Vested interest: Southgate leads England in sartorial style
MOSCOW (AP) — Gareth Southgate may do for the vest what Britain’s future King Edward VII did for the tuxedo.
Bereft of suit jacket, the England coach walks the sidelines at the World Cup in navy trousers and waistcoat — referred to as vests outside of Britain — with a light blue shirt and a red, white and blue striped silk tie, instantly recognizable in a profession where casual has become common.
“He has the potential to contribute significantly to the repopularizing of the three-piece or vested suit,” said Simon Doonan, creative ambassador-at-large for Barneys New York and author of “Soccer Style: The Magic and Madness.”
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was known for puffy down jackets that extended below his knees. Germany’s Joachim Loew prefers dark Hugo Boss shirts and pants, sometimes with white sneakers. Jurgen Klinsmann wore a polo shirt and track suit while coaching the United States.
Southgate, a 47-year-old former English national team midfielder and defender, has brought dapper duds to the forefront in matches viewed around the globe, making sure, at least sartorially, his team isn’t left hanging by a thread.
“Managing the England football team is a serious business, and Gareth Southgate has dressed for the part,” Richard James, founder of the new bespoke movement on London’s Savile Row, said ahead of England’s quarterfinal against Sweden on Saturday. “There’s something very determined about waistcoats. We wear them for weddings and the sort of meetings and work occasions when a regular two-piece suits lacks sufficient gravitas. Waistcoats are statement pieces and they command immediate respect.”
Charles II, King of England, Scotland and Ireland, is credited for the introduction of waistcoats to his court on Oct. 7, 1666, according to diarists John Evelyn and Samuel Pepys.
“Charles’ motives in launching it were probably mixed,” Diana De Marly wrote in a 1974 essay in The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. “England and France being at war, an anti-French gesture may have seemed appropriate.”
Waistcoats back then were often of bright colors. Beau Brummell is credited with the simplification of the three-piece suit and the start of dandyism in the late 1790s and early 1800s.
Vests started disappearing in the 1980s, when the two-piece suit and Gordon Gekko-style braces — a.k.a. suspenders — were in vogue across New York’s Wall Street and the City of London.
“Wearing a three-piece requires more effort and expense. It can also seem a little pompous,” Doonan said. “In recent years guys have preferred the simple skinny mod suit.”
White tie-and-tails was the required evening dress before Savile Row’s Henry Poole & Co. created a dinner jacket without tails in 1865 for the Prince of Wales, later the king. The garment became known as the tuxedo in 1886 when it was worn at the Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, New York.
Fashion may pivot again if England wins three more matches.
“Southgate is a good-looking bloke who, if he brings home the bacon, will become a British icon,” Doonan said. “Not all men will start wearing three-piece suits, but if they have been toying with the notion, then Southgate may just push them over the edge.”
Southgate isn’t sparking a comeback as much as joining a trend that already had begun. Fox’s “The Simpsons” in 1995 featured Mr. Burns singing “See My Vest,” a parody of “Be Our Guest” from “Beauty and the Beast,” but waistcoats waited decades for their return. They were aplenty among the morning suits worn during the May wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
“It has been getting a rise in popularity without Gareth,” said Gresham Blake, a tailor and designer based in Brighton, England. “We used to make say for every eight suits — this is off the peg — we’d make two waistcoats, but now for every eight suits we make six waistcoats. People want to look a bit smarter. And also I think people like Gareth, they like to have the option of not wearing a jacket, because you can still look smart when you go to a meeting if you’re wearing a waistcoat. But no one looks smart with just a shirt and tie and trousers. A waistcoat just finishes it off, especially if you’ve got a little bit of a belly.”
Plus it has the advantage of added warmth in colder climes.
Marks & Spencer, which supplies and sells the official England team suit, described the outfit as of 100 percent merino wool woven in Britain by Alfred Brown, finished with a soccer-inspired Jacquard lining and a button with a gold star commemorating England’s 1966 World Cup title. Marks & Spencer says its vest sales have increased by 35 percent since Southgate started removing his jacket.
“I’m slightly concerned, because as a center-half that took a lot of knocks to the head, I’m not normally synonymous with fashion icon,” Southgate told a BBC podcast. “I know my strengths, and I know I’m no David Beckham, so it just shows anything is possible in life.”
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