To button or not to button… Easy answers to a common dressing dilemma

This entry was posted on December 8, 2010 under Dressing Guidelines. Written by:



Double-Breasted Suit JacketThere are certain rules — more like traditions, really — that govern menswear. Sure you’re free to wear what you want, and we’d like to think we have something for every mood or occasion, but we also think that certain gestures became traditions because they have merit.

Here are a few of them, all centered on the theme of buttons.

Double-breasted suits are making a comeback, and if you’re new to them, here are a couple of tips to keep in mind. First off, if your double-breasted suit or sportcoat has a six-button front, you’ll have the option of buttoning either one or two buttons. We prefer buttoning the top one and leaving the bottom undone. It’s a little more nonchalant, a nice counterbalance to the double-breasted’s more formal and imposing appearance.  The same rule also applies to the bottom button on both two-button and three-button jackets.

Next, many menswear experts would agree that you never wear a button-down collar with a double-breasted jacket. Yes, Fred Astaire used to break this rule, but he was one of the most legendary dressers ever, so he earns a pardon. But frankly we’d rather see him in any other collar — straight, spread, eyelet, tab — than a button-down. The button-down is a bit casual, and the double-breasted demands a dressier shirt.

Lastly, when wearing one of our three-piece suits, leave the bottom button undone on the vest. It’s another subtle touch of nonchalance that goes back to Edward VII (for whom the Edwardian Era is named), who raised his corpulent self from a stately dinner with a little extra room to digest, and a fashion was set that has lasted a hundred years.



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15 Comments to “To button or not to button… Easy answers to a common dressing dilemma”

  1. Airomee Wind says:

    My family has a strong English/Scottish background. So I’ve always learned these things when it comes to wearing double breasted suits.

    A few tips I’d like to give, that have worked best when I’ve had my own modeling photos taken.

    Providing a person is not too over weight, always button the top button of your suit coat when standing, and it usually looks best to have the coat unbuttoned when your sitting down or button the bottom button when sitting for the best look.

    My own personal opinion is a person the is too over weight, and wants to achieve a really good look, should probably consider a regular business suit, not double breasted style.

    All to often a double breasted suit was made with the slender person in mind, and doesn’t make a very fashionable fit, if your body doesn’t contour to the shape of the suit.

  2. ElBe says:

    As a ‘Dresser’ from the old school, I agree with the no button down with double breasted jackets. The only other option would be a turtle neck. With that said, I wish the oxford button down colors and fabric would be produced in a madison collar.

  3. renrick says:

    is it an acceptable attire to wear a double breasted sport coat (blazer) with button down collar shirt as shown in some of your advertsimsnt?

  4. LauraF says:

    Thank you for your feedback, ElBe! I will make sure that your comments regarding the madison collar are forwarded to our Merchandising department.

  5. LauraF says:

    Thank you for the helpful tips, Airomee!

  6. LauraF says:

    Great question, renrick! It is acceptable to wear a button down collar dress shirt with a more casual blazer. However, we would not recommend a button down collar dress shirt with double breasted suit.

  7. Asad says:

    Is it acceptable to have monogram initials on straight cuff shirts or mainly for french cuff shirts only ?

  8. Knut says:

    The comments made by Christian are “full score” according to my opinion. The only problem I see from Paul Fredrick’s angle is that the collar on the button down shirts they are selling is not suited for ties.

  9. LauraF says:

    @Asad – It certainly is acceptable to monogram a button cuff dress shirt. If we can be of any further assistance, please let us know!

  10. LauraF says:

    @Knut – The button down collar is the most casual of the dress shirt collar styles; however, it may certainly be worn with a neck tie. We are simply recommending that a button down collar dress shirt should not be worn with a double breasted suit jacket.

    If we can be of any further assistance, please let us know!

