I've been a shameless wearer of the things for ages, ooh long before Simon Callow in Four Weddings and a Funeral, made it cool to be waistcoated to excess.

Tattershall checks, Peter Jones cardiganettes, tie-dyed psychedelic £9.99 bargains from Greenwich market, impertinently swirly cuirasses from Oakland, a sensible, family-lawyer burnt claret number from Hackett's, a pink moire silk thing from Harrods and my favourite, a cut-to-the-thorax, probably bullet-proof extravagance from Byblos with a 7 per cent gold lame thread.

This is worn to banquets at Grosvenor House, where it effortlessly eclipses whichever Lacroix-clad matron is seated beside me. I have even had a waistcoat made from remnants of my bedroom curtains.

Waistcoats are slightly ridiculous peacock frivolities, I know, but they have several functions. They keep you warm when a jumper will not do. They suggest that you are unserious and therefore approachable. They make you stand out when all around is darktuxedo-land. And they hug you reassuringly at public functions, like a defensive breastplate.

There lies the problem - do you really want to be squeezed into a sort of corset-cum-bustier when you have no bosom to push upwards, but a lot of stomach to conceal? Do you want to show off your gently spreading abdomen to the world as if it were some polychromatic pet?

I once found myself in the Gents at La Scala in Milan, surrounded by preening Italians in their cummerbunds and fancy waistcoats, checking their vast belle figure before the mirrors, and I couldn't for the life of me tell whether the sight caused them pleasure or dread.

For two days, I was allowed the run of four waistcoats called Textile Treasures, made by an outfit called the Gallery of Antique Costumes and Textiles. Their designs tend towards the formal, but the fabrics are soft, the stitching impeccable and the drawstringed belts at the back luxurious. An unusual feature is their lapels, which suggest a sort of triple-seamed affluence about the wearer.

The most interesting of the four was an elegant double-breasted job with a design of eye-shaped horizontals and verticals and a double row of sheep-dropping-like buttons; it hugs you close, but flattens rather than accentuates the party-going tum. "My God," said colleagues, "You look so ...affluent." Better than "colossal", I suppose.

Comments