Unbuttoned Cuffs: Sprezzatura or Pretentio-palooza?

The latest in an ongoing series in which we debate current style topics with an intensity that is—we'll be the first to admit—a little out of proportion to the actual significance of the issue at hand.
Photo: Michael Williams

Effortless style or self-indulgent show off? Either way, nice watch!

On Jan 5, 2011, at 9:24 AM, Tyler Thoreson wrote:
Back in college, I knew a guy with a black BMW 5-series which he’d pre-ordered and picked up in person in Munich, before putting it through the paces on the Autobahn and having it shipped Stateside. This was a guy who, before starting college, had spent part of the previous six years at Groton, and the rest on a yacht. In case you missed it: This guy lived on a yacht. So yeah, his dad’s pretty psyched about that two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts. And yet, my friend insisted on having the chrome model numbers removed from the back of his Bimmer. In his view, whether his car had a 3.5-liter or a 2.5-liter motor was a matter for him, his mechanic, and his right foot.

I’m reminded of this friend when I see a guy with a button or two of his suit’s surgeon’s cuffs jauntily undone. Don’t get me wrong—it can be a cool, devil-may-care sort of look, and it’s one that I still employ on occasion. It’s a bit of sprezzatura, as the Italians say. But let’s face it: it’s also sort of an affectatione, no? I mean, if springing for the big engine is about performance, and not chrome badges, then shouldn’t the same hold true in matters sartorial? So I say spring for the custom suit—with working button holes—because of the way it fits, and feels. But keep those cuffs buttoned up and let the tailoring speak for itself. After all, anyone you’d really want to impress will notice anyway.

What say you gents?

On Jan 5, 2011, at 9:45 AM, Jared Flint wrote:
This is a real fine line for me. If some gentleman mathematically undoes his cuffs to fold them with the symmetrical precision of a Rorschach blot, that seemingly undercuts the idea of sprezzatura. It’s like cutting class to go study. I definitely employ it, but often only one sleeve at a time. Rules were meant to be broken. Especially when the only rule is: There are no rules. Well, that’s not the exact definition. But the casual, effortless nonchalance of the best-dressed Italians has that winking/smoking-in-the-high-school-parking-lot feeling to it…without the nagging cough.

Photo: Everett Collection

While traversing the subcontinent in search of a matriarchal figure in clothes custom-made by Marc Jacobs, you're allowed to leave one button undone.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 9:55 AM, Josh Peskowitz wrote:
I’m not going to lie, I unbutton my cuffs and have been doing so for a good long while. At this point a lot of jackets, expensive or not, come with working button holes so it means something different than it used to. (And buying off-the-rack with those holes working can lead to some hefty tailoring bills, since they have to take the sleeves up at the shoulder.) I don’t unbutton the cuffs on a suit jacket because when I’m wearing a suit, I’m trying to look, well, buttoned-up. But when I’m wearing a jacket, with soft shoulders and all that? I do it, and in uneven numbers, and change it all day long. I fiddle with them because they are there, or it’s hot outside, or because I can’t sit still, or whatever. It’s a simple way to dress down a jacket, and that’s how I want my jacket: as a sweater, or even a sweatshirt. The idea of wearing formal clothing in an informal way is appealing, and we all know there aren’t that many variables to screw with. But as Jared says, it’s a personal preference thing. On some men it will look accidental, on others contrived. There are a lot more factors that go into that beyond jacket cuffs.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:00 AM, Tyler Thoreson wrote:
So no one’s buying my point that there’s at least some element of “yo, check out how fancy my suit is” going on here?

