James Bond is usually the man to follow if you want to know how to properly button a jacket or coat. There are proper and improper ways to button a single-breasted lounge jacket (suit jacket, sports coat or blazer) or double-breasted jacket. Whether it’s a suit jacket, sports coat, blazer or dinner jacket, the rules that we follow for buttoning the jackets are the same for each stye because they are based on the cuts of the jackets. The cut of the jacket determines how we button it more than the formality of the jacket and the occasion we wear it does.
Jackets should be buttoned, and they should be buttoned properly, to take the most advantage of the jacket’s cut, which should give the person wearing the jacket the slimmest or more flattering lines. A fastened jacket gives superior lines to the body than an unfastened jacket does. For men with less than ideal waistlines, a fastened jacket keeps certain parts of the body contained and out of view. A fastened jacket also keeps the tie in place if one does not wear a tie bar, tie clip, tie pin or waistcoat.
Overcoats have fewer buttoning rules to follow, where the primary goal is staying warm.
You should fasten the top button on a jacket with two buttons at all times when standing and never fasten the bottom button. Not fastening the bottom button isn’t simply a rule created by the “fashion police” but a necessity due to how the typical single-breasted lounge coat is cut. The foreparts are curved away below the top button, and thus the lower button does not meet up with its corresponding buttonhole. If the lower button were fastened, it would cause the jacket to pull across the hips and distort the intended shape of the jacket. Sean Connery makes the mistake of fastening the bottom button of his jacket twice in Dr. No, once in From Russia with Love and once in Diamonds Are Forever.
The button two jacket’s fastening top button is placed at the waist, meaning either the wearer’s waist or where we want the waist to be perceived. The front of a single-breasted jacket is cut curved rather than straight down below that button and below the waist to balance the jacket’s open space above the waist to give the jacket a balanced look. Different tailors believe in cutting away that area more (open quarters) or less (closed quarters) depending on what they believe that balance between the top and bottom halves of the jacket should be. Only fastening the top button and cutting the foreparts curved rather than straight down is the minimum needed to give the single-breasted jacket top to bottom balance, but cutting the quarters open rather than closed can further balance the jacket’s open area above the waist.
Even if the bottom button of a button two jacket were designed to fasten, it would make the jacket look bottom-heavy. A higher button stance can remedy the desire to have two functioning buttons, and the paddock cut is specifically designed to be such a jacket. There has been a trend over the past decade and a half for very-high-buttoning jackets with two buttons, but they have the classic cutaway quarters so that only the top button is designed to fasten. These jackets look ill-balanced when fastened only at the top button, but they are pulled out of shape when both buttons are fastened.
On button two jackets with a high button stance, the vestigial bottom button is part of the visual balance and is better with it than without. On a medium or low button stance, the bottom button is less important for visual balance, and even though the cut of these jackets means that the button shouldn’t be used, it is still usually there because we expect it to be.
On a button two jacket, the jacket may be unbuttoned when sitting for more comfort. But the jacket may also stay buttoned when sitting, and Sean Connery and Roger Moore usually keep their jackets buttoned when they sit. The “rules” of wearing tailored clothes allow us the opportunity to unbutton the jacket, but they do not require us to button the jacket. Ideally, sitting in a buttoned jacket should be comfortable. If the jacket is only buttoned at the waist (as it should be) and not improperly buttoned below the waist, the lower foreparts and vents (if present) spread open to accommodate the shape of the seated body. When the top button of a button two jacket is placed at the body’s natural waist—which is the body’s fulcrum—it allows the button to stay comfortably closed when seated. If the button is placed too low or too high, or if the waist is too tight, the jacket will need to be unbuttoned when seated to avoid discomfort and undue stress on the jacket. With a cut and fit that works best with the wearer’s body, the jacket should still be able to be kept fastened when seated.
Like the jacket with two buttons, a jacket with three buttons should be fastened when standing for the same reasons. The button three jacket can fasten in two ways: you can button only the middle button, and on certain cuts you can also fasten the top button in addition to the middle button. Like on the button two jacket, the bottom button should never be fastened because the jacket is typically cutaway so that bottom button does not match up with its corresponding buttonhole.
