Buttoning options

I've already talked about how to be at ease in tailored clothing. Now I'll discuss something a lot of guys fret over... buttoning. The short answer: You cannot fail with a two button. The long answer (or diatribe, if you like) is below.

In my opinion, something with a two button front should be everyone's first suit or sport coat purchase, regardless of height, weight, or build. The reason it's the most popular choice is because it works on pretty much everyone. It shows more of your shirt and tie, creating a long "V" that flatters the male torso, whether you're gawky, muscular, or have "more to love" around your midsection. As a general rule, you should only button the top button. (The exception is something like on RFK, left, and big brother JFK, right. Those jackets were cut with a higher stance and to have both buttons fastened.) I've yet to see a body type that didn't look good in a two button.

The Kennedys wore two button suits and supposedly helped popularise them.

Three buttons can accentuate girth on the portly man or make one look even shorter than they are. This is why I generally only recommend them for tall, thin, or athletic guys. Try to find one with a decent lapel length and/or not too high button stance. Some might even roll over the top button slightly, but this is desirable. Most three button suits were cut like this prior to the '80s. I recommend only fastening the middle button. It looks more rakish that way and is less to fuss with when standing up and sitting down.

An example of the three button suit executed well. But of course, you're not necessarily looking at Mr. Brosnan.

I think the reason the three button has to be cut well is because of the aforementioned "V" effect that is shortened by the higher buttoning stance. In contrast to what I described in the previous paragraph, a lot of modern three buttons are cut a little too high and have flat lapels. This is an unfortunate side effect of the "power dressing" era and doesn't seem to have changed much for many brands. It is slowly starting to go away, but be wary nonetheless.

Even on a tall and lean guy, a high cut three button suit can make one look like they were stuffed into a sausage casing.

A large Windsor knot only adds to the American Psycho yuppie look.

Naturally, there's another option that resembles mashup of the previous two styles. A three button jacket with a rollover lapel to the middle button. Also known as "3 roll 2" or "3/2" on a many clothing forums. J. Press calls it "button on centre". This is most often found on American sack cut jackets, but not always. I've seen some examples of Italian and British tailoring that have it. Unlike the American style however, these usually have darts and a somewhat nipped waist. It is somewhat controversial with a number of people who don't see the point in having buttons that one can't or aren't supposed to fasten. On the other hand, two or three button jackets are almost never cut to have the bottom button fastened anymore. Like the two button suit, these work on any build. However, I'd avoid it for a first suit/sport coat or job interviews and until you are comfortable with your own style sense.

Cary Grant often wore suits and sport coats with "three roll two" buttoning.
Rare example of Thom Browne worn well.

Double breasteds are a somewhat different ball game. The one most people think of (because it has stood the test of time the best) has six buttons with two to close, otherwise known as "6x2". It follows most of the same rules as the three button in regards to who wears it best, but even more attention needs to be spent on the cut as it visually widens with its double row of buttons and large overlapping of fabric. The buttons should have less space between them if a man of shorter or wider stature wants to wear one -- in that case it is best to go bespoke, but that can be costly. Unfortunately, with exception of clothing fanatics and certain ex-Papa John's Pizza politicians, they have fallen out of favour nowadays. This is a shame because, when well tailored, the double breasted suit grants an air of sophistication all its own, though it's not everyone's cup of tea of course. Like the three roll two, avoid seeking them out at first for the same reasons.

Double breasted 6x2 from Anderson & Sheppard.

There are other buttoning styles of double breasted, of course, but they are worn even less now than the classic 6x2. If you must have a 6x1, 4x1, or 4x2, get one that looks fairly timeless. Thrift stores are rife with 6x1s, but most of these discarded '80s jackets look silly now with their very low button stance and gorge height. However, those buttoning styles do seem to be the better choice for a shorter man.

Edward VIII was known for his softly tailored 4x2 suits, with top button almost always left undone. The long lapel line was flattering to his height at 5'8.

Sadly, single breasted four button jackets and the other double breasted styles not mentioned here (2x1, 6x3, 8x4) are best left in the past since they haven't stood the test of time in menswear very well.


  1. Another advantage of the 2B is that, if it must be drycleaned, almost all cleaners know how to press one. With anything else, God knows how it'll end up creased.

  2. Sounds to me like you need someone who is actually knowledgeable about what they're cleaning and pressing.

    There's an absence of true quality cleaners in most cities, but companies like Rave Fabricare exist who do their services by mail. If anything, you could look at their list of what they do right and see if your cleaners measure up.


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