On Saturday, England plays for third place in the World Cup. But while its dreams of ultimate glory may have ended after a loss to Croatia, the team remains heroes to those at home, not to mention the fans who will fill the stands at the St. Petersburg Stadium wearing their support — not on their sleeves, exactly. More like over their stomachs.
Thanks to Gareth Southgate, the team’s manager, the waistcoat has become the unexpected symbol of England’s unexpected success; a totem of the power of a dream; and evidence that dedication and belief can unite not just a team, but also a country.
Over the last month, Mr. Southgate has raced along the sidelines, hugging his players and whispering in their ears in neatly tailored navy trousers; a matching vest buttoned all the way down; a blue shirt; a blue, red and white striped tie; and black lace-ups. But it is the waistcoat, freed from the shadow of the jacket, that has caught the eye of the watching world. And it has elevated Mr. Southgate to icon status not just in the eyes of the soccer establishment, but also the fashion world.
He has almost single-handedly returned the third wheel of the three-piece suit to the spotlight, inspiring men all over his home country to adopt the style, causing sales to skyrocket and even getting hashtags — #waistcoatwednesday, #waistcoatsaturday — that connected the garment to the game.
And that is just the beginning.
British Airways has been handing out Southgate-inspired waistcoats to travelers flying from London to Moscow who want to show their national spirit.
According to the global fashion search platform Lyst, British searches for waistcoats have increased by 41 percent since the start of the World Cup. And this week searches were up 210 percent over the same period last year, with the most viewed color being Mr. Southgate’s chosen navy.
A spokeswoman for Marks & Spencer, the official tailor to the English team since 2007, reported that sales of waistcoats have doubled since the World Cup began. And Marks & Spencer is not the only name benefiting from the phenomenon; the most viewed brands on Lyst when it comes to waistcoat searches are Ted Baker, Reiss and Thom Sweeney.
Both the Museum of London and the National Football Museum in Manchester have declared their desire to acquire Mr. Southgate’s waistcoat and officially enshrine it as a cultural artifact.
And, for those wondering how best to do waistcoat style, there has been a spike in online advice columns addressing the issue.
It’s a fair question, after all, given its illustrious heritage, from King Charles II to Steve McQueen and, more recently, Justin Timberlake and Adam Levine in their dandy phases, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship star and vest lover Conor McGregor.
Yet the waistcoat is still generally seen as a niche men’s wear item. Perhaps because, as Capitol FM, a radio station in Britain wrote of Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Levine, the risk is being “mistaken for their grandpa.”
Not any more, apparently. Now it’s a clear sign of Southgate support and national pride. Fans have posted pictures of themselves on social media in their waistcoats.
It makes sense that the World Cup would yield a major fashion moment. Soccer has long been one of the most sartorially advanced sports, its teams known for their relationships with designers.
The Italian team has been outfitted off-pitch over the years by Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Ermanno Scervino. Armani also worked with the English team, as has Paul Smith. Hugo Boss has teamed up with the Germans, and Dunhill with the Japanese.
Soccer has given the world style setters including David Beckham, Aaron Ramsey and Graziano Pellè, to name a few. And its coaches have usually been dressed for success (aside, perhaps, from Arsène Wenger in his giant Arsenal puffer coat).
Yet Mr. Southgate, who in his playing days was known for his plaid shirts and somewhat dorky fashion choices (see his too-big beige wedding suit in 1997), has not been billed as one of the men to watch.
As he admitted in a BBC interview, “If you had said to the players when I started at Crystal Palace that I was going to be upheld as the sartorial model for the country, you’d have been hooted out of the training ground.”
Still, he may not be as naïve as he suggests. He has clearly learned something about the power of a signature look, judging by the unrelenting consistency of his appearance during the tournament.
Such single-minded dressing is generally a strategic choice that creates a shorthand, rendering a person immediately identifiable. (Think of it as the Anna Wintour-Karl Lagerfeld technique.) After all, most men’s wear experts since Edward II have dictated that the bottom button on the waistcoat be left undone. Since Mr. Southgate and his waistcoat came under the microscope, he has proudly begged to differ.
As a result, and in the face of the street wear era, he has, inadvertently or not, become an alternative model: one that embraces tradition and formality and suggests that, just because you are a little buttoned up (and wear well-shined shoes instead of sneakers), that doesn’t mean you can’t also, well, score.
Sartorial Goals, Too
Looking smart on the field.