No matter the cut of the button three jacket, you may always choose to only close the middle button. This goes for when the lapel rolls above the top button, for when the lapel rolls down to the second button and for anything in between. There is an infinite amount of ways the lapels can roll on a jacket with three buttons when considering both the placement of the lapel break and the amount the lapels roll. James Bond almost always only fastens the middle button on his jackets with three buttons, no matter the cut.
Daniel Craig’s button three suits in Spectre are cut with the lapels rolling to the middle button, meaning that his no option other than to button only the middle button.
Only if the lapels roll at or above the top button may the jacket be closed at the top button as well. George Lazenby’s button three jackets by Dimi Major from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service have lapels that roll at the top button, and he buttons the top two buttons of his hacking jacket. This buttoned-up look goes well with his equestrian use of the jacket, but it can also work more buttoned-up business occasions. Buttoning two buttons on a button three jacket can look uptight and cause someone to look uncomfortable in their suit jackets.
Lazenby could have buttoned only the middle button of his jacket for a different, but equally valid, look.
Like the button two jacket, you may unbutton the button three jacket when seated. If you prefer to unbutton your jacket when seated, I recommend only keeping the middle button fastened when standing rather than both button fastened when standing. Unfastening two buttons when sitting down gives the appearance of getting undressed to sit. At the very least, unfastening two button to sit comes off as fussy. On the other hand, if you only have the middle button to unfasten when sitting down you will look more at ease with your clothes. If you like wearing two buttons fastened on your button three jacket, just leave both buttons fastened when you sit. You may also leave the jacket buttoned when you sit if you only wear the middle button fastened.
A jacket with one button follows the same rules as a jacket with two buttons, but it’s simpler: you should button the jacket’s single button when standing and may choose to unbutton it or leave it closed when seated. There is nothing more to worry about.
Three-piece suits (including dinner suits with waistcoats but not with cummerbunds) permit you to wear the jacket open at all times when standing to show off the waistcoat. Because there is a waistcoat to cover the waist and to hold in the tie, the outfit can still be well-presented with the jacket open. Wearing the jacket open with a three-piece suit is still optional and the same rules as above may apply.
Jackets Without a Tie
Occasionally James Bond wears suits and sports coats without a tie, and sometimes when he forgoes the tie he also forgoes buttoning his jacket. The nonchalant look of wearing an open-neck shirt without a tie may follow with the equally nonchalant look of walking around with the jacket open. If you choose to do this the shape of the jacket and the benefits that come with a properly-fitting jacket are lost. Bond often still buttons his jackets when he forgoes a tie to take full advantage of the lines of his beautifully cut suits.
Double-breasted jackets must stay buttoned at all times, both when standing and when sitting. The double-breasted jacket’s overlap means that it flops around and looks sloppy if ever worn open, as Pierce Brosnan does with his double-breasted blazer in GoldenEye. If it were unfastened when sitting like a single-breasted jacket may be, it would involve not only unbuttoning one or more outer buttons but also fussily reaching inside to open the hidden jigger button (also called the anchor button). There are still multiple ways to wear the buttons of the many double-breasted styles:
The button two, show three (6×2) style—the most common and most classic double-breasted style—can either fasten only the top button, only the bottom button or both buttons. When Roger Moore wears this style in each of his first five Bond films he only fastens the top button because it emphasizes the waist and allows the freest range of movement.
Prince Charles famously prefers to fasten both buttons on this style jacket, following the way a double-breasted uniform is buttoned. Sitting with the jacket closed in this manner can be less comfortable, but double vents in the rear provide some relief. Because the front of a double-breasted jacket is cut straight down from the top fastening button, both buttons can be fastened without the jacket pulling at the bottom button like on a standard single-breasted jacket.
