The Question of Buttoning

Beautiful sunny mornings, warm and long lasting evenings, mild nights and the gentlest of gentle breezes; what does it amount to? It amounts to, dear readers, a real problem as far as clothing is concerned. High pressure and days drenched in sunshine can be problematic for those accustomed to the formality of a suit. It is particularly problematic for gentlemen who have a predilection for wearing double breasted suits.

I happened to be wandering down Chancery Lane on a particularly close afternoon when I felt obligated to stand aside to allow several suited chaps to pass in the awkwardness of the scaffolding, erected for renovation work on one of the twentieth century buildings along that artery of legal London. All of them were wearing double-breasted jackets and all of them had them unbuttoned. They paced with purpose but there was something slightly childish about their silhouette; unbuttoned they looked weary and slipshod.

On a different afternoon I was walking along the same street having taken a pleasant shortcut through the magnificent Lincoln’s Inn when I crossed the path of an elderly man in a beautiful blue cotton suit; single breasted and single buttoned, his jacket was open, allowing whatever fragments of breeze were conjured, on what was a mercilessly hot afternoon, to cool his torso. In contrast to the trio I had encountered before, he looked utterly urbane; the sophistication was evidenced by his turned up sleeves and the excellent shape of the jacket. He was certainly unbuttoned, but still composed.

And is that it? A simple resale of the much flogged notion that double-breasted suits be buttoned up? Well, not quite. You see I do stand by the notion as correct; double-breasted suits do look better buttoned up. But then so in fact do single breasted suits. Chasing down a man in a single breasted suit that looks better ‘unbuttoned’ is a challenge; ask a chap in a two or three button to fasten one of them and his figure is instantly altered, and usually for the better.

Most readers will probably be interested, and experienced, in purchasing ‘off the rack’ suits. And most of these suits purchased will meet the requirement of ‘sufficient formality.’ However I think it is a failure of design that most suits cut for the everyday man look unsatisfactory unless the material is drawn into the waist by the securing of a button. I always feel that ‘unbuttoned glory’ is possible and achievable with a suit – consider the magnificent frock coat and morning coat designs of the recent past – and would always advocate a little adjustment to make the unbuttoned man a good deal more elegant.

Unbuttoning is to be expected; there’ll be the long days at the office, the warm afternoons dragging laptops and luggage to the airport and the relaxation occasions in the local wine bar after the clock has chimed 6. It is important to attempt to retain as much of the ‘pinch’ created by buttoning that maintains the correct positioning of the jacket so it is vital to assess suits as a buttoned and unbuttoned possibility. If there is insufficient ‘pinch’ then the jacket has a tendency to ‘fall away’; too much and the jacket is likely to constrict movement.

After musings on the state of my own wardrobe, I came to the radical conclusion that as I am in possession of a few jackets with insufficient structure to wear unbuttoned, I shall only wear them as buttoned. Structure-free jackets can be charming and rather youthful, but as I have dictated to myself, they do not have the strength to stand on their own without that mighty ally of the jacket; the humble button.


  1. TrendyJorge said:

    Dear Sir,

    Congratulations on your column. It’s definitely a must-read. It’s very rewarding to read such clever insights on men style.

    Regarding the subject of this post, I think buttoning a suit jacket or a blazer is not a matter of structure but one of etiquette.

    Leaving a jacket unbuttoned when you stand is not only sloppy but also rude.


    June 11, 2008
  2. Alex said:

    A great deal of the new skinny suits like Versace and Gucci are quite tight and most do not button them. However, if you wear a traditional suit you could button it if you want. I’ve never really heard much about this issue here in Monte Carlo.

    June 11, 2008
  3. Kai said:

    Are most people visiting this site from Monte Carlo? IMO, it is being mentioned a bit too often.

    June 11, 2008
  4. Barima said:

    Good observations, but it really is a matter of perspective, and in this case, traditional sartorial etiquette is technically irrelevant in this particular day and age anyway
    It’s also a matter of physique and tailoring. I believe a db jacket can be worn unbuttoned without appearing odd, but that is fundamentally down to fit – I do as Lapo is doing in the photo because his and my db’s fit very trimly and neatly to begin with (and if they aren’t so well fitting, then I simply button up more consistently). The same goes for the mostly successful (IMO)practitioners of this look I see in the City – I’ve noticed that the “heavier set” businessmen seem to comprise the majority, most likely due to girth
    Construction and button placement are also key factors to the success of an unbuttoned look. Anymore than 2 (and that’s slightly generous in my view) and it’s pushing credulity as to how good a look it is. I’ve found that the lower the button stance, the better it works. As ever, mileage varies, especially if you give this issue much thought at all

    June 11, 2008
  5. Ted B. (Charging Rhino) said:

    Buttoned vs. unbuttoned for a dbl-breasted suit coat…or even sport jacket…really depends on how it drapes and moves. Personally, I find that the “Italian style” DB with a low cut generally look sloppy unbuttoned since the drapw tends to collapse. By contrast, what I’ll call a “British-cut” with a very high cut at the lapels tends to maintain it’s shape, and doesn’t collapse under the weight of it’s smaller lapels.

    Also, if you a bit “stout” as I am, I find that unbuttoned high-tailored DB-coats tend to remain closed over one’s belly and conceals it somewhat in the coat-flaps’ draping…compared to a SB-coat that simply parts to the sides and accentuates one’s belly by exposing your shirt with a wide gap between the coat-flaps.

    (Not all stylish men are 6-ft tall 40-Regulars.)

    June 11, 2008

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