Tip: How to get buttoned up

Something I’d never really considered before I started trying to dress better were the complicated and seemingly well known, yet largely unwritten, rules of how to button up the various types of garment. To me it seemed quite obvious that if there was a button and a corresponding button-hole, then it intended to be buttoned up. Easy-peasy, nothing to worry about, sorted. Right? Well, my girlfriend is obviously a lot more clued up than me, so it started with shirt buttons. If the shirt is hanging outside the trousers, the bottom button stays undone. Depending on how long the shirt is, this can feel OK, and not so OK. For me this felt strange, given how this can cause unwanted ventilation in the belly-area, but in the interest of sartorial evolution, I went along with it. Over time I did notice how some shirts had the bottom button-hole in a different colour, or even had the direction of the hole cut perpendicular to the other holes. Possibly a hint and reminder to those that can’t remember simple rules of dressing?

So, when it came to waistcoats, again it was a case of keeping the lower button undone. Maybe also the top one. Oh, and only when standing up. When sitting down, undo all of them. This does make some sense, as a waistcoat that is slim-fitting when standing up can easily become quite restrictive when sitting down, so for the sake of comfort it makes sense to undo the buttons.

I next upped my closet to include jackets with buttons rather than zips, and the rules went up another notch. Depending on how many buttons the jacket has, a varying number of them should or could be done and undone. For a jacket with a single button, one button should be done. For one with two, only the top should be done. For a jacket with three? Well, the bottom one undone, the middle one done, and the top one is optional either way.

For me this all seemed like a complication and waste of good buttons, but in the interest of appearing well-dressed and savvy about these things, I have tried to conform to The Rules. Being an engineer of mind though has made me wonder about the rationalization behind it though, hence why I’m writing this piece for my blog. I need to know why this should be so!

Of course, in this modern day and age, it’s easy enough to find out almost everything you wish to know, so to start out with, this is the reason why we Should Not Button Thee Bottom Button:

It used to be so that you buttoned the buttons a jacket had. Need not, waste not, they were there for a purpose. According to ancient lore though, King Edward VII, reigning monarch from 1901 to 1910, was both a man of advanced sartorial tastes, and also generous of build. He was said to have “an obsession for clothes” and was also “the first menswear icon to be seen regularly by the general public.” Due to his generous girth, he preferred, or was unable, to button the bottom button of his suit jackets. Such was his influence at the time that others took after his style of buttoning, and thus the style was born. Given England’s imperial status at the time, his style gradually spread round the world. Irrational, most certainly, but a good story regardless!

buttoning your jacket

So, that gives us a fairly straightforward Rule regarding the front buttons on a jacket or waistcoat, but there’s another variation I’ve been noticing recently, and it set me thinking again. Why do some guys wear one or two cuff buttons undone? Normally there will be 3 or 4 buttons on the cuff, and to my mind it looks tidy to have them all done up properly. The only hint I’ve found to this is that it is a way to signal that your jacket has functional buttons, i.e. they can be done and undone, on the cuff. Functional buttons in this case signalling a more expensive and well made jacket! I believe the same logic applies to the guys you see with the label for the suit maker still attached to the cuff…

To end this small piece, I’d like to show the Universal Works Waistcoat I recently added to the collection. Here the bottom button is made into a design feature, making it quite clear that it should be left undone. A nice touch!

universal works waistcoat

As an easy one though, when it comes to trousers, all buttons are to be done up, always. At least there is one rule that is easy to understand, eh?


  • onemanandhisclobber 01/04/2013 at 15:27

    I think it was the colour of my UW that just didn’t work, yours is nice.

    • Well Dressed Dad 01/04/2013 at 15:39

      The blue and grey is definitely a nice combination, also the details are good. Like a lot of UW pieces, decent value for the money!

  • Waistcoat Wednesday: Nigel Cabourn Mallory waistcoat | Well Dressed Dad 03/04/2013 at 16:58

    […] with a classic blend of colours in the weave. A classic cut, with 6 buttons (we do remember not to button the bottom button?), 4 proper pockets on the outside, one on the inside and a quality cotton lining. A waistcoat that […]

  • ManofKent 03/04/2013 at 20:39

    It does depend on the waistcoat. Suit waistcoats tended to be longer than working men’s waistcoats (they’d often only be just below the waist) which were designed to be fully buttoned.

  • ManofKent 03/04/2013 at 20:43

    I should have added that the buttoning rules for jackets only really applied to suits and blazers – working men’s jacket’s (seemingly recreated as ‘chore’ jackets by many current clothiers) would be fully buttoned. There were also some sports jackets designed to have all buttons buttoned. Jackets that were effectively coats (think Mallory) would often be worn fully buttoned too…

    • Well Dressed Dad 07/04/2013 at 15:08

      I definitely agree with this with regards to the Mallory. Given how the bottom button is halfway up the jacket, keeping this undone really opens up the front and lets the cold chill your tummy. It’s good to hear I’m not alone in feeling all the buttons should be done up on this one at least.

  • Waistcoat Wednesday: Nigel Cabourn, herringbone Harris Tweed finery | Well Dressed Dad 08/05/2013 at 22:15

    […] herringbone  in thick Harris Tweed. A classic Mallory cut, with 6 buttons (we do remember not to button the bottom button?), 4 proper pockets on the outside, one on the inside and a quality cotton lining. A waistcoat that […]


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