The One-Button Suit

25

Most lounge jackets—suit jackets, blazers and sports coats—have two or three buttons down the front, and this has been the standard for single-breasted suits and sports coats since the 1930s. But what about suits with only one button? Though it is a style most associated with dinner jackets — and, to a lesser extent, black lounge jackets (strollers)—the single-button (also called ‘button-one’, or ‘one-button’) style may also be used for other types of lounge jackets. Though it can lend a more formal look to suits in more formal cloths, it is not necessarily a more formal style just because it is most often used on dinner jackets and morning coats. Any type of lounge coat may be made with just one button on the front.

Amongst English tailors, Savile Row’s Huntsman and their disciple Richard Anderson are best known for the single-button jacket, and they make dinner jackets, suits and tweed sports coats in this style. Huntsman and Richard Anderson by no means have a monopoly on this style, and most English tailors regularly make button-one jackets today. It has a more bespoke feel than the standard button-two jacket since the button-one jacket is still uncommon outside of bespoke. It is currently something of a trend amongst English tailors, though I don’t imagine it is a style that will ever look out of date.

My button-one suit from Mason & Sons

Ultimately, this style is a matter of taste. The button-one suit is more rakish than the standard button-two and button-three, more for cultural reasons than anything else. It is style better worn socially or in creative industries than for traditional business because of that, though many businessmen in London wear the style. If the rest of the suit is conservatively styled, many people will not notice that the suit is different from the usual button-two.

A jacket with one button is not much different than a jacket with two buttons, since most button-two jackets are designed for only the top button to fasten. The main idea of the button-one jacket is to do away with the unused bottom bottom and thus to give the jacket a more streamlined look. A single button is often placed lower than the top button of a button-two jacket, but this is mostly because the buttons of a button-two jacket are commonly placed too high. The button stance of a single button is more important than on jackets with two or three buttons because there are no other buttons to help visually balance the placement of the lone button. Ideally, the top of two buttons and the middle of three buttons should all be in the same place as a well-placed single button. The quarters of a button-one jacket are sometime more cutaway than on a button-two jackets, but this is not always the case.

Patrick Macnee as John Steed, wearing his signature velvet-collared suit with one button in The Avengers

The button-one jacket was a popular for both suits and sports coats amongst people in entertainment in the 1960s. Robert Vaughn, Patrick McGoohan, Patrick Macnee and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. wore the style while playing their respective spies on television. Actors Dick Van Dyke, Don Adams and Eddie Albert wore them on their respective American sitcoms. Musicians like Sammy Davis Jr and Miles Davis also wore the style at the time. The style was most popular in Hollywood thanks to tailors like Sy Devore and Harry Cherry, though the style was also trendy in England throughout the 1960s.

By the mid 1960s, some thought that fashions were moving towards more buttons. London fashion design Hardy Amies captioned a pair of photos in his 1964 book describing a man in a button-four suit “The complete man-present” and a man in a button-five suit “The complete man-future”. New Edwardian trends and the popularity of the Beatles helped push fashions towards suits with four buttons, but these trends were not the end of the single-button suit, which stuck around through the end of the 1960s and is still more relevant today.

Daniel Craig wearing a button-one suit from Kilgour in Layer Cake

The button-one jacket’s popularity declined after the 1960s, but it did not go away. Pierce Brosnan had a few button-one suits in his character’s wardrobe for Remington Steele when the series started in 1982. Bob Barker often wore them throughout his 35-year run as host of The Price Is Right, ending in 2007. Brad Pitt wore the style on a sporty summer suit in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s Eleven as a callback to the 1960s. Daniel Craig wore a button one suit in 2004’s Layer Cake, and Tom Cruise more famously wore the style in his 2004 film Collateral.

Single-button suits have occasionally appeared in the collections of fashion brands over the past decade as it logically follows with the minimal trend. It helps the popular shorter suit jacket look slightly more proportionate. Despite this it hasn’t taken a hold in a market that is accustomed to jackets with two buttons.

James Bond wears only three button-one suits over the course of the series, so one could hardly say it is a Bond staple. None of them are amongst Bond’s most memorable suits either, so it is not a style associated with Bond.

Sean Connery wearing a button-one suit in You Only Live Twice

The first of these button-one suits is a dark blue wool-and-mohair-blend suit that Sean Connery wears in Japan in You Only Live Twice. Though the rest of Connery’s James Bond’s suits have two buttons, his single button-one suit in You Only Live Twice is Bond’s only foray into this style when it was most trendy in the 1960s. The cut is almost the same as Connery’s usual button-two, with the button stance slightly lower than his usual already low button stance. Connery had previously worn a similar blue button-one suit in the 1964 film Woman of Straw.

Moonraker Cream Suit
Roger Moore wearing a button-one suit in Moonraker

Bond’s second button-one suit is a sporty cream suit that Roger Moore dons for his arrival in Rio de Janeiro in Moonraker. The single button here helps contribute to the suit’s more relaxed look while at the same time makes the jacket appear more like an ivory dinner jacket. This suit jacket may have been made with one button to give Bond the ability to also wear it as a makeshift dinner jacket.

Pierce Brosnan wearing a button one suit in The World Is Not Enough

The most recent of Bond’s button-one suits is the charcoal pinstripe suit in London in The World Is Not Enough. Apart from having a single button on the front this suit has other rakish details like lapels on the waistcoat and slanted pockets with a ticket pocket, but overall this is a conservative-looking business suit because of the sober cloth and balanced cut. This is the case where the lack of a second (or third) button goes unnoticed by those who don’t notice the fine details of menswear. However, this suit’s single-button fastening establishes that Bond is dressed like a businessman in London and nowhere else.

