Fasten Up: Buttoning the Correct Button on Your Sport Coat

The one button rule of thumb for all your sports coats, suit jackets, and blazers.

The three button, buttoned - As demonstrated by Chris Wallace.

The two button, buttoned. On your humble author.

Despite the actions of your favorite ESPN anchor or Alec Baldwin, no more than one button should ever (ever) be buttoned on a single breasted suit. There, we said it… because it’s unequivocally true. This might seem overtly obvious to some, and utterly draconian to others. Exactly the reason for our stand here; it is never okay. Yes, Raf Simons has (several times) sent models down the runway sporting fully fastened three-button sports coats. But let’s view the runway through the lens of the theatrical and assume Mr. Simons simply wanted to show off his fancy buttons and their ease of functionality. The bottom button of either a two or three-button suit remains undone to maintain the silhouette of the cut of the sports coat or suit jacket. Otherwise you’re venturing into a cylindrical profile territory best avoided by everyone, including NBA draft picks and the overlooked Beatle. The top button on the three-button version remains undone to accentuate the roll of the lapel and preserve a bit of symmetry in the garment. Plus, nothing’s better than subtly undoing one button, with one hand, as you take your seat for dinner.

Photos by Rose Callahan

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  1. David says:

    On the rare occasion I wear a three-button suit jacked, I usually leave the top button unbuttoned (in addition to the bottom one, of course), but at times haven’t been sure if this is proper. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. David says:

    three-button suit jacket*

  3. Taek says:

    Typically a 3-button suit shows a little less shirt and more tie than a 2-button suit, but the 2-buttons are more classic suits. The 2-buttons give you a slimmer look due to the flat lapel with only one button done (top), but you can achieve a similar look with a 3-button with the middle one done only. The 3-button is nice because you have versatility of how much shirt vs tie you want to show with the top button, but doesn’t look as sleek (very sleek still) compared to the 2-button if you want to go for the one button look with the 3-button. That being said, both are very nice styles that really are dependent on what you want, but not too many differences.

  4. Taek says:

    Oh, also wanted to mention that some 2-button suits have their top button higher or lower. In the picture shown above, it seems to be a slightly higher positioned 2-button, with the top button similar to the top button on the 3-button. In this case, you would want to go with the 3-button with the top button down to show more shirt and have a slimmer look, due to the lapel extending down more. Nowadays the “slim style” and modern suits have the button lower, but again all depends on preference. Generally, the lower the lapel meets the slimmer it looks, due to the longer area of shirt exposure that makes it seem thinner.

  5. Jonathan says:

    Yep, the subtle unbuttoning before taking a seat is a classic Draper move.

  6. Larue says:

    Back in the day (meaning 15 years, or so, ago) for 3 button jackets I learned the “sometimes, always, never” rule. Although, I never knew on what occasion the “sometimes” applied for the top button. I’m guessing it depends on the cut of the jacket.

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