Having seen many grown-up meetings taking place within my family, it’s always been very interesting to watch how my dad and uncles dressed for those occasions. Considering how they dressed when conducting lobola negotiations, for example, it was quite peculiar seeing some go from buttoning their jackets all the way, to leaving them unbuttoned due to visible expansions in their waistlines. Oddly though, whether the jacket was formal or a sport one, I found that there wasn’t any consistency amongst them when deciding on the number of buttons the jacket had to have done.
More on this; how does one choose between purchasing a one, two, or even a three-button jacket? Being innately curious concerning all things fashion; I did some research. Bear in mind, this initial research happened when I was much younger and hence pre-dates the relative ease of a quick Google search. It involved raiding the wardrobes of the closest men in my life, that being my dad who is now stout, and my grandad who was quite lanky amongst a line of tall brothers in my family. What I discovered was that my dad had a preference for two-button jackets, and reserves the one-button jacket for his tuxedo. My grandad, on the other hand, had a variety of jackets (and coats… which I inherited as I got older) and a number of them were the three-button kind. Why did these men have different preferences for their jackets ?
Before we get ahead of ourselves, I need to clarify a pet peeve of mine, namely; the buttoning of a formal jacket. While this seems inconsequential to most men, having become a sartorial enthusiast over the years, I tend to cringe when I see gents buttoning their two or three-button jackets all the way down. If you’re going to fasten your formal jacket, then there are basic rules pertaining to the two and three-button jackets respectively. For the two-button jacket – only fasten the top one. For the three-button – always fasten the middle button, but never the bottom one. Fastening the top button, however, is optional. One may ask why such rules exist? The simple answer to that pre-dates modern fashion, to a time when King Edward VII wore a jacket, which was the height of fashion at the time, rumour has it that the King had quite a protruding stomach which made it quite a mission to button it all the way down without making the jacket drape in an unsightly manner. Given this wardrobe challenge, and to avoid offending his royal highness, his subjects started to normalize fastening only the top and middle button on two and three-button jackets respectively. What was a result of societal adaptation of that day, became a timeless trend which has so well entrenched itself in menswear, that going against it becomes an eyesore for gents like me.
Why is the number of buttons and the correct fastening of them relevant? Mainly because it affects the placement of the buttons on a jacket. While this placement on a one-button jacket is approximately below the rib cage, the placement on a two-button jacket are slightly further apart (both above and below) this mid-point. In both cases, more of the shirt and tie are shown, relative to a three-button jacket which has an even wider placement.
This brings us back to the important question concerning the choice between a one, two and three- button jacket. Recent studies have shown that it all boils down to the optics. However detailed it may be, the argument is simply that taller people should go for the three-button option to reduce the magnitude of shirt and tie shown as a result of having a longer torso, and shorter gents should go for the two-button option for the opposite effect. Having spent enough time experimenting with various suit cuts, I don’t always stick to these guidelines. While I don’t have my grandad’s towering height, I personally don’t limit myself to the two-button option on my custom suit jackets. Having understood the aforementioned rule pertaining to the fastening of a two-button jacket, I eventually started making one-button jackets for more than just special functions. I simply asked myself two questions. Firstly, which looks more elegant? Secondly, what then is the point of the bottom button? The answer to both questions was simply designing more one-button jackets. I have found it to be the winning formula for my outfits as I can still pull the look off with a three piece suit option which allows me to show off my elegant waistcoats (I find that they are often easy to mix and match). I hasten to add, that this is what works for my frame and still acknowledges the guidelines concerning formal menswear.
The key is to always understand your body type and choose your wardrobe along specific guidelines suitable to it. While the store assistant may not always be well equipped or knowledgeable enough on the subject matter to help you, doing brief research on jackets for your body type and height should be helpful. If you prefer custom-designed suits, like me, a tailor will be knowledgeable enough to give you the best options to suit you (pardon the pun).
A few pointers from me;
If you have a bit more in your waistline, stick to the two-button (or even one for the more daring) option as it will give you a slimmer silhouette when the jacket is fastened.
As mentioned above, if you are taller, more buttons would be better, however I would advise you to try the two button option as the three button jacket is a bit dated and I would personally prefer that it remain amongst my grandad’s archives.