Commonly vests are seen as part of a three piece suit. The vest matches the suit jacket and pants, which has always been a great look. Recently I have been a big fan of the odd vest, a vest that does not match the suit jacket or pants, but instead is a complimentary piece to the outfit. The origins of utilizing an odd vest in an outfit are quite traditional; as represented in this Lawrence Fellows Esquire illustration. The cream vest with window pane blue/gray suit is quite dignified.
A striking use of the odd vest is with a cream colored vest and a dark suit, navy or gray. That makes the vest really pop with the suit. The picture above from the Sartorialist shows how a cream vest with an otherwise conservative navy suit, tie & shirt really make the outfit both modern and anything but conservative.
The cream vest and striped suit is a fun pairing. The suit, pocket square & tie combo are great and would stand out on their own, but add in a cream vest and the outfit is taken to the next level. As with three piece suits, odd vests help out your figure as well. Vests help by making you look similar, which most of us can always use.
The same look can be accomplished with a V neck sweater or cardigan. The mannequins at Al Bazar show how a complimentary colored cardigan adds depth to an outfit. The off white/light gray cardigan and olive jacket is a nice pairing, but I prefer the light blue cardigan and jacket. The Al Bazar pairing is with a charcoal jacket, but I would opt to try it with a deep Navy jacket. The light blue cardigan would bring out the blue in the Navy and make the outfit colors pop.
The other sweater and jacket combo is from Boggi. The charcoal striped jacket, light gray sweater, medium gray tie and white shirt go from mundane to dignified and memorable just by adding the sweater. The textures of each item are varied and interesting to the eye as well as the colors. This adds depth and interest to a very conservative color combination. Once again the odd vest/sweater updates an outfit making it look modern and stylish.
Odd vests can also be done with darker vests, as represented in the J Crew photo when paired with the light gray tweed jacket. This is a more casual look, but could be dressed up as needed. Notice the Sprezzatura buttoning of the vest, the top button and the bottom two buttons are all undone. If wearing it casually as I did with my Art Gallery outfit, keep the buttons of the vest undone in an artfully disheveled way. For casual attire wear jeans and keep the shirt washed that will help keep the outfit relaxed. Vests can help add formality to an outfit, so you have to be careful how it is pulled off in a casual way so that it exudes the feel you want to promote.
Make sure you add an odd vest to the collection. They are especially great to add to your closet from a sale, as most have lost their jacket pairings already which has caused the prices to be slashed dramatically.