Today’s self-craft is quick, simple, and inoffensive: suit buttons. Gents, you will want to pay attention to this one.
The Fat King That Started It All
In the early years of the suit as everyday menswear, it appears there were no formal buttoning rules. Look to trade magazines and illustrations from the earlier part of the 20th century—not that there are many left—and one sees jackets with between one and five buttons to suit the personality of the wearer or the cut of the garment. But legend has it that in the early 1900s, King Edward VII started the trend of leaving the bottom button of a suit undone. Apparently, he grew so plump that he was unable to fasten the bottom button of his waistcoat and jacket. In order to not offend the king, frequent visitors to the royal hall started doing the same. As the British Empire was still largely a major influence across the globe then, it didn’t take long for the custom to spread around the world.
Modern suits are constructed such that for proper fit and drape of the jacket, one must generally leave the bottom button open. Whether this was started because of King Edward or simply because of evolving fashion, it remains the golden rule until today. First things first: a suit should always remain buttoned until one sits, when it usually becomes necessary to unfasten the jacket. Once one stands again, the jacket should be refastened. But as any gentleman knows, there are exceptions to every rule – especially if the occasion calls for it (such as a casual event). Here’s a cheat sheet broken down by button styles for proper sartorial sharpness.
One-button suits are the easiest to remember. The button should always be buttoned when standing and unfastened when one sits down. No extra buttons to fiddle with or worry about. Here’s an example of a one-button suit. This particular suit has peak lapels as well in the classic tuxedo style.
Two Button Suits
Two-button suits are also simple. The top button should remain buttoned, while the bottom button is left undone. There’s something strange about having both buttons buttoned, as you will agree when you see for yourself in the mirror. The bottom button also significantly restricts your movement.
Three Button Suits
With three buttons come more options. You can either button the top two and leave the bottom unfastened, or simply button the center button. On suits with a lapel that is flat, it generally looks better to button the top two. If the lapel has a soft roll to it that extends past the first button, then it’s advisable to button only the center button. Nowadays, one doesn’t see as many rolled lapels. So unless your suit has a rolled lapel, it’s better to leave the top two buttons fastened. But if you’re feeling adventurous, keep your eye out for three-roll-two jackets and pick one up if you can. This jacket should only be buttoned in the center, as the cut and roll of the lapel essentially precludes the button from functioning properly without making a mess of the fabric at the front of the jacket. Once you’ve tried this, you won’t regret it – and I say this from personal experience.
Four or More Button Suits
Sadly, three buttons on a single-breasted suit is too odd for the early 21st century. While they used to be common, nowadays they are more often seen on celebrities and those who want to make a brazen fashion statement. If you are one, or if you’re simply into this kind of thing, just leave the bottom button undone.