Louis Jourdan as Kamal Khan wearing a button-one jacket in Octopussy.

Bond villains have also worn button-one suits as well as sports coats. In From Russia with Love, Benz wears a loudly striped button-one suit while Kronsteen wears a more elegant button-one navy silk jacket. In Goldfinger, the title villain’s shawl-collar tweed suit has only one button. Octopussy‘s Kamal Khan wears both a navy button-one suit and a grey tweed button-one jacket.

25 COMMENTS

  1. Mr Spaiser,

    Would you please consider a write up of Tom Cruise’s suit in Collateral? It’s an iconic suit commissioned by one if the most stylish directors of all time, Michael Mann. A million thanks.

    Kindest regards,
    Mark

      • Mr Spaiser,

        Your analysis is much different than BAMF’s. I would be interested to see what you think of the suit construction (soft shoulders?), cloth weave and weight, lapel width, button stance, unique breast pocket, etc.. It’s your commentary on the finer details that would add so much value.

        Kindest regards,
        Mark

      • Hi Mark,

        Nick presents some very interesting ideas about the suit, and I don’t think there’s much more I can add. He gets a few details wrong, but I don’t think that’s a reason for me to write my own post on it. I agree that the shoulders are soft with very little padding, and I’m not a fan of the jetted breast pocket (he is wrong in calling it a welted pocket). I think no breast pocket would have been a better choice.

  2. A one button suit is not necessarily the same as a button one. While a one button suit is by default a button one, a button one suit may have more than one button. Take for example a double breasted “six button, button two” jacket which has six buttons only two of which are buttoned or a “two button ,button one” which has two buttons but only one is designated to ne buttoned.

      • It can be assumed to be single breasted but not to have only 1 button. For example a 3 button button one suit which is cut to only button one button, the middle.

      • A jacket with three buttons where the lapel rolls over the top button is called a “button two, show one”, even if you are only supposed to button one button. “Button one” without modifiers means that the jacket has one button.

  3. One button odd jackets / suit jackets were briefly popular in England during the early eighties. The style was squared shoulders, narrow notch lapels, low buttoning point, jetted hip pockets, squared quarter fronts and no vents. They were known at the time as ‘box jackets’, often combined with short-collared shirts and skinny ties. Sometimes jacket and tie were leather! There may have been some Antony Price influence there. See Bryan Ferry on the cover of ‘The Bride Stripped Bare’. The look didn’t last long and was soon replaced by the oversized double breasted style jacket with huge shoulders worn by the yuppie set.

    • As long as the jacket has some waist suppression, the style you are mentioning can look quite nice.

  4. Somehow I have the impression that a 1-button front can work better for short people since the quarters have a unique vertical line that isn’t disturbed by buttons.
    I like it on Bond, between the 3 suits I prefer Brosnan’s. Maybe that’s because it’s a suit where the 1-button front is the least noticeable !

  5. Thank for this piece! Although Connery’s Bond is a bit too traditional for the one button suit, it is the style I most associate with 60s spies overall. I did a made-to-measure a while back that was somewhat inspired by the Steed suit in the article actually: similar color, three piece, with no breast pocket. It’s very sleek indeed, but in retrospect, I should have only done single buttons on the cuffs for the full minimalist effect.

    Like it even matters! Just this weekend, I wore it to a symphony. Of course, when I got to the recital, no one else was in a suit at all. There were maybe three sport coats in the audience. Even classical music, that bastion of dressing up, is now super casual it seems. The Economist magazine ran an editorial 3 weeks ago praising the rise of casual clothing in business too. I was just thinking, “It’s really all over!” when I read it.

    • Your suit sounds wonderful.

      In New York many people still dress up for classical music concerts. Many people still dress up for the opera, and there are always a few people in black tie at the Met Opera every Saturday evening.

      • Thank you! If you ever set up a reader’s gallery page or similar, I will definitely post. Losing the breast pocket was really a clever idea by actor/designer Patrick MacNee.

        Glad to hear the Met still attracts nice garments. I’m going in July for the Magic Flute, so maybe that’s a chance. This symphony was in Brooklyn which is maybe less formal??

      • It’s partly generational. My father-in-law, whom I very much love and respect, is a 65 year old C-suite executive who cannot be bothered to dress up under almost any circumstances. For him, it’s a symbol of his status that he no longer needs to do it. I believe this is the norm among his generation who rebelled against the dress code of their parents, and have bestowed upon us atrocities like “casual Friday.”

        Ironically, when I wear a suit or a sports coat, which I do five days a week, it feels like it’s own act of rebellion. So I guess I can relate to the appeal.

      • I am a 62-year old college professor, and I, too, rebel by wearing a suit or a sport coat 6 days a week (that includes Church on Sunday)!

      • I work in the medical profession, and dressing up is probably more subversive in my particular setting than going casual, sadly. I’d love to wear a suit everyday, but might look a little ridiculous in meetings next to the guy with jeans.

  6. You mentioned that a button one jacket usually has more cutaway than a button two jacket, though your Anthony Sinclair blue suit jacket has very little cutaway. Would it be possible to get a Special Order Conduit Cut suit with more cutaway, like the cream suit Roger Moore wore or the jacket Luis Jourdan wears as Kamal Khan? Or would you have to go full bespoke to alter the cutaway like that?

    • Button one jackets are only sometimes more cutaway than button two. It’s a personal preference. I don’t know if Mason & Sons is able to adjust this with the Special Order Conduit Cut, though it is possible to do a little in alterations after receiving the jacket. I don’t suspect it is much different than shortening a jacket, which my alterations tailor has done for me on occasion. You should contact Mason about it.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.