Consider the humble denim vest -- or gilet, depending on what country you live in and/or your propensity for using French words in everyday conversation -- and its multifacted social importance.
The denim vest I’m talking about here is basically a jean jacket with the sleeves taken off -- the original all-American denim vest. A denim vest properly worn tells the world many things about its wearer, among them, that she is like so totally over your narrow-minded authoritative establishment, maaan, and sleeves are tools of the oppression and we don’t care that it’s summer, we still want to wear something jacketlike and unbuttoned (ALWAYS UNBUTTONED) that won’t make us too hot. DENIM VEST.
To be clear, I’m taking inspiration less from Selena Gomez in a denim vest, and more from actual craggy old biker dudes in denim vests, possibly mixed a bit with Lady Gaga walking around with no pants and a denim vest, because frankly that’s my end goal. I’m after a vest that looks at least a little bit tough, ideally tough enough that pants can be an afterthought. A vest where you don’t even notice what’s going on from the waist down. A vest that says YEAH, MY ARMS ARE TOO AWESOME TO BE CONTAINED BY SLEEVES, DO YOU HAVE ANY OBSERVATIONS TO MAKE ABOUT THAT? BECAUSE YOU CAN JUST STOP LEST MY DENIM VEST LEAP OFF MY BODY AND KICK YOUR ASS.
My denim vest obsession began roughly two months ago, and in that time I have scoured the internet far and wide, an intrepid explorer in search of fatass-friendly denim vestage. And now I have returned, to show you all I have discovered in my travels: PREPARE YOURSELF for Denim Vest Exposition 2013.
ModCloth’s basic washed-denim entry into the denim vest sweepstakes is as quintessential as they come. God, they even pre-frayed the armholes for you so you can look like the kind of person who mutilates your clothing YOURSELF because you’re just that kind of devil-may-care broad. This is the toughest of the tough vests, the one that begs for a seemingly-random-but-really-carefully-chosen smattering of buttons on one pocket, or maybe even a back patch. I knew I was keeping all those weird post-punk band t-shirts I wore in the 90s for a reason.
Even Emily has this one, which gives it extra cool-girl power.
So what do you wear this with? The best thing IN THE WORLD to wear with a denim vest is a white t-shirt. This is a rare Universal Truth amongst all those annoying and arbitrary style rules.
Better than that, it is MAGIC. I don’t care who you are, how dumpy, frumpy, ugly or gross you think you look on a day-to-day basis, if you throw on a denim vest over a white t-shirt you will immediately look like a badass whose hotness RIVALS THE VERY SUN.
Aside from that, you can wear basically anything with it. I would double down on the bad bitch vibe, myself, by pairing it with Domino Dollhouse’s limited edition skull bandana print dress.
But you could also wear it with your vintage Laura Ashley frock and it’s gonna look awesome. A denim vest is basically like frosting on a cupcake; you can eat the cake without it, and it’s still pretty good, but WITH FROSTING IS ALWAYS BETTER.
THE WHITE WHALE
I used to fear all white clothing, because I am a mess and I fall down a lot and drop things, and if you put liquid in front of me I will probably spill it, but eventually I just sort of accepted the reality that clothes can be washed and bleach exists, and fear of spots is no reason to go about my life avoiding white clothing.
I think of the white denim vest as the more formal sister to the classic stonewashed denim version. Like the kind of denim vest you could wear to a wedding, or a job interview, or to meet the Queen. Chuck it on over a lace dress and you’re ready to catch a bouquet or negotiate a higher salary or curtsey or whatever.
Oh hey a lace dress just appeared! How convenient. What next?
THE ACID BURN
I can always count on Forever 21’s plus size section to offer the most fleeting trends in a size just slightly too small for me to buy it, but it should work for some of you, and for real, you need an acid wash denim vest. No really, you do.
