How to Button Your Suit Jackets and More

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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.

Single-Breasted Jackets

Two Buttons

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.

Three Buttons

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.

One Button

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

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

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

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.

Navy Overcoat GoldenEye1

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.

27 COMMENTS

    • The key to avoid looking like a security guard is to wear a well-cut and well-fitted blazer. Security guards usually wear metal buttons, but you can still wear those without looking like a security guard. See the section on blazer buttons in my navy blazer article.

      You might also want to avoid white shirts with navy blazers since that’s what security guards always wear. Bond always wears a solid or striped blue shirt with his blazers, plus an ecru shirt in Moonraker. But you need not avoid white shirts with your blazers so long as they are well-cut, high quality shirts.

    • I have a Navy blazer with smoky mother of pearl buttons. It’s worth considering if you want something that will stand apart in a subtle way.

  1. Whats your opinion on shoulder padding in a suit? Sometimes I feel the padding is bit excessive and it makes me look like a military person but my tailor says its fine. Your thoughts?

    • There are different degrees of padding. At most, shoulder padding should enhance the shoulder line but not draw much attention to itself. It’s okay if shoulder padding makes you look like a military person, though it should not look like the uniform of an American football player. If you feel the padding is excessive, you should find another tailor who makes shoulders with less padding. The amount of padding is mostly a personal preference.

  2. Good article, Matt.

    “The similar button one, show three (6×1) style that James Bond never wore faced similar problems”. This style of DB suit predominated in the late 1980’s and early years of the 1990’s. Often, with a fashionably wide and padded shoulder and ventless jacket. It was a hideous look (which likely explains why Bond never wore it though he did tread dangerously close to this territory with Dalton’s notorious LTK wardrobe) and by far the worst male fashion trend until the recent shrunken and inappropriately proportioned look.

    I never wore such a suit and I recall at the time thinking how much nicer and effortlessly elegant Roger Moore’s double breasted suits in LALD and TMWTGG looked and how tailoring was the only way to go. Since then I have never moved from that point of view even as tailors have become thinner on the ground!

  3. I often see men in Australia button the bottom button on a two-button suit only. It looks terrible and in a lot of cases the wearier is trying to looked relaxed for some reason and also they usually also have a bit of a paunch and doing up the the proper top button pulls at the waist as they are always putting on weight. Or they just don’t have common sense about it. I’ve seen men also with both buttons done up on a two-button suit, mostly on TV as I think they think it gives them a better body line on camera.

    • What’s worse, I saw Adam Hills hosting the Melbourne Comedy festival a year or two ago in a medium grey suit that was a size too large, with both buttons done up and, absolutely worst of all, still had the label sewn onto the sleeve. I simply could not fathom that not a single person running that show knew enough to at least have that tag removed. Australia is, unfortunately, not the most stylish country in the world.

  4. Men’s fashion and grooming is not what Australia is well known for. A lot of men simply don’t care, especially young guys, they wonder why there not taken seriously in the workplace by there bosses. Even in metropolitan cities a lot of men dress like there off to the beach, even on cool days. I can’t understand the thinking.

    • Yeah, it’s sad. I have a friend who argued with me all night assuring me that if anyone turned up to a job interview at his place of work wearing a suit, that person would have been laughed out of the building. He works as a financial planner.

      I have managed to sway his opinion, though. In fact, I’m meeting up with him tonight to measure him up for some shirts and a new suit. Apparently, he particularly liked the Bond style glen check suit I ordered through this blog’s deal with Oliver Wicks and he wants one for himself.

      This blog is making the world better dressed, one person at a time.

  5. Beautiful article. I have a question. As you said, we should always fasten a coat to keep us as warmer as possible. But, in case of no so cold temperature, or just to be more “fashion”, fasten not every bottons is a good option (as you said). Why Daniel Craig fasten the second botton of his bridge coat? Why didn’t he fasten the third botton(for istance)?
    Thank you

  6. I never understood why Daniel Craig is wearing that double-breasted greatcoat at the end of Quantum of Solace. He’s dressed so much warmer than M during that scene; she appears dressed for the winter weather we have in south Texas, not southwest Russia.

  7. What an important post! Thank you very much! Matt- I am also located in New York City and would love to talk style whenever you might be free. Coffee?

  8. Thanks for the post, Matt!

    I have a question in my mind for a long time regarding to this topic: What about the buttoning etiquette while standing but placing hands into pockets? There is a contradiction since a proper jacket length should cover the trouser pockets, it seems odd and spoils the drape when you place your hands into pockets. Considering I always go with high-waist, pleated trousers since I have fuller thighs, it looks even worse. This is the case when you put both of your hands and walking. Placing one hand into the pocket while standing with your jacket buttoned, is of course the classic pose of a man in lounge suit.

    I know some people would say “A gentleman should never put his hands into his pockets bla bla” but I like it especially while walking. I prefer comfort over to be seen as a model on a runway. Preserving the posture consciously is a challenge throughout a busy day.

    As far as I figured out, I should unbutton the jacket if I place both of my hands into pockets while standing and especially while walking. But like most of any “figuring outs” are wrong, I wonder if I’m doing this correct? What are your thoughts?

    Thank you!

    • I find walking with hands in the pockets a bit odd, and I remember being taught as a young child of about 5 or 6 years that I shouldn’t walk (or run) with hands in my pockets in case I trip. But for standing with your hands in your pockets, you have two options:

      1. You can push open the front of a single-breasted jacket to reach into your pockets.
      2. You can spread open the double vents.

      Option 2 means that you need double vents, and if you like putting your hands in your pockets you shouldn’t get a jacket with any other kind of vent. Pierce Brosnan would bunch up his jacket to keep his hands in his pockets in his vent-less double-breasted jackets in the later years of Remington Steele, and it wasn’t a good look. His single-breasted double-vented jackets in the earlier years of the show meant he could use both options above.

  9. I think I posted something similar a year or two ago on this website: At the end of the day, when you know the rules, you can break the rules. If I were going to a job interview, of course I wouldn’t button both buttons. If I were going out at night, I might experiment. I’ve done it before. It’s not illegal. I won’t be arrested for it. Connery did it a few times. It wasn’t a “mistake.” It was a sort of fashion statement. I’ve also seen it done on the American TV show “I Spy.” Maybe it was a 60s thing. As far as double-breasted goes, if the Prince of Wales can button all the buttons, then I damn well will, too.

    • Connery buttoning both buttons was a mistake rather than a statement. He didn’t know or care much about wearing a suit. None of his suits were cut so that the button button could be fastened without distorting the lines of the jacket. Sure you can do it, but you won’t look good doing it. It’s like putting the top button into the bottom buttonhole. You won’t be arrested, but you’re not going to look good doing it either. You can ultimately wear whatever you want to, but if you know why the rules exist you should know when breaking them might not be a good idea. There are many reasons why you shouldn’t button the bottom button of two buttons, which are explained in this article. Are there any good reasons for buttoning the bottom button?

      Despite what others say, I agree that you can fastening both buttons of a double-breasted jacket with two fastening buttons.

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