cm vest
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Dress codes don’t go away. They just change shape.

So goes the story of the vest.

With the “power suit” all but passé, today’s business world pressed this formerly informal garment into princedom. But what may have been intended as a move away from starched-shirt rigidity has merely replaced flannel with fleece.

Relaxing of rules? Far from it. In cities all over the world, the unmistakable look of “vest over long sleeve” has merely become Suit 2.0. Call it the “Midtown Uniform.” Blame it on Silicon Valley. Or simply tell it like it is.

Thanks to corporate culture’s love affair with vests, layering anything short of a jacket with sleeves risks exposure to the ultimate modern whackness: looking like you use the word “Humpday.”

But all is not lost! Venture outside the cubicle farm and you’ll find a world of stylish, practical layering pieces, none of which scream “yuppie approved.” Looking for cold weather heat everywhere but your arms? Here’s our picks.

A classic from Japan’s first name in camping gear, the Snow Peak Takibi Vest is a piece so cool it’s flame-retardant. Seriously. It’s 98% aramid fiber. That’s the stuff used to make firefighting suits. Chill, right?

The Takibi was designed for campsite use (including time spent ‘round the fire), but its wealth of tool loops and other functional features also make it one of the more striking examples of the “tactical vest” trend around. For those seeking heat – both literally and figuratively – Snow Peak’s Takibi is an ice cold choice.

Most know Stone Island. Some know C.P. But NemeN? In the world of tech sportswear, the Milan-based workshop is almost a best-kept secret. Founded in 2012 by Leonardo Fasolo and Fabio Cavina, NemeN continues the legacy of the late Massimo Osti (Stone Island’s founder) by placing fabric innovation at the core of the brand.

Fasolo, a former Stoney designer himself, isn’t shy about the comparison: his goal for NemeN is to keep Osti’s “perfect” archival designs intact, but introduce them to “the next generation with a new language.” The Guard Vest, a military-inspired tac unit, is a perfect example of that ethos brought to life.

Whether for watches, fonts, or army knives, Swiss design could best be described as precise. Take that exacting mentality, surround it with The Alps, and you get Mammut: a 156-year-old outdoors brand known for excellence at altitude.

Mammut’s Alvra Light IN Vest is a windproof, water-repellant gilet heated by 850 fill goose down. While designed as a layering piece, the vest’s Pertex Quantum Pro face gives it better all-weather performance than some shells – another reason not to hide the Alvra’s bold lines. Best of all, the warm, versatile Alvra Light weighs in at a mere 245 grams (8.6 oz) Quite “light” indeed.

Hailing from a city known for its mild weather, San Francisco’s own Mission Workshop makes slick, technical apparel designed around versatility. Case in point: the Northmar Vest.

Full of breathable Primaloft Gold insulation but built for layering, this is as close to an all-seasons piece as it comes. Plus, with hidden inside pockets, it’s also one of the most minimal insulated pieces around. While Mission may not come off as “tacticool” as a brand like Arc’teryx, the Northmar is a sleek, functional mid-layer as capable on a hike as it is on a commute.

Speaking of Arc’teryx, there’s the Cerium SL. A “Superlight” vest designed for aerobic activity, the piece weighs an anemic 125 grams (4.4 oz) yet is stuffed with 850 fill goose down. Wear it for climbing. Wear it for hiking. Wear it because a Costanza-style puffer is best left on Seinfeld. However you wear it, this wispy, ultralight vest punches well above its weight class. Just make sure to pair it with a shell should the weather turn wet. The Cerium’s featherweight construction is wind-resistant, but won’t keep drops out.

While it is technically “workwear,” there’s nothing nine-to-five about Junya Watanabe. The Japanese designer’s latest includes the Oxford Check Vest, a crass-meets-class utility piece that blends the two sides of the vest game into one wild statement. Need to bring a few camera lenses to your polo match? Pockets. Fly fishing at 6, but a dog show at 7? Oxford check. While most short jackets claim “versatility,” there are few that do it with such flair.

One of the most famous names in Japanese menswear, pure product inspiration has powered Kapital through nearly 30 years of life. Named after Kojima (Japan’s “Denim Capital”), the brand fuses handicraft roots with modern touches to create an aesthetic so idiosyncratic, it names vintage hunting vests after the beach. Case in point: the Primal Stripe Bonding Fleecy Beach Vest. How’s that for a name?

The Primal Stripe Bonding Flee- well, you know – is a bold, modernism-inspired cotton vest inspired by vintage outdoors gear. Snap closures and a four-pocket layout turn up the wild factor, making the Primal Stripe a piece unlike any other. To escape the office life, just think of the Beach.

C2H4 is a lot of things. For one, it’s a chemical formula. If you’re wondering why one bad banana spoils the bunch, it’s because it’s releasing ethylene (2 Carbons-4 Hydrogens). For another, it’s an LA-based clothing brand dabbling in all things retro-future. If you’re wondering where to find bananas garms, they’re all right here.

Part of the brand’s latest collection (one chemically-titled “SYSTEM ON CARBON”), the Reversible User Interface is an overtly-adjustable down vest overloaded with cord pulls. From the arm holes to the pocket flaps, nearly every part can be modified for fit. And yes, as the name implies, even the color of the vest can be changed. On one side is tonal grey nylon; on the other, an electrifying red-blue circuit print.

One year ago, Nike introduced us to a line of radical sportswear called AAE. Short for “Advanced Apparel Exploration,” the first AAE collection (known as “1.0”) debuted with such innovations as The Short Sleeve Top, a shirt made from a single strand of thread. Now, in this season’s AAE 2.0, the Swoosh’s Skunk Works return. And they’ve brought a pink vest.

The AAE 2.0 Vest is an adjustable, lightweight, open-backed gilet. The emphasis here is on pockets. Two angled front pockets provide easy access, while discrete flap pockets on the back aid organization. Best of all, this zip-necked, cyberpunk reimagining of the utility vest comes in Rust Pink. The future will not be subtle.

This title for this season’s weirdest flex belongs to Our Legacy’s Life Vest. Remember those A$AP Rocky memes? One Stockholm-based brand found them tasteless. Tasteless! Their solution: a padded vest based on vintage survival gear. None of that new, foam-and-inflatable garbage here.

Just a good ol’ fashioned life preserver. With a “short boxy fit.” Because it’s a life vest.

Jokes aside, the Our Legacy Life Vest is a solid winter layer. Cut from Japanese ripstop, the garment must be seen in person to be truly appreciated. Indeed, layered over a hoodie or under a shell coat, Our Legacy’s latest is perhaps the exact opposite of the corporate fleece vest: weird, wild, free expression.

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