Rules for buttoning suits?
It sounds ridiculous right?
Well if you look at history it makes sense.
One man’s style faux pas ironically became a suit buttoning standard.
An overweight king who couldn’t fully close his jacket or waistcoat and as a result always left the bottom button undone.
His subjects (either out of respect or fear), followed suit. The trend of leaving the bottom button undone caught on.
And today, we have a whole industry that now designs suits for this purpose.
What are the rules on buttoning a suit?
Are these rules antiquated/useless?
Why even care about suit buttoning rules?
You’ll see below why it makes sense to follow the rules long after King Edward’s 48-inches waistline set the stage.
Why Does Buttoning Your Suit The Right Way Matter?
Let’s begin with the ‘why.’ There are several reasons to care about how and when to button your suit jacket:
- It sends a signal that you pay attention to the details. The vast majority of men who violate these rules do so because they do not wear a suit regularly. These small rules are used by “those in the know” to identify other men “in the the know”.
- In most situations, this makes a suit look better on a man. A buttoned suit when standing cuts a cleaner silhouette.
- Prevent the buttons from popping. When seated, unbuttoning allows you to sit more comfortable, prevents wrinkles and keeps the buttons from popping.
- Suits are tailored with the assumption that the bottom button will never be fastened. Modern suits are cut in such a way that the fabric doesn’t drape properly when the bottom button is fastened for a two button or three button jacket.
Important to note that we’re talking about SUITS here. Sports jackets are usually buttoned the same way but the rules are much more relaxed because it’s a more casual style.
Your grandfather probably told you about the traditional buttoning rule for a three button jacket – sometimes, always, never. For a two-button jacket – always, never. And for a one-button jacket – always.
The rules are easy enough to learn from the suit buttoning infographic below.
There are two factors that determine when and how you should button your jacket:
- Are you wearing a single or double breasted jacket?
- Whether your single breast jacket has 1,2, or 3 buttons.
Buttoning Rules For Single-Breasted Suit Jackets
Most modern suits have a single-breasted jacket. How to button it depends the number of buttons the jacket has.
1. Buttoning Rules For One-Button Suit Jackets
The jacket of this type of suit is distinguished by the presence of only one button.
Because of its origins in traditional eveningwear designs, one-button suit jackets are often cut longer than other types of suits.
Keeping the button fastened maintains a balanced proportion.
The issue of deciding which button to fasten is eliminated by the presence of only one button hole on the suit’s jacket.
– These jackets should ALWAYS be buttoned when standing.
– Unbutton the jacket when sitting down, so that it doesn’t crease.
2. Buttoning Rules For Two-Button Suit Jackets
The traditional way to button a two-button jacket is to fasten the top button and leave the lower undone.
- The top button on these jackets should ALWAYS be buttoned when standing.
- Unbutton the jacket only when sitting down to avoid creases. Fasten it again as soon as you stand up from your seat.
- NEVER button the bottom button.
Fastening the bottom button will make you look like you don’t know what you’re doing and add an extra ten pounds by the billowing illusion your jacket creates. You’re supposed to keep the bottom button undone because that’s how most men’s suits these days are cut.
If you fasten the bottom button, it is likely that your suit fits more tightly around the hips. This causes the sides to flare out a little bit around your torso, throwing your silhouette out of proportion.
A few possible exceptions to the rule:
- Men who like a very long lapel sometimes button the lower button and fold the lapel all the way down past the top buttonhole.
- An unusually high-stance jacket might look more proportional buttoned at the lower button.
- Very tall men may need to use the lower button rather than the upper to keep the jacket from spreading out above their waist and exposing the trouser-front and belt buckle. A three-button suit jacket is preferable in this instance.
3. Buttoning Rules For Three-Button Suit Jackets
“Optional, always, never” refers to each of the three buttons. When standing, it is optional to button the top, the middle always, and the bottom never.
– Closing the top button on these jackets is OPTIONAL when standing.
– The middle button on these jackets should ALWAYS be buttoned when standing.
– The bottom button should NEVER be fastened.
– Undo all buttons when seated.
Many three-button suits are not made to be buttoned on the top (called 2 1/2 suits) and the lower button is almost always in a position where it restricts movement. On some three-button jackets, the top button is hidden by the lapel. If buttoning the top interferes with the natural fold in the lapel – it should be left unbuttoned (hence optional).
I wouldn’t recommend a jacket with more than three buttons. If for some reason you feel inclined to wear one with four or more buttons, remember to leave the bottom button undone.
Buttoning Rules For Double-Breasted Suit Jackets
Double-breasted jackets are almost always worn buttoned. It’s very unusual to unbutton one.
Double-breasted jackets are described with the total number of buttons on the suit front followed by the number of working buttons. A “six-on-four” jacket has six buttons but only four buttonholes.
- Button all the buttons that have working buttonholes.
If you plan to leave some buttons undone, it is most traditional to fasten the top button.
However, men who prefer a longer line have been leaving the lowest button undone, including members of the British royal family, so you’re probably safe either way.
Finally, what do you do if you see a man breaking these jacket buttoning rules?
It is inadvisable to correct a man in public if you see him violating these rules. They might be breaking a style rule, but never try to make another person look ignorant in front of others.
Especially if he’s had a few beers – you might find yourself on the floor with a sore jaw.
Judge the situation and perhaps in private mention the rule & why it matters especially if you know he is new to wearing a suit.