Gilets: A Timeless Trend

Gilet Jacket

There are only a very select few garments that have reached the status of “fashion icon” – the little black dress, the Chelsea boot, the pencil skirt, the skinny jeans, and finally a timeless piece of clothing that can be worn with all of these, the gilet. Of all these fashion icons, it is perhaps the gilet, that has been a staple fashion item for the longest, with a history dating back hundreds of years.

The History of the Gilet

You can trace the history of the gilet all the way back the 15th century, to the jerkin, a sleeveless leather jacket favoured by peasants, as they allowed plenty of freedom of movement, whilst also keeping the wearer warm. It is these two functions that continue to make the gilet a popular wardrobe staple to this day.

Henry VIII
Henry VIII wearing a gilet over a bodysuit

The aristocracy picked up on the versatility and style of the gilet in the 16th century and began to embrace a padded jerkin, worn over a highly decorated bodysuit, with voluminous pantaloons and hose. You will probably best recognise the look on portraits of Henry VIII, proudly showing off his barrel chest and impressive size.

When the 17th century rolled around the padded gilet was a functional favourite of the land worker. The practicality of the padded waistcoat was perfect for long days working in the fields.

Dr Samuel Johnson
English writer Dr. Johnson in his gilet waistcoat

By this point, the aristocracy was favouring a tailored waistcoat as it became a key piece of everyday wear. Women embraced the gilet for the first time in the 18th century, wearing quilted silk waistcoats over their gorgeous hooped dresses.

In the 19th century, the quilted gilet was a favourite of the landed gentry and the workers on their estate, being a functional garment for fishing, hunting, and other outdoor pursuits. It was the early 20th century when the gilet reached its peak functionality as part of the uniform of soldiers in combat in the First World War. Layers of silk were covered in steel plates to protect those heading bravely into battle.

The Gilet Today

Over the gilet’s long history it has shown such versatility – from royalty to the battlefield, to the gentry of the early 20th century to the girl band members of the noughties. It is certainly in the last 20 years where the gilet has come into its own as a fashion icon. Before then it tended to be an item of clothing favoured by those living in the countryside, being ideally suited to a country lifestyle. Warm woollen fabrics were (and are) perfect for the wet and wild weather of the open countryside. The sleeveless design provides ventilation to keep the wearer cool through strenuous outdoor activities – such as a long country hike, or a day working on the farm.

Jawaharlal Nehru
First prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru the inspiration for the Nehru Jacket

With new and exciting fabrics and innovative cuts, in the 21st century, the gilet became a firm favourite to those of all ages and with all lifestyles. No longer was it reserved for county living, the gilet is now also ideal for city living. This is because it still has those two factors that make it so desirable – providing warmth where it counts, and of course, such great freedom of movement. Invest in a gilet and you will soon see that it is a staple piece that works will almost any item in your wardrobe.

Clean lines make the gilet ideal for formal wear, perfect for teaming with a stylish skirt or sharp tailoring for any special occasion. The classic sleeveless jacket is also a great piece of casual wear. Team with a pair of well-fitting jeans, boots and a simple white tee for an effortless outfit perfect for a day in the country or the city. When the warmer weather comes round, a tailored gilet will look fantastic with a floaty summer dress or a tailored pair of shorts.

But, that is not all. The gilet is also a great piece of active wear. Comfortable and durable fabrics mean that they can withstand the most strenuous of outdoor activities and ideal for layering allowing the you to achieve the right body climate.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg with Indian prime minister Narendra Modi in his gilet jacket.

The Nehru collar Darzi gilets are inspired from the Indian Nehru collar and are durable, functional, oh so stylish, and definitely honours the fashion icon reputation of its predecessors. Embracing a bold colour palette, a contemporary cut, and interesting design details like horn buttons and contrasting pockets, has made the Darzi gilet simply timeless.

Whether you choose a classically tailored tweed gilet to protect against the chill or a lightweight linen waistcoat to keep you cool in the summer, the outfits you can team it with are endless. The gilet really is a timeless fashion icon that will always be on trend.