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:01 AM, Jared Flint wrote:
There is absolutely a “yo, check out how fancy my suit is” factor. But seriously, check out how fancy my suit is.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:02 AM, Andy Comer wrote:
The question here seems to be: Is it okay for men to show off? I believe as men we have the right—and perhaps sometimes the obligation—to do so. Here I’ll invoke Glenn O’Brien on surgeon’s cuffs: “This is one way I show off, and it’s much easier than one-handed push-ups. And being self-employed, I sometimes leave several buttons unbuttoned, not always symmetrically. If you ask me, it’s a lot more bohemian than wearing a Day-Glo mohawk.” Glenn goes on to invoke Jean Cocteau, who would undo all of his buttons and actually roll up his jacket sleeves while reading the newspaper. (There’s that other category we all endlessly bicker over here: Function.) Anyway, it’s something I happen to very much enjoy doing with certain jackets—to flash the grosgrain lining of my navy flannel Black Fleece sport coat, for example—and because I enjoy it, well, I’m not about to stop.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:23 AM, Tyler Thoreson wrote:
Ooh, check out Mr. Fancy and his Black Fleece sport coat.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:24 AM, Andy Comer wrote:
Damn straight.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:25 AM, Josh Peskowitz wrote:
Damn, that shit is fancy.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:29 AM, Andy Comer wrote:
In reality, no, not that fancy. But can’t a guy flaunt what he has?

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:46 AM, Tyler Thoreson wrote:
Gilt MANual contributor Dirk Standen (who also happens to edit in his free time) has been known to undo the first and last (but not the middle two) cuff buttons of his suit coats. I think it’s an elegant touch, mainly because it’s so unabashed. There’s no way to pretend that it was an accident—oh, silly me, I forgot to do up these buttons again—and it’s all the more stylish for it. Plus, man, that guy’s jackets are pricey.

On Jan 5, 2011, at 10:59 AM, Andy Comer wrote:
Is that what differentiates the man of style from the puffed-up banker, then, when it comes to this style move? Straightforwardness? Or are we very much in “case-by-case” territory here?

On Jan 5, 2011, at 11:45 AM, Jared Flint wrote:
Or intent. Is that banker flaunting wealth or style? I’m guessing wealth. Then again, he works in a building full of money. Nothing against bankers, though. It reminds me of something Billy “White Shoes” Johnson said regarding why he didn’t wear black shoes: “Cause I feel faster.” Thus, if it makes you feel good, sport it. Unless I hate it—then get out of my neighborhood right now.

Hungry for more hand-wringing over matters of men’s style? Don’t miss our previous installments of Reply-All.

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  1. Andrew says:

    Forget the surgeon cuffs; I’m really liking what appears to be a paper clip tie-bar in the pic at the top of the page.

  2. admin-tyler says:

    Don’t quote me on this, but I think Prada did one a few seasons back, though that may have been a money clip.

  3. Philip says:

    A female acquaintance of mine happens to own (and wear, to great effect) a paperclip belt buckle that has to be 6″ across if it’s a millimeter. Beautiful.

    On the cuffs… go ahead – unbutton them. For the same reason one might roll up the sleeves of a sport shirt: you’re a man. Hiding the wrists is for formal occasion & -C temperatures. Or, I suppose, for the debonair chap that always has t’s crossed & i’s dotted, not a hair out of place.

  4. Joshua+ says:

    I’m 25. I have one coat with workable buttons, an Emanuel Ungaro tweed coat picked out by a stylist I met at a Gilt warehouse sale. Hell yeah I undo those buttons! Mess with them all day.

    This reminds me of when I was filming a promo video with the other business club president’s at my school. One guy, president of an honors accounting coed frat and 2 other clubs, stressed for 10 minutes on the exact knot (windsor) for his tie. Another female president said very matter of factly that I should be sure to wear a dark suit and black shoes for business related purposes.

    Soon after decided I’m sticking with 4 in hand, adding functional buttons on all my coats that should never be competely closed and when I went to New York the next month this past September for a conference I bought a 1 3/4 inch lapel, royal bluish slim fit suit and brown shoes. Many compliments at the post conference mixer.

    When my horrible mistakes are pointed out at school I say, “Well my goal isn’t really to get hired, I’m a business, man…not just a businessman.” haha

  5. Pingback: Wearing a Designer’s Clothes to that Designer’s Fashion Show: Ever Okay? | Gilt MANual

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