Traditional men’s clothing – or dress clothing – is full of arcane rules and customs that are often inexplicable, yet are very important in demonstrating to the world that you know how to dress yourself. One of the most common mistakes men make when wearing suit jackets and sport coats is buttoning the bottom button (confession time: we’re guilty of this ourselves sometimes). Unless you’re wearing a one-button jacket, leave that bottom button undone.
But where did this rule come from? And what does it mean?
Fortunately, unlike many fashion traditions, we’re able to definitely trace the origin of the buttoning rule. Prior to the early 20th century, men buttoned every button in their jacket, including the final button. All this changed when Edward VII, the King of England, began to gain weight. Edward, like any English monarch, had a wardrobe of custom-tailored clothing that was exceptionally well fitted. As his waistline ballooned during middle-age, his clothing began to fit snuggly, and, embarrassed by his stomach, he refused to commission new clothing. Instead, Edward found a novel solution: by simply leaving his bottom button undone, he allowed his stomach some breathing room.
From there, the custom spread around the world, and today is an accepted rule of traditional men’s tailoring. Unfortunately, despite its arbitrary origins, leaving your button bottom undone is now unavoidable. When modern suits are designed, they’re patterned with the tradition in mind, and buttoning the bottom button can throw off the drape of the jacket, causing rippling.
Interestingly, as with all rules, there are exceptions. Beyond one-button jackets, where buttoning the single button is designed into the pattern of the jacket, there is a particular type of jacket in which the bottom button is designed to be fastened. Known as a “paddock jacket”, and worn by such fashion luminaries as JFK (yes, he did know what he was doing), the jacket is designed with the lowest button hole at the natural waist – where a middle or top button lies in most other jacket designs. The high button point creates the illusion of height, and allows a graceful transition between jacket and pants, accentuated by the long, curving jacket front. Sadly, you’re not likely to find a paddock jacket for sale in a department store. Most examples these days are the result of careful bespoke commissions by fans of vintage tailoring styles.
The takeway? Leave your bottom button undone.