Bill Tanner in For Your Eyes Only sometimes fastens his double-breasted suit jackets cut in this style at only the bottom button to give his jackets a heightening long lapel line. This can only work if the jacket has a soft canvas (like Anderson & Sheppard’s) so that the lapels will roll over the middle row of buttons rather than have a hard break that disrupts the lapel line. If the button stance is too low, however, the jacket will feel unbalanced and feel uncomfortable when seated. This style of buttoning can mask a large waist but add heaviness to a slim waist.
The button two, show two (4×2) style is not something James Bond ever wears, but it follows the same rules as the button two, show three style as it is essentially the same cut but without the top row of vestigial buttons. The Duke of Windsor wore this style in a soft construction and only fastened the bottom button. His jackets were cut with a high button stance—the top buttons were two inches above the waist and the bottom buttons were two inches below the waist—so only the bottom could be fastened without the causing the jacket to look off-balance.
The button three, show three (6×3) double-breasted style that Roger Moore and George Lazenby wear as navy blazers should ideally be worn with all three buttons fastened to follow the way the naval reefer style that it comes from is worn. This is how James Bond always wears his because he is a navy man. The rows of buttons on Lazenby’s blazer are spaced closely together so that the bottom row is high enough to not be restricting if he sat down in it. This style may also be worn with either the top two buttons or just the middle button fastened.
The button one, show two (4×1) style is something Roger Moore wears in the 1980s, and because only one button can fasten there is only one way to wear it: always with the one button fastened. The button stance on Moore’s jackets has the fastening button row placed slightly below the waist so it moves well with the body and can be sat in comfortably. In the 1980s it was common to place the two rows of buttons at the same height as the lower two rows of the more traditional button two, show three style, which when fastened so low is less flattering and less comfortable to sit in. The similar button one, show three (6×1) style that James Bond never wore faced similar problems. The button one, show two style is a popular style for double-breasted dinner jackets.
Overcoats, topcoats and other types of outer coat are designed first for warmth, and thus they are always designed for all buttons to fasten. There is an exception: the upper vestigial buttons of double-breasted chesterfields and polo coats. The rule with overcoats is that if a button has a buttonhole, it may be buttoned! That’s not too difficult to follow. This goes for buttons at the top of the lapels and the collars, which greatcoats and pea coats have.
James Bond often chooses to button all of the buttons he can on his coats because he is wearing the coats for a purpose: to stay warm. Because of this, overcoats may stay buttoned when sitting to stay warm, like if you are sitting at a bus stop. There is also no reason to wear a suit jacket unbuttoned under an overcoat, even if you are sitting, because the purpose is to stay warm. A coat, whether single- or double-breasted can be unbuttoned when sitting in a car if one is too warm or uncomfortable, but buttoning and unbuttoning a long coat while seated can be a difficult chore!
Pierce Brosnan always wears his overcoats open in his Bond films, possibly because he is one of those people who is always too warm. In The World Is Not Enough he has the excuse to wear his double-breasted coat open because of his injured arm. Daniel Craig also wears his single-breasted overcoat open in Quantum of Solace. At the end of Quantum of Solace, Craig wears a double-breasted greatcoat that has five rows of buttons with only the bottom two closed. Considering it’s snowing, he would likely have been more comfortable with another button closed, and preferably two. Remember, overcoats are primarily to protect against the elements, so button them with that in mind.
Daniel Craig wears only one button fastened on any of his outer coats in Skyfall and Spectre, whether it’s the middle buttons of his topcoat, pea coat or Crombie-style coat, or the second button of his bridge coat. It’s not a practical way to fasten the coat if the intent of wearing the coat is insulation, but this fashion-first way of buttoning a coat allows Bond to easily access his Walther PPK from a shoulder holster. Unless you have a gun you need quick access to under your coat, you should button your coat for warmth and not for fashion.
There may be many rules to know about buttoning jackets and coats, but there are also options for buttoning some of the styles in different ways. Following the guidelines presented in this article will help you look your best and feel your best in the clothes you wear. You may also chose to break the rules, such as buttoning extra buttons on a single-breasted jacket for extra warmth outdoors. If you are breaking the rules to be different, be aware that you are most likely pulling the jacket out of shape or distorting the visual balance of the jacket.