You're right. Retail-level PFDs have gotten wildly more safe and stylish in the last 20 years. 

If you're just kayaking recreationally on a lake, I would stick to the established brands and aim for their non-rescue PFDs. Brands like Astral, NRS, Kokatat, etc. all make vests with great features and comfort designs that don't run as high as the rescue vests. 

My personal favorite in the "middle of the line" area is the NRS Ninja. It is low-profile and allows for plenty of mobility. I use it for everything ranging from whitewater rafting/canoeing to jet skiing and wakeboarding. It is my all around vest.

Hopefully this information is helpful. If you post your specific budget then I may be able to provide some more specific suggestions. 

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