Universal Threads”: a series spotlighting "U.W classics" and exploring common threads running through each of our collections. Next up Waistcoats & Gilets. 


 Filmmaker, Joe Wheatley.  


Words by Leanne Cloudsdale.

As we say hello to 2022, it’s a relief to see man-bags gradually fading from view. Call me controversial, but I’ve always struggled to see the benefits of blokes hauling some sad sack neither-here-nor-there-sized messenger bag around, when really, all they needed was a banging utility waistcoat. It’s an unpopular opinion perhaps but, before you take offence and frisbee your phone out of the window, just give me a minute to explain. 

Think back to life before the lockdowns. When did your day-bag ever make you feel rugged, confident and primed for action? The honest answer is, “Never”. Because regardless of size, material, strap situation or compartment density, the best bag in the world will never make you feel like the best version of you – unlike a top-notch gilet. Slip on a sleeveless jacket and suddenly, you’re ready for anything. It’s a fast-track way to add a layer without any bulk. Wear them under something or over something, it’s totally up to you. It’s simple really: the waistcoat maketh the man. 

We’ve got King Charles II to thank for the popularity of this practical wardrobe piece. With his hedonistic habits and navel-skimming Brian May mullet, the so-called ‘merry monarch’ was one of the earliest known influencers. Waistcoats in the 1680s tended to be knee-length affairs and pretty snazzy by all accounts. It was after the French Revolution that the design shifted towards a shorter, slimmer, less elaborate silhouette. Men have had an on-off relationship with them since and disappointingly, the vest struggled to shake off its formal, fusty reputation. That changed though, when Universal Works founder David Keyte stepped in and decided to create gilets that felt equal parts workwear and sporty. 


King Charles II , PC Five minute history.


The humble waistcoat/vest/jerkin/gilet is the hot topic in film number 02 of the Universal Threads Series. For the second chapter, David and I gathered up a whole bunch of them, stuck them on a rail and waxed lyrical about the benefits of arm-free outerwear. Some of you will already be familiar with the JoJo Anglers Waistcoat (named after a fella called JoJo, owner of the brilliant Sheffield-based vintage emporium Rag Parade). According to David, it was masterminded “for that British version of Ashtanga yoga that we call ‘Fly Fishing’. We’ve even added an authentic fluffy fly trap on the shoulder for drying out your flies, and a couple of ‘Gone Fishin’ badges as well, just for good measure.”


Jojo wearing the Anglers Waistcoat named after him, outside of his store Jojo's General Store, in Sheffield. 


Long-time UW fans will already be part of the Zip Waistcoat league. A knockout best selling item with super comfortable straight cut, two-way zip front and patch hand pockets. Or maybe it’s the Zip Gilet, made from cosy wool fleece with the easily recognisable rounded v-neck and a roomy fit (ideal for wearing over denser outwear layers for added texture). The Lancaster has more of a classic rural vibe with button front, deep pile mountain fleece, jersey binding and easy, wider fit. 


Stuff gets slightly more ‘survival mode’ with the water resistant Tek Wax® Hangout Gilet. The bellows pockets giving you more than enough room for a pasty, a 1960s paperback or just your house keys and an iPad mini. Quilting advocates should probably opt for the Travail instead. It’s made from recycled cotton that references the Japanese-inspired geometric Sashiko pattern. Purists can take it back to basics with the Field Waistcoat. With generous buttoned patch pockets, this true-fit traditional shape was made for the very first UW collection and continues to sell well. Made from a UW special 1/3 cotton twill, it’s one of those layers that’s bound to get better with age. 

Hangout Gilet In Black Kharma Cotton from the AW21 collection.


When David and I tried to nail what makes these 3D, stylish, wearable storage units so flippin’ popular with the UW customer, it boiled down to how this seemingly simple piece of good design makes moving around in the world so much easier. The closure configuration doesn’t really matter. Zips, poppers or buttons – who cares? As long as it closes fully but opens halfway when you need it to (from the bottom, as well as the top). If you choose yours wisely, you can release both arms and let your free flag fly without the need for hauling about your man bag. And if that doesn't swing the vote, take it from me, nobody wants to see the outline of your phone and wallet in your trouser pockets. Do the respectable thing and slip them into your jerkin instead.