What are the rules on buttoning a suit?
Why are there even rules on buttoning suits?
Well – the rules are easy enough to learn.
I’ve laid them out in the suit buttoning infographic below.
But why do we do this?
Why even care about suit buttoning rules?
1) 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”. It’s like a secret knock!
Childish? Illogical? Perhaps, but it’s the reality.
2) In most situations, this makes a suit look better on a man.
A buttoned suit when standing cuts a cleaner silhouette – when seated unbuttoning allows you to sit more comfortable and prevent wrinkles and button stress/popping. In addition – many 3 button suits re 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 (and provides no added silhouette forming features vs. a single button buttoned!).
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.
Most modern suits have a single-breasted jacket. How to button it depends on two factors: the number of buttons the jacket has and where the buttons are in relation to your waist.
A jacket with a high stance has buttons at and above the natural waist, while a jacket with a low stance (more common these days) has its buttons at and below the waist.
Single-breasted one-button jackets are becoming more common (and the classic choice for Black Tie) , and should always be buttoned when standing.
You may unbutton when seated.
Conventional way to button a two-button jacket is to button the top button and leave the lower undone. A few possible exceptions:
- 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 (looks unsightly with a buttoned jacket).
Conventional method is to always button the middle button and to button the top button if desired, while always leaving the bottom button undone.
Fastening all three buttons at once looks stiff and should be avoided!
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 — so a “six-on-four” jacket has six buttons but only four buttonholes.
Generally speaking you want to 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 instead for quite a few years now, including members of the British royal family, so you’re probably safe either way.
Finally – if you see a man violating these rules do not correct him in front of others.
My friend Glenn – who was violating the rule on purpose – just about knocked a guy out when he did this to him at a dinner party!
Lucky for both of them – Glenn was standing next to his wife, had drank only 1 beer, and wasn’t the same guy he was at age 20.
Sure, Glenn was 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.
So what to do if you see a man breaking this style rule?
Judge the situation and perhaps in private mention the rule & why it matters especially if you know he is new to wearing a suit.
The mark of a true gentleman is that he always treats others with respect and never makes another man feel inferior by his words or actions.
So what do you think?
Are these rules good to go or antiquated/useless?
Let me know in the comments!