Suiting: One vs. Two vs. Three-Button
How many buttons should my suit have? Which is best? This is a highly contested issue in the menswear arena, so let’s weigh-in on the rules, exceptions, and history of it all in hopes that it may help you figure out what works best for your height, weight, and personal style. You’ll often hear people tell you that the bottom button on any jacket should always remain unbuttoned. Where did this rule come from? Why put it on the jacket if it’s forbidden to use?
Answers in History
Legend has it (I love starting sentences like that), King Edward VII (England, 1841-1910) was quite a large fella. Right around the turn of the 20th century, he was too big to fasten the bottom button of his royal coat, and rather than upset the king, his subjects and citizens followed suit (pun intended). The UK was quite an influential empire at the time, so the tradition spread and has been alive ever since.
Nowadays, the fabric construction is designed to keep this tradition alive in modern jackets. The lay of the coat is made to look, fit, and feel best when the bottom button remains unfastened. The reason for keeping a useless button on the coat is the same reason we never button it: tradition.
You’re not going to be in any trouble if you fasten all your buttons, but it will certainly announce to the world that you’re a novice. There are, of course, worse things to be in life, so if your personal style fastens every button, zipper, hook, and tie, then go for it.
Button-up when standing – The entire point of a suit is to make you look slick and put-together. When the jacket is buttoned, it allows for the proper silhouette, fit, and drape. You’ll look your sharpest, so when you stand up, button-up.
Unbutton when sitting – This shouldn’t need to be explained, but it still happens. The jacket is not only going to look oddly shaped and awkward, but it will be uncomfortable if you leave it buttoned while sitting. From time to time, however, you’ll see a guest on a late night talk show come on set all buttoned-up and proper, and then sit without opening the jacket… for the entire interview. It’s definitely an avoidable mistake, so when you’re taking a seat, take a second and unbutton your jacket.
Remember, there are always exceptions (except for the sitting while buttoned rule), so feel free to express your personal style with your jackets. I don’t like to button my jackets as often as I should, but that’s just me. Simply knowing the rules and exceptions allows you the freedom to take liberties. You’re not uninformed – you’re wearing it how you like it.
The one-button suit jacket, in my opinion, is changing the game. Once thought of as the casual man’s go-to for those “fancy” events, the one-button is now gaining popularity at Black Tie and formal events. I love the one-button because it gives me the deeper V to show off a killer shirt and tie combo or vest.
A friend of mine wears his one-button with peak lapels, pocket squares, and plenty of patterned shirts. It works very well for shorter gentlemen and those with a little stockier build. Having only one button, it allows for freedom and comfort around the midsection, even when buttoned.
The quintessential two-button jacket is what nearly every man has in his closet. It’s a classic. It’s timeless. It’s suitable for every occasion. The traditional two-button is basically fail-proof. It has a slightly higher button stance than the one-button, but still leaves ample room to show off that shirt and tie. It generally buttons at the proper shirt waist, so you’ll end up getting a nice, slimmer silhouette.
This button stance is a good choice for just about every man. Of course, the leaner and taller you are, the better the jacket will look, but it works with nearly every body type. If you’re unsure which setup is right for you, the two-button is the safest, most acceptable choice.
The three-button suit is for a rare breed. If you’re a taller man, this might be the greatest thing since sliced bread for you. With a higher button stance, you’ll have a shallower V, revealing less shirt and tie, but it will give you a very neat and clean look. It’s a difficult suit to wear if you’ve got a little extra mass around your middle, as it’s designed to stay long and lean when buttoned.
It reached palpable fame in the mid-1990s, but has since fallen out of style. The men wearing three-button jackets these days are either very tall, very outdated, or very English. I can say that because my father is English, and I grew up with three-button suits. I have that punch card.
Double-breasted suits and sport coats are another story altogether. I’ll get to those next time.
Do you have a burning question about your setup? Are you still unsure which choice is best for you? Leave a comment below and we’ll get a dialogue going.
Bonus – Are you listening to The Sharp Gentleman podcast?