1610s, "loose outer garment" (worn by men in Eastern countries or in ancient times), from French veste "a vest, jacket" (17c.), from Italian vesta, veste "robe, gown," from Latin vestis "clothing," from vestire "to clothe" (from PIE *wes- (2) "to clothe," extended form of root *eu- "to dress"). The sleeveless garment worn by men beneath the coat was introduced by Charles II in a bid to rein in men's attire at court, which had grown extravagant and decadent in the French mode.
The King hath yesterday, in Council, declared his resolution of setting a fashion for clothes .... It will be a vest, I know not well how; but it is to teach the nobility thrift. [Pepys, diary, Oct. 8, 1666]
Louis XIV of France is said to have mocked the effort by putting his footmen in such vests.
It forms all or part of: divest; exuviae; invest; revetment; transvestite; travesty; vest; vestry; wear.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Hittite washshush "garments," washanzi "they dress;" Sanskrit vaste "he puts on," vasanam "garment;" Avestan vah-; Greek esthes "clothing," hennymi "to clothe," eima "garment;" Latin vestire "to clothe;" Welsh gwisgo, Breton gwiska; Old English werian "to clothe, put on, cover up," wæstling "sheet, blanket."
"clothe again," with or as with a garment, c. 1300, revesten, from Old French revestir, from Late Latin revestire "to clothe again," from re- "back, again" (see re-) + vestire "to clothe, dress, adorn" (see vest (v.)). Related: Revested; revesting.
Channel Island, the name is Viking. The second element of the name is Old Norse ey "island" (compare Jersey); the first element uncertain, traditionally meaning "green," but perhaps rather representing a Viking personal name, such as Grani.
Like neighboring Jersey, its name also was taken as the word for a coarse, close-fitting vest of wool (1839), worn originally by seamen, and in Australia the word supplies many of the usages of jersey in U.S. As a type of cattle bred there, from 1784.
"trousers, drawers," 1840, see pantaloons. The word was limited to vulgar and commercial use at first.
I leave the broadcloth,—coats and all the rest,—
The dangerous waistcoat, called by cockneys "vest,"
The things named "pants" in certain documents,
A word not made for gentlemen, but "gents";
[Oliver Wendell Holmes, "Urania: A Rhymed Lesson," 1846]
Colloquial singular pant is attested from 1893. To wear the pants "be the dominant member of a household" is by 1931. To do something by the seat of (one's) pants "by human instinct" is from 1942, originally of pilots, perhaps with some notion of being able to sense the condition and situation of the plane by engine vibrations, etc. To be caught with (one's) pants down "discovered in an embarrassing condition" is from 1932.