The utility vest isn’t the most straightforward garment. It’s as if a sweater vest and a pair of cargo pants got together and had a supremely practical, sleeveless child. So why has the outdoorsy, purpose-built garment captured the attention of designers and style enthusiasts alike?
For one thing, vests are riding the general wave of utility design that has recently swept fashion runways and the streets. This summer has seen a widespread desire for unencumbered travel and adventure. At the same time, preparedness and practicality remain priorities for everyone, not just Boy Scouts. Utility gear promises both: all the essentials, but no bag to carry. Designed with the expectation that your hands are full, fishing and hunting vests are nothing if not practical. They’re easy to load evenly and to layer. And in high summer, they’re one of the few things you would want over a t-shirt.
What’s more surprising is that utility vests have proven as versatile in style as they are in substance, with models ranging from rugged to luxe, subtle to attention-grabbing. They offer an easy way to add interest and detail to outfits from casual leisurewear to classic country clothing.
Thanks to their sporting history, vests remain important to heritage brands, while the garment’s practicality appeals to tech and streetwear designers. They’ve even caught the eye of some forward-thinking tailors, as Raditya Prabawa of Balance Atelier explains: “The utility vest came to my mind early when I first started Balance. I’ve always wanted to create products that are practical without sacrificing design. The vest itself offers ample of space for me to put everything that I bring with me every day—except for a laptop. I wore the utility vest everywhere and every day the first few months after the launch.”
Hard-working as utility vests are, they’re surprisingly easy to wear. Here are eight of the best to buy now.
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