I was looking at a back-to-school catalog from Target over the weekend and feeling really decrepit because everything the tweener kids are wearing in it is stuff I totally wore as a tweener, even though we didn’t have that word yet, and I remember my mom always saying that styles come around again, and I keep saying that myself now. And when I had that phase where I was obsessed with little jewel-neck sweaters and poodle skirts, she was all head-shaking and knowing and I thought she was OLDER THAN THE COSMIC DUST FROM WHICH THE SOLAR SYSTEM DERIVED ITS EARLY SUBSTANCE.
Yet here I am, looking at an acid wash denim vest and remembering when acid wash was a BRAND NEW garment treatment, and wondering if it's true that if you’re old enough to have worn the thing the first time it was in style, you probably shouldn’t wear it when it comes back the second time?
I’m not going to try it, but if I DID, I’d wear it with this rainbow zebra top from ASOS Curve (purchased at least two sizes too big -- I mean it’d be ideal if it was both oversized and tunic-length so I could wear it as a minidress, but we don’t always get what we want) and black leggings and little ankle granny boots and just Lisa-Frank shit up in here.
THE SWEET THING
I ordered this particular denim vest with a lace yoke inset from ASOS a couple weeks ago, and if I said I was obsessed with it, that would be a laughable understatement, especially considering that last night I realized I had worn it four times in the past five days. And like, didn’t even realize I had done so.
I love this one because the fit is boxy without being overwhelming -- although I’ll admit when I first opened it up I was all WHAT, THIS THING IS HUGE because I was expecting something a little more shrunken.
I’m glad to be wrong, though. I also really dig the crocheted lacey bit, as it makes it lighter across the shoulders -- a nice perk in summer warmth -- but combined with the boxier fit it also looks kind of vintage-y, a little softer. Like if someone picks a fight with you while you’re wearing it, they’re more likely to expect you to eviscerate them emotionally, rather than physically beat them with a chain or something. Y'know, it’s more FEMININE.
I have been wearing mine with basically everything in my dress-heavy retro-flavored wardrobe, but if I was buying something new for it (AND I’M NOT) I would go with this only slightly tweeful yellow dress from ModCloth, dotted with ladybugs and four-leaf-clovers, because awwww.
So right now you’re all AAAAHHHH NO PINK DENIM EVERRRR Mommie-Dearest-style, but wait. You need to look at this pink denim vest not as a finished garment, but as a blank canvas -- an unfertilized ovum, if you will. Yeah, it looks like nothing special here but that’s because you need to FERTILIZE IT, and get all up in it and RUB IT WITH METAPHORICAL FASHION SPERM.
Like, run it over with your car! Then put it on your dog and take your dog to the muddiest park you know on a rainy day. Then take it away from your dog and wash it sixteen or seventeen times. Maybe spill some bleach on it. Chew on it, or ask your dog to chew on it, or if you have a cat, maybe instruct the cat very carefully that you don’t want the cat to chew on it, so the cat will then immediately chew on it (but try not to think about the fact that you want the cat to do the opposite of what you say, because the cat will know, somehow).
To be fair, there are probably simpler ways to DIY-distress your denim -- I know some folks use sandpaper for it -- but this seems more REAL and I’m all about reality in my sleeveless outerwear, y’all.
Once this abuse is done, you want to embellish your broken garment. Add some pins (Etsy has cute cheap stuff that won’t break your heart if it falls off and gets lost) or stitch scraps of lace or ribbons or feathers or random fabric to it, or make some freaking epaulets because you are the EMPEROR OF FASHION now.
THEN WHAT? Wear it with a Beetlejuice dress, yo. I know, I know, I’m the smartest person you’ve ever met, right?
What else can you do with a denim vest? Lots of people seem to wear them with maxi dresses, and although I generally don’t think maxi dresses should be worn, you do you. A more fun option may include forming a denim vest girl gang and loitering outside the 7-11 drinking Slurpees and looking hot. Our own Kate Conway suggested that by pairing the denim vest with jorts, one can fashion a “Canadian bikini” but I’m just going to take her word on that.
So, friends, it's time to pick a side: DENIM VESTS. Are you in or are you out?