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.