Cult item: gilet
By Tayler Willson, 14 April 2016
It’s high time someone spoke up for the gilet minority. This relatively harmless garment has been a soft target over the years. Haters are large in number and swift to make judgements. Now, in a time where layering is everywhere and Britain’s weather is still as temperamental as ever, it’s been given a second chance – another bite at that tough menswear cherry – which is actually a good thing.
In 18th and 19th century European aristocratic circles, the gilet was known as a sort of fitted, decorative waistcoat – a distant relative of the more practical padded jerkin worn by the labouring classes. The sleeveless style remained popular with the landed gentry in the 20th century, now adapted with pockets and quilting for keeping warm during outdoor pursuits. In the late 70s, Barbour launched a version of the gilet, while a few years later, on the other side of the Atlantic, San Franciscan mountaineering gear brand Class 5 produced a down-stuffed, burnt orange take that would become an icon on the unlikely shoulders of a time-travelling high-schooler.
Now, it’s 2016’s ultimate transitional garment. Whether used as a middle or top layer, it works with almost anything. But why’s the gilet making a return? Why and how has it become acceptable to wear something that was previously associated with stomping around the grounds of country piles (and/or defying the laws of time and space in a Delorean)? From streetwear giants to Paris fashion houses, from grime king Skepta to actual royalty, the gilet’s being increasingly seen in all walks of life. As fashion begins to take sports-inspired clothing more seriously than ever before, the gilet’s having its moment in the sun.
The gilet’s USP is its ability to keep you warm without adding unnecessary bulk. A lightly padded, down-filled version is ideal to slip between a shirt and jacket (or over the top of knitwear, a button-down or even a T-shirt), offering versatility few items can match. But before you invest, have a think about the look you’re going for. Heritage materials, like tweed, wax, cord or wool, have a slightly more relaxed feel and work particularly well as a top layer, especially when paired with other outdoorsy gear. A neutral padded version in black, grey, navy or olive green, meanwhile, is easily combined with casualwear at the weekend or smartened up during the week.
With the weather getting milder and more designers than ever having a crack at the sleeveless jacket – from the retro shearling Saint Laurent number favoured by Harry Styles to the future-utilitarian Craig Green interpretation championed by noted aficionado Drake – the humble gilet might finally have found a perfect storm. But you’ll probably need a proper jacket for that, mind.