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The Art of Looking Good: How to Button Your Suit Jacket and Vest

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man buttoning suit jacket

If you didn’t already know, yes, there are rules to buttoning a suit jacket. Though these rules are a convention, they’re an important one if you want to look your best.

Where do the suit buttoning rules come from?

Not just a mere sartorial quirk, there’s some history behind the suit buttoning rules. When men first started wearing suits, there were no formal buttoning rules. Men buttoned their suit jackets in a way that pleased them. A popular theory credits King Edward VII with starting the trend to leave the last button of a waistcoat, or vest, undone, in the 1900s. With a legendary appetite, Edward became so fat he couldn’t do up the bottom button on his waistcoat. So that he didn’t feel bad about his figure, his court copied this habit and it soon caught on in all of Britain.

King Edward VII standing with a cigar in 1902

A dapper King Edward VII standing with a cigar in 1902. V&A Lafayette

King Edward VII also set the trend for unbuttoning the bottom of suit jackets. Edward left the bottom button undone as a throwback to when suit jackets were worn as riding coats and to look less “common”. In the beginning, suits were meant more for casual wear, and were even worn when riding horses. They had three buttons, and as the third button sat below the waist, it had to be unbuttoned for the jacket to be comfortable when sitting atop a horse.

Why do we follow the suit buttoning rules today?

Nowadays the fashion is for suit jackets and blazers to have two-buttons. However, as the tradition has been to leave the last button undone for such a long time, suits and waistcoats are actually designed for this purpose. Whether it’s a sports jacket, blazer, suit jacket or waistcoat, they’re now cut in such a way as to drape (and look) best when the bottom button is undone.

Fashion tip: by following the suit button rules, you’re not only paying homage to the origin of suits, but also signalling that you’re in the know. You care about putting effort into your appearance. This small action to pay respect to the past will help you command respect today.

So what are these rules exactly? It depends on whether you’re wearing a single- or double-breasted jacket, or a waistcoat, and how many buttons your jacket has. Note, this guide applies to a regular cut jacket, and not something like a paddock-cut jacket.

How to Button the Single-Breasted Suit Jacket

The One-Button Suit Jacket

one button cobalt blue suit

Joe Button Belfort Suit

  • Button when standing and unbutton when sitting

The Two-Button Suit Jacket

two button mid grey suit

Joe Button Florrick Suit

  • When standing, always fasten the top button and unbutton only when sitting

The Three-Button Suit Jacket

Leonardo DiCaprio in a three button suit jacket

  • Fastening the top button is optional
  • Always fasten the middle button
  • Never fasten the third button

How to Button the Double-Breasted Suit Jacket

Double-breasted suits are designed to be buttoned up, because of the overlapping front flaps that would otherwise hang loose if left unbuttoned. Only when you sit are the buttons unfastened. Double-breasted jackets are described according to their button configuration. The total number of buttons on the jacket front is written first, followed by the number of working buttons. For example, a 6x2 jacket has six buttons but only two buttonholes.

Most commonly, only one column, the one furthest towards the edge of the front flap, contains the working buttons. The other visible buttons are for decorative purposes. Quality double-breasted suits will also generally have at least one functional inner button parallel to the working button. This fastens the suit from the inside, and helps the fabric drape more nicely over your body.

The Two-Button Double-Breasted Suit Jacket

light grey two button double-breasted suit jacket

AliExpress

A two-button 2x1 double-breasted suit is not commonly seen today because it’s thought of as a relict of the 80s. However, it’s the least uncomplicated to button.

  • Button the one (and only) working button

The Four-Button Double-Breasted Suit Jacket

four button double-breasted check suit jacket

ASOS

Though not the most popular style, four-button double-breasted suit jackets are timeless and classic. The 4x1 is more common than the 4x2.

  • For the 4x1, you only need to fasten the bottom working button.
  • For the 4x2, fasten either the top, bottom or both buttons.

The Six-Button Double-Breasted Suit Jacket

medium grey windowpane six button double-breasted suit jacket

Joe Button Rochester Suit

The most popular style of six-button double-breasted suit has the top two buttons on the jacket breast spaced more widely apart. This creates a very flattering silhouette by accentuating a man’s V-shape figure. You’ll most likely see 6x2 double-breasted jackets, but other variations are possible. Though it’s traditional to button the bottom button, most men leave the bottom button undone for a more nonchalant air.

  • For the 6x2, fasten both of the buttons for a classic look or leave the bottom button undone for effortless suave.

More Than Six Buttons

Prince Charles in navy 8 button double-breasted suit

Double-breasted suit jackets with more than 6 buttons do exist, but they’re rare. When buttoning up, it’s important to pay attention to how you button both the inside and outside buttons, as the wrong button fastened can pull the fabric and make it look off-kilter.

How to Button a Vest

navy double-breasted vest

The rules for buttoning a vest or waistcoat are much easier to follow. No matter how many buttons your vest has, the following guidelines apply.

Single-Breasted Vest

  • Fasten all buttons except for the last bottom button.

Double-Breasted Vest

  • Fasten all buttons at all times.
  • For comfort when sitting, you can undo the bottom button on the outer edge.

With the knowledge on how to button your suit jacket or vest, you’ll always pull off a suit impeccably. It’s the small details that count, and will make the most of your effort to dress up. If you feel uncertain about putting together a look for a suit, come into a Joe Button showroom today for personalised guidance and the latest style tips.

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