  11. Nigel says:

    While the double-breasted suit can consume the torso of a slim man, it is a big mistake to translate this often unflattering effect to men with the opposite body type, assuming that if it adds weight to a slim man it must have catastrophic effects on the portly man. For some reason as many have become more conscious of fitness this myth has developed, especially among younger fashion commentators largely unfamiliar with the golden age of the double-breasted suit. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that the double-breasted suit is designed to have a slenderizing effect on the portly-figured man. More material might be a bad thing for the man wanting to show off the results of his hard work at the gym, but more material can be a very good thing for some men. It is worth remembering that no clothing can perform a major miracle and make a very overweight man look anything other than overweight. Slightly less overweight and/or overweight but still looks good is the aim. Better than he would otherwise look; the best he can be. The extra fabric that can consume the slender figure hides and flattens the fat that has that rounding effect. The two-button jacket is generally about as unflattering as it gets on the portly man, even more so on the man whose waist is bigger than his chest. Take a good look the next time you see a man with a big belly in a two-button or one-button jacket, unless maybe the buttons are positioned higher than normal. Take particular notice of the side-on perspective. These jackets emphasize the waistline; the area that needs less emphasis not more. A double-breasted suit can be a portly man’s best friend. Of course, it should be kept buttoned, ideally custom altered to fit properly, etc. A relationship with a good local tailor is very important for the portly man, as ill-fitting clothes won’t be believed to be a fashion statement, but simply a statement that you’re too fat to find clothes that fit you and/or that you are slovenly, and not in any kind of endearing way. It probably takes less effort to workout at the gym than it takes a fat man to look (reasonably) good. At least if you’re no bigger than 58″ around the chest and no more than 54″ around the waist, Paul Fredrick offers portly men some good quality fashionable clothes at reasonable prices that should work wonders with a bit of minor tailoring. Of course, PF offers shirts and suit vests to fit even bigger men, but a few good jackets can hide a lot. PS. There’s a similar myth about pleated trousers. Fact is that pleated trousers hide the unsightly roll of fat that big men have. At a certain size the ‘rules’ change.

  12. Nigel says:

    Paul Frederick offers, by way of its custom shirts, the hidden buttondown collar. I don’t think anyone would have any problems with that style of buttondown collar. And, in my humble opinion, the problem with the normal buttondown collar can be simply put down to the obvious buttons, whereas one’s front buttons are assumed to be covered by a tie. However, the collar buttons are generally only really noticeable when they contrast with the material of the shirt. A white shirt with a buttondown collar that has white or clear buttons is fine, at least in my opinion. The benefits of the buttondown collar are well-known. It greatly helps the collar stand up when not wearing a tie, and without a tie the neck of a buttondown collar generally looks a lot neater. While you may think that nobody should wear a double-breasted suit without a tie, I think it can be done. Firstly, it is (at least, was) not uncommon to wear a double-breasted jacket/suit with a cravat. The same can be said for the double-breasted blazer or sportcoat. Secondly, some men don’t wear ties for religious reasons. In these circumstances, generally speaking the buttondown collar would serve best, at least for business and day wear, for the reasons previously stated. For evening wear, a dressy sportshirt with a soft collar, including the camp collar, might be a better bet. Either way, I wouldn’t rule out the buttondown collar with the double-breasted suit, just as I wouldn’t rule out a double-breasted suit without a tie. Both might still be questionable for some, but then plenty of the world’s most fashionable people get away with breaking conventions and sometimes it even looks good. Of course, many/most conventions are for good reason and should only be deviated from with knowledge and caution.

  13. Nigel says:

    One last thing about double-breasted conventions. It is often said that a double-breasted jacket must have a peak collar and that one should run away from one that doesn’t. The idea is that the peak collar adds to the suggestion of broad shoulders and a V-shaped torso with a slim waist. Again, not everyone needs or wants the width of his shoulders emphasized. And while most designers stopped experimenting with the double-breasted jacket in the 1990′s, I note that PF’s latest range includes a double-breasted suit with a notch lapel, and a 4-on-1 button arrangement. Sort of a Kent-style but the buttons appear a little higher, which looks more flattering to my eyes. I never thought the traditional Kent positioning flattered anyone. Anyway, maybe it’s the fact that PF’s notch-lapelled d-b suit is only offered in a striped fabric is ultimately deceptive and decisive, but I don’t think the absence of peak lapels appears problematic. To my eyes the suit looks well-balanced. It appears that the combination of a notch lapel that makes the lapel look narrower when it probably isn’t and the intermediate button positioning has the desired effect of dominating the torso significantly less, while the one-button fastening looks a little more casual and better-suited to doing business in the suit, or dining, or whatever. I’m also glad that PF tried to keep the neck height almost as high as a traditional six-on-two d-b jacket, as this too is one of the d-b jacket’s flattering features that was often done away with on the unstructured d-b jackets of the 1980′s. Long live the double-breasted suit. It saddens me that most people these days seem to think it too formal for just about everything. For me, I’d wear a d-b suit for any occasion that demands a polished appearance and that just as easily includes everyday business as anything else. I think a d-b suit makes you feel more special. Just hold your head up and your shoulders back and walk with confidence. A d-b suit will give you the edge over the rest.

  14. LauraF says:

    Thank you for your thoughts, Nigel!

  15. Lucka says:

    I feel so much happier now I undertsand all this. Thanks!

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