A Man’s Suit Coat: To Button or Not to Button

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Elegant businessman buttoning his suit coat.

To button or not to button is the age-old question when it comes to a man’s suit coat. Some men seem to know when to button, when to unbutton and which button to button under which circumstances. Others don’t seem to get it all. Perhaps you’ve noticed.

There is a high profile figure that I have in mind, but like Meryl Streep, I don’t want to name names. This person, who is seen almost daily in public, wears a suit and tie—that’s a good start—but he never has his suit coat buttoned. The example that he sets is not the one to follow. So I am here to set the record straight.

Now I am the first to admit that this is not the most important question you have to ponder, but if you want to show a touch of class and a bit of polish, you should know when to button a man’s suit coat and when to unbutton it.

First, let me give you a bit of history. How did the habit of leaving one button undone even come about? It seems that we have Edward VII to thank for this bit of fashion. That particular monarch was reportedly rather rotund so he found it difficult, if not impossible, to button the bottom button of his jacket or waistcoat. As a result, he got in the habit of leaving the bottom button undone. His subjects, out of respect or fear, followed suit (pardon the pun).

So today here is what we have for rules that govern a man’s suit coat–when it is correct to button or not to button:

  • When wearing a two-button coat, the top button is always buttoned. The bottom one never.
  • When wearing a three-button jacket, the middle button is fastened. The top one is optional and the bottom never.
  • When wearing a single-button coat, the button is always fastened.
  • When wearing a double-breasted jacket, button all those that have button holes.

Those rules for buttoning apply to when a man’s suit coat when he is standing. When seated, buttons are undone. This is for comfort as well as to keep the jacket from “bunching up” or to keep the bottom button from flying off–should the coat be a tad tight.

Simplified—as if it weren’t simple enough:

The traditional buttoning rule for a three button jacket – sometimes, always, never. That’s top button, middle and bottom. For a two-button jacket – always, never. Or top button and bottom. And for a one-button jacket – always.

You might be tempted to say, “Who cares about the buttons on a man’s coat?”  Well, if you want to be viewed as someone who pays attention to detail, you do. You’d be surprised who notices and what they think about to button or not to button.

For your added amusement, try counting the number of times I have used the word button in this blog. For those who get it right, I will send you a link to my 21 Commandments of Business Etiquette. Simply email me at lydia@lydiaramsey.com with your response and correct email address. Better yet, complete my “Contact Lydia” form to receive your complimentary article.

While you are at it, let me know if you have a particular topic you want me to address or a question you would like answered.

You can find more information on business etiquette and modern manners in my book, Manners That Sell – Adding The PolishThat Builds Profits.

lydia_sm-e1393277822156Lydia Ramsey is business etiquette and modern manners expert, keynote speaker, seminar leader and author of Manners That Sell-Adding the Polish That Builds Profits. Based in Savannah, Georgia, she travels across the US and as far away as India and Dubai to work with clients that include universities, corporations, small businesses, associations and non-profit organizations. Her topics range from flip-flops to forks. Visit her website www.lydiaramsey.com for more information about her services and resources.

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