Eurotrashy trophy wives, tramps, and sidewalk hawkers sporting casual waistcoaty things. Maybe fall will bring more, but in Beijing this summer, it was everyone…

1. This attractive young lady might be described as the “typical” waistcoat wearer. She is packing just as many current trends into her outfit as she has accessories and articles of clothing. The big LV bag – Asia’s emblem of class and sophistication – the camo print belt, the stacked, skinny jeans, and of course the casual waistcoat – place this pretty thing firmly in this moment. The color and soft construction of the well-fitting waistcoat put her look well above the pics you are about to witness though. The outfit may be tedious and prettiness is not enough to win a devoted entry on Stylites, but the hand obscuring the face is intriguing. One cannot deny this fact.

2. This rather confusing pleather version has much going on. Wearing waistcoats and plain tees must be breaking some kind of sartorial rule, but I suppose bikers wear leather ones all the time. This has the lapels from a more formal waistcoat one might wear under a morning coat to a wedding (though I would choose double-breasted and maybe shawl lapels). It also has metal buttons and some kind of bow activity on the right. One thinks that the expression and elaborate earring succeed in dressing down the ambiguous waistcoat, though the nametag suggests that the pieces might have a vague functionality.

3. As if pleather was not enough, some more esoteric chemicals had to be introduced. Perhaps this one is made from melamine? Like the first girl, this more aggressive female chose to wear a tee with a face under her skimpy waistcoat. Note the chain closure. The question one might ask here is whether this thirty plus women is of a lower economic level or merely older, tougher, and more oblivious. She might be from the Northeast, a region ever associated with tough broads.

4. Skimpy sparkling waistcoats were a very serious sub-trend. This young lady was wandering around glittering Sanlitun Village with her beau for the better part of an afternoon. I know because I was wandering too. It appeared from the absence of shopping bags that “American Express” was merely on her chest, and not in her pocket. Or maybe she meant to make some odd statement about the value of certain parts now that milk formula must be imported?

5. Materials other than polyeruthene and silicone monomer can also be used to make tasteful and stylish waistcoats. Denim was generally (or thankfully?) less common. Which demographic might be associated with denim waistcoats in the West? I haven’t explored Middle America, so I genuinely don’t know. Is it the same people who wear cut-off denim shorts?

6. One must remember that, in the final analysis, waistcoats are about exhibiting one’s fine taste. An ordinary Zhou would just wear the tee-shirt; adding a waistcoat shows taste and flair. Over the last couple years, I have noticed pursuit of taste become much more widespread, everywhere. We used to pursue “cool” and “rad” and now it is “taste” and “style” (or did I just grow up?). Blatant indicators of status are often relegated to consumers less accustomed to life in the big city such as this hairdresser from Henan. The bag is real and he bought it abroad. The waistcoat has a light blue check. In fact, waistcoats of more traditional colors, almost always matching the fabric of the suit, only become de rigeur in the nineteenth century. Before that, it was quite normal to wear them in colors or patterns that contrasted with the rest of an outfit.

7. And here on this gender neutral fashionista striding down Wangfujing is another waistcoat with lapels, this time with black piping. This ensemble seems more interesting with blacks working together in contrast to the gray and the orange mullet-type hairdo topping it off. Most waistcoats were black but light gray and white were other major colors. Considering the playful and casual way in which the garments are worn, it was surprising that there weren’t more patterns and bright colors. It would be nice to see more tartan or at least houndstooth in the waistcoats for next summer.

8. Like many above, this might be more of a “vest thingy” than a piece of attire than can be properly termed a “waistcoat” but it does allude to formal dress. These lower buttoning waistcoats demand a shirt with ruffles. I would love to see young ladies in Beijing clad in some casual version of male evening wear – if it were done properly and by the right person. That is actually kind of hard to imagine. The make up and hair would have to be done right as would the personality and background.

9. Here is a low buttoning one paired with pea coat and tee-shirt. I think he is on the right track but the toughness of the tee and the militaristic coat don’t exactly jibe with a waistcoat that seems delicate and could almost be out of evening wear. I’m trying to think of what kind of waistcoat would be better in this case.

10. In the low button stance category, there were also double-breasted examples like this, always worn undone by women. I’m fond of the idea of double-breasted waistcoats buttoned under a suit and with lapels of some kind. I haven’t gotten around to making a suit with this though.

11. In addition to the low buttoning coats, there are the single-button ones like this that seem to hit right at the natural waist. Could this work for a man if it were made a little longer, but keeping the single button?

12. Here is another breed of waistcoat for men on the move. These are the practical fellows that get things done and need a cover that can stand a beating from a hard day’s work and the elements, a perpetual nuisance in Beijing even if the government controls when they appear. These pieces are made of rugged materials and often have pockets and other details that speak to their utilitarian nature.

13. These are for hip guys who know where they are going, generally either to design something on a screen or sell a pair of special edition converses or an ipod.

14. The rugged type of waistcoat also fits college students on safaris through this miasma of a city where a sandstorm or black Audi can hit at any moment.

15. But when it comes to a man for whom wearing a modernized waistcoat really does seem appropriate, this magician must be the one. The waistcoat alludes to both performance and service. A costumey example like this seems just right for doing card tricks at a birthday party.

16. In the end, waistcoats might be best suited for the tough life of a mother. She can go to battle, embracing all of her responsibilities, comfortable in the knowledge that she is properly armored.

It seems there are no photos of the backs of these waistcoats. Too bad. In general, the women’s featured either buckles or a knot and an open back. The men’s tended to have an unadorned back – just fabric with no fastening devices.

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