Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Bottom Button

To button the bottom button or NOT to button the bottom button... naw, that's not really a pressing question. Besides, the answer's simple: NOT to button the bottom button. (Say that 3 times quickly.)

I see a lot of Mod fellows out there buttoning down their suit jackets all the way from top to bottom, but that's just not the way to go. Here are the reasons I see as to why you should leave the bottom button alone:
  1. It's tradition. Sure, not all traditions are worth following, but, um, this one is.
  2. In general, suit jackets are designed to leave that button undone.
  3. Trust me, you'll look so much less uptight with that bottom button loose.
Let's start with a little historical overview of how this look began. The man credited most with beginning the tradition of leaving the bottom button of a suit jacket unbuttoned is King Edward VII, who reigned from 1901 to 1910. According to Eric Musgrave's Sharp Suits book, Edward had "an obsession for clothes" and "was the first menswear icon to be seen regularly by the general public." He is known for popularizing various fashion trends including the first modern dinner jacket (tuxedo), cuffs (turn-ups) on trousers, and the open bottom button. And why did he leave that button open? Well... as seen below, he was a big guy. In an effort to feel more comfortable, he relaxed that last jacket button, thus inspiring many sycophants to follow, leading to a tradition that still continues to this day.
King Edward VII, looking sharp and relaxed.
Well, Mods don't follow tradition, am I right? They're a rebellious sort who follow their own rules of dress. Hey man, I hear you. But here's the problem: thanks to the tradition started by King Edward VII, most suit jackets today are designed to leave the bottom button undone. According to the Art of Manliness blog, modern suit jackets are actually made to flare away from the hips with the bottom button unbuttoned. Otherwise, the fabric of the jacket pulls around your waist awkwardly. The Permanent Style blog also mentions this design detail in the construction of a suit jacket. Their advice is to always keep, at least, the middle button done up, but never the bottom button. Your jacket will sit more naturally on your frame with the bottom button loose.

Looks like The Small Faces got the memo! (From Magic Mac.)
Of course, if you insist on keeping all buttons on your jacket done up, well... knock yourself out. Keep in mind though, it's a pretty uptight look. The thing about good style is that it should look relaxed, not overdone. With all your buttons buttoned, you'll look stiff and closed in, like a giant cylinder. Plus, since jackets aren't designed for buttoning all the way down, the lines of your jacket will look awkward on you with that pulled fabric around your waist. Oh and here's a test for you: try reaching into your trouser pocket while the jacket's buttoned all the way. Yeah, look at all those horrible folds! And really, how does one sit down all buttoned up?
The Lambrettas photo from the Magic Mac blog. Notice the difference in how their jackets drape.
Now, there is one exception to this rule: if it's really cold and windy, AND you don't have an overcoat on, AND you're coming down with a cold, then button up all those buttons! But other than that, I hope you'll think twice next time you are buttoning up your jacket. And if some of you Mods out there still insist on doing away with this rule, take solace in the knowledge that you're not alone (granted, this is in reference to the vest buttons).

I leave you now, but want to let you know that, yes, I too used to button all the way up before I got a clue. So don't feel bad if this is something new to you. It was new to me once too.
Mod Fail at age 20! Bottom button done up and look at how the jacket pulls.
When in doubt, think of your buttons this way from top to middle to bottom: "Sometimes. Always. Never."


  1. Glad to hear someone finally address this fauxpas. If only the word could be spread to hollywood, how often do we see this on red carpets? the richest people in the world have no idea:

    1. Thank you Anonymous! It's a rule that's out there generally, but I see photos of Mod types often buttoning all the way down which is why I wanted to address it. Like I showed before, I used to be guilty too when I was younger.

      I knew there was a tradition, but what was new to me during the research was that there was a technical reason for this since jackets aren't really designed for the bottom button.

  2. Ah ha.. totally agree with the above but, what of 1, 2 & 4 button jackets?

    1. From my experience with 4 buttons, you can still leave the bottom one undone since it's in essentially the same spot on the jacket. It's the top button that is higher.

    2. Agent00Soul is correct. Looking around style sites on the internet, you'll find the general rule is that the bottom button for 2 and 4-button jackets is NEVER buttoned as well.

      For single-button jackets, buttoned when standing, unbuttoned when sitting.

  3. I was playing devils advocate and only kidding regarding the one button... I would never fully button a 3 or 4 button jacket... Though, I have a couple of two button jackets with a high gorge, essentially cut as a three button jackets with out the bottom button and I wear them with both buttons fastened! The jacket cuts away slightly from the 2nd bottom down.

  4. Like Rick, I have a couple 2-button jackets that just fit much better with both buttons fastened. That's all that matters - how it fits, how it looks. There should be no other rules beyond that. If a three or four button jacket is tailored to fit properly with all buttons fastened, that's how it should be worn. (This is rare with standard jackets, but "bum-freezers" are often short enough that this works well.) One thing I do dislike is a bit of shirt peeking out around the belly area. If that is happening, wear a vest like King Eddy 7, or button that bottom button. Or lose some weight, but that's easier said than done, at least for me.

  5. Regarding the 2-button jackets, I may have mentioned this before to someone. Years ago, a friend of mine had a 1960s vintage 2-button jacket that did have a very high gorge. The button stance was also high with the bottom button also above the belt-line.

    This was the first time my view of the 3-button jacket was challenged and that was when I realized it wasn't the number of buttons that mattered, but rather the gorge. I haven't really seen a jacket like that since, but it was sharp!

    That said, I still follow tradition... I'd leave it undone! ;)

  6. I concur, heartily! The bottom button is merely just an accessory in my book.

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