Investment Dressing

July 30, 1992|By Suzin Boddiford | Suzin Boddiford,Contributing Writer

What item of clothing has nine lives, can be worn all year round, and looks just as good on your mate as it does on you? Why a vest -- of course. Everyone is buttoning on vests more than ever this fall, for an easy, recession-proof wardrobe update that makes sense.

There seems to be no limitation on their versatility. Wear them now, unbuttoned over a T-shirt and shorts for a polished weekend look, or buttoned up as a shirt substitute either alone or underneath a summer jacket. As the weather cools, layer them under and over almost anything in your wardrobe and watch the metamorphosis unfold.

Especially during transitional months when it's still too warm for a lot of layers, a vest in a seasonless fabric like cotton, silk or rayon blends offers a comfortable and stylish alternative to a jacket, but still gives the feeling of that third piece for a more finished look, says Heather Femia, regional fashion director for Nordstrom.

In womenswear, the floral print vests of summer have given way to menswear-inspired suiting fabrics and tie patterns, dressier brocades, Western suedes and urban leather versions for fall. Whatever the mood, a white shirt either tailored, sheer, or ruffled, provides the smartest accompaniment. Particularly as part of the menswear influence, with dapper dames opting for spread-collar white shirts and neckties to ground banker pinstripes. Ralph Lauren, who revived the feminized menswear look this past spring, continued to show fitted vests as a key component throughout his fall collection -- even stretching them into vest-dresses in menswear suitings and leather.

With the sudden drop in hemlines this season, so too have vests lengthened to proportion the new long and lean silhouette. Nordstrom's Ms. Femia favors the longer vests for evening. "That -- when worn buttoned-up with a sheer blouse or just bare for evening, with ropes of pearls at the neck, a luxurious pant and a strappy heel -- offers a chic substitute for the perennial cocktail dress," she says. Tina Sutton, national fashion consultant for Hit Or Miss stores, is quick to point out that longer vests are great for camouflaging figure flaws by visually lengthening the torso -- thereby creating a leaner line.

Donna Karan prefers her hip-length vests cinched at the waist with wide tonal belts, while Calvin Klein offers vests as part of his fall layering package, worn over cardigan-like jackets as well as tucked into long skirts.

More than just a layering tool, vests provide an interesting texture and pattern play to spice up boring basics. One of the most innovative local offerings can be found at the Ruth Shaw boutique in Cross Keys, where a bold colored silk fish print with ventilated fishnet backing and lures for buttons reels in at just under $200. For a lighter catch, Lerner stores offer a long feminine, crocheted vest in an assortment of colors for $44. Cignal carries a variety of vest styles from a long pinstripe one to a lacy version for $69. It also offers several rayon print novelties that are not only seasonless, but for unisex wearing as well -- in everything from zip-front stripes to checks, plaids and funky bold prints. The Limited offers a haber--ery of classic menswear shapes with novelty detailing such as attached fob chains, contrasting buttons, charms and fabric patches from $46 to $69. Lane Bryant also sells a snappy group of vests from cotton embroidered florals to Western and folklore styles, in sizes 14-28.

Vests no longer remain just for stuffed shirts. The return of the vest in menswear is credited to the new generation of men who are just discovering the appeal of the layered look. even though industry experts are touting the return of the three-piece suit -- the vest often stands alone in a more relaxed mode. Remove that stodgy old vest from underneath that suit to layer with a print shirt and sport coat, or toss over a mock turtleneck and jeans. Button-front knit vests in rich muted tones are the quintessential accent for layering. The newest way to wear them to math the color or fabric to the shirt and jacket.

Novelty and value

"The is a big influence right now with novelty geometric print vests with contrasting front panels that have filtered down from rock stars and late night talk show hosts like Arsenio Hall and Dennis Miller," says Arnold Borenstein, owner of Eclectic in the Gallery at Harborplace. "My customers are looking for value -- they want to buy a good vest that can be worn under formal wear as well as suits for the office or blazers with jeans on the weekend," says Mr. Borenstein. He recommends full silks with tie backs and unusual closures inspired by country gentlemen to bold graphic prints.

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