How & When to Wear a 3-Piece Suit

How & When to Wear a 3-Piece Suit

A 3-piece suit is timeless and sophisticated. Whether you're attending a formal event, a business meeting, or a wedding - knowing how to wear and style this classic ensemble is essential.

In this article, we'll consider the 3-piece suit vs the 2-piece suit; briefly explore the history of the vest and waistcoat; and examine the keys to successfully wearing a 3-piece suit, including how and when to wear it, and, of course, what to pair it with.

3-Piece Suit vs 2-Piece Suit

What is the difference between a 3-piece and 2-piece suit? As the name implies, the 2-piece suit consists of two pieces: a jacket and trousers.

What is a 3-piece suit, then? It incorporates a third element – a vest, or waistcoat, if you prefer. The vest adds an extra layer of formality and sophistication while allowing for greater individual expression and personal flair.

2 piece vs 3 piece suit

Vest vs. Waistcoat: A Brief History

The term vest originates from the Latin vestis, which was adopted by the French and Italians as veste to mean jacket and robe, respectively. Its mid-1600s introduction to Europe came from England’s King Charles II in an effort to formalize aristocratic attire

This first iteration of the vest was reminiscent of a garment seen in Persia. It was a knee-length or “skirted” coat, usually with elbow-length sleeves, worn under a tunic or coat. The vests of this period were extremely ornate, boasting elaborate embroidery and embellishments. 

British Waistcoat

British skirted coat, 1747, Met Museum

In time, the skirt was shortened, the sleeves removed, and the overall garment made more subdued, practical and accessible to the masses  – including to women, who typically wore a vest as part of their riding ensemble. In many cases, the elements that featured fine fabrics and adornments were reserved only for the parts visible under the overcoat. Those panels never seen were made of cheaper fabrics. 

The waist-level coat that eventually dominated was known as the waistcoat. Its popularity waxed and waned throughout history.

French Vest, 1815

French Vest, 1815, Met Museum

So, are 3-piece suits in style in 2023? Yes! Both the vest (as it’s exclusively known in North America) and the 3-piece suit are seen on runways, red carpets, and in fashion-forward circles.

And not just the 3-piece suit for men, either – the 3-piece suit for women is increasingly more popular. Designers continue to reinvent this classic ensemble, offering modern variations and innovative styles that ensure it remains relevant and elegant.

How to Wear a 3-Piece Suit

To achieve a polished and put-together look, consider each of the garments in a 3-piece suit in turn.


As with any suit, it’s important your trousers fit well. In the event you take off your jacket during the course of the event, you want the waist to sit comfortably under your vest. 


The vest should be snug but not too tight. It should cover the waistband of your trousers, but not extend too far below it, and either be made of the same fabric as your suit or a complementary fabric and color. The vest should be buttoned; never left open. 

3 piece suit with vest


To complete the 3-piece ensemble, simply add your jacket. It should fit well in the shoulders, allowing room for the vest and shirt comfortably, with the sleeves ending at the wrist. As you would for a 2-piece suit, sometimes button the top button, always button the middle, and never button the last button.  

What to Wear with a 3-Piece Suit

What is the rule for a 3-piece suit? Once paired with the mandatory fourth garment – the shirt – there aren’t any hard and fast rules. With the foundational pieces in place, there’s tremendous opportunity to accessorize. Be mindful not to be overzealous, though. Start with three fine accessories and decide if you have room for more, or should opt for less is more.


The classic choice to wear with a 3-piece suit is a button-down collared shirt in a light color like white or light blue. Those who favor something a little different might experiment with a roll neck sweater.  


A 3-piece suit is most often seen with a necktie, but really all neckwear options are on the table. If you do opt for a necktie, make sure the length is correct. When wearing a vest, the tip and tail of your necktie should be concealed; never extending beyond the vest. 

Can you wear a 3-piece suit without a tie? Can you wear a bow tie instead? Yes and yes. It all depends on the dress code and the look you’re aiming to create within it. A bow tie is absolutely appropriate with a 3-piece suit, as is an ascot if you so choose. Wearing a 3-piece suit is already somewhat of a statement – feel free to continue to showcase your individuality and style! 

Randy Hanauer shows how to wear a 3 piece suit

Pocket Square 

A pocket square is elegant with a 3-piece suit as well. If you intend to wear all three pieces of your suit during all or most of the event, the best place for your pocket square is in your jacket pocket. If you anticipate taking off your jacket almost immediately or not wearing a jacket at all, you can pop a pocket square directly into the chest pocket of your vest. As always, your neckwear should complement but not match your pocket square.


Belts are typically left out when accessorizing a 3-piece suit due to the risk of bunching or creasing. Make your own judgment call – if it won’t be a hindrance, or it’s necessary to hold your trousers up, wear one.    


Choosing what shoes to wear with a 3-piece suit is up to you. Traditionally speaking, an oxford or a brogue in a complementary shade to your suiting is best. Start with those you’d usually wear with a 2-piece suit and then try more formal options from there. If you’re wearing your vest sans jacket, you can experiment with less formal options as well. (See “Casual Settings” below.)


Layer on additional accessories as you see fit – cufflinks, a wristwatch or even a pocket watch, as examples. Just know when enough is enough. Trust your instinct when something feels over the top or out of character.

when to wear a 3-piece suit

When to Wear a 3-Piece Suit

Wearing a 3-piece suit is appropriate for various occasions, including:

Formal Events

Black-tie affairs, galas, and other upscale occasions call for a 3-piece suit, enhancing your presence and ensuring you're appropriately dressed.


Is it OK to wear a 3-piece suit to a wedding? It’s a common question for good reason: don’t upstage the groom. Generally speaking, wearing a 3-piece suit to a wedding is acceptable. If you’re unsure of the groom’s attire or the formality of the event or venue, ask. 

Business Settings

Meetings with high-level executives or important clients often warrant a formal and professional appearance. A well-tailored 3-piece suit makes a powerful impression.

Casual Settings

A 3-piece suit without a jacket, or even just the vest paired with a crisp shirt, dark wash denim, and an edgy shoe, can be a handsome choice when aiming for a more casual look

Have a 3-piece suit in your wardrobe? Show us how you style it! Tag us @RHanauer on Instagram and Facebook! If you have questions, check out our blog or connect with our team – we’re here to help!  

Match Your 3-Piece Suit With a Perfect Tie