Style Debate: Is It Ever OK To Wear A Gilet?

As autumn kicks in, Esquire's editors debate one of menswear's biggest conundrums

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It’s high time someone spoke up for the gilet minority. This relatively harmless garment has been a soft (and generously padded) target over the years. Haters are large in number and swift to make judgements. Who wants to be ‘the gilet guy’? Even the name is irritating.

True, it hasn’t helped their reputation to be a long time favourite of floppy-haired men with mansion block flats in Fulham who tip their heads back when they laugh.

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And at the same time, a staple of outdoor trekky types who own walking poles and appraise clothing purely on zip count.

It's all true, but don’t blame the item itself.

It’s been a helpless victim of the wider prejudice against sleeveless clothing in general – waistcoats, vests, tank tops. An absence of sleeves has always been a surprisingly divisive sartorial issue.

All these factors have left those of us who secretly like a gilet marginalized, forced to furtively wear them in stolen moments on weekends away, or in the privacy of our own gardens, constantly looking over our heavily quilted shoulders.

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What gilet-haters don’t appear to understand, or perhaps just choose to ignore, is the practicality on offer here.

For a 4-6 week window between October and November (and again in early spring), a gilet can do things few other items of clothing can. Namely keeping you warm but not too warm, regulating your body temperature indoors and out. The wardrobe equivalent of an efficient aircon unit.

To wear a thinner coat doesn’t cut it. To wear a bigger one would leave you bulky and sweating. The much-maligned 'bodywarmer' (get it?) is actually a work of quiet genius.

Like all the best developments in style, it first was born of function. Now, as fashion begins to take sports and tech clothing more seriously than ever before, we could be seeing the gilet having its first moment in the sun.

From sportswear giants to Italian fashion houses, this season brands are offering gilets in every variety you can imagine – wool or nylon, slim-fit or quilted, two-tone or reversible. A well-chosen gilet can also add the final layer to an otherwise dull autumn outfit too - a very easy way to throw a bit of contrast colour and texture into the mix. Try it, you might be surprised once the prejudice subsides. 

As our winters get milder and the gilet-wearing window widens, as more men come out of forced hiding, and as more designers have a crack at the sleeveless jacket, the humble gilet might finally have found its perfect storm. But for that you’re going to need a proper jacket.

– Will Hersey, @willhersey

 

I consider it no coincidence that the worst person I ever met at university wore a gilet every day.

They shared a defining characteristic, this man and his puffed up little waistcoat: both clumsily affected upper class causality while struggling to mask painful uncertainties over who or what they really were.

For the gilet – one of the most heinous items of clothing a grown man can wear – says you lack two things simultaneously: the style to pull off a proper, serious coat and the bravery to face the elements without one altogether, all while trying to fool the world you’re somehow doing both. 

Aside from its built-in identity crisis, as a look, there is something weirdly infantile about gilets, they way they truss you up and tuck you in at the edges. It's an awkward aesthetic that conjures a myriad of unpalatable images.

An out-his-depth football manager tripping over a discarded water bottle.

A frightened child being lowered unwillingly into a kayak.

A member of the landed gentry stiffly surveying a mangled fox corpse.

A teenage girl in 1997 mouthing the words to '2 Become 1’ into pimply ear of a boy with highlights in his hair.

The Michelin Man.

Put simply, the gilet in its many forms – from tailored, posh boy green to overinflated silver or gold chav wear – carries far too much negative baggage to ever find sartorial salvation, I don’t care if it's been embraced by all the fashion houses in the land and worn by the Beckhams from David to Harper Seven.

As for the worst person I ever met, I saw him again recently for the first time in years. He looked older and fatter, but he was still an idiot. I’ll say one thing for the gilet: it doesn’t lie.

– Sam Parker, @samparkercouk

Which way were you swayed? Let us know on Twitter.

What do you think?

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