Variations of the Three Button Jacket

The two button jacket may be the most popular currently, but the three button still has its place in a well dressed person's wardrobe.

Old fashioned. Stuffy. Too buttoned-up. All these things and more have been said about three button jackets, often from those who have been told since the mid-2000s that the two button jacket is correct and modern and the three button is for elderly man and out of style. This bit of wisdom seems to especially come from salespeople who are obligated to sell what's in. Truthfully, three button jackets are equally correct but not all are made equally. There is a spectrum, but most can be classified one of three ways.

What most think of as a three button often has the lapels minimally rolled or pressed flat above the top button. I believe the terms "true three button" or "high roll three button" started being used to differentiate it from the three roll two, which will be discussed later. Three buttons are rarely seen anymore, the last I saw of them off the rack was in the 2000s when the two button coat began reigning supreme. Brooks Brothers is one of the last major retailers to sell a "true" three button despite being well known for their un-darted three roll two jackets. Even then they only appear to be sold online. (One of them is also a tuxedo, which no one should wear.)

A boxy fitting Brooks Brothers suit with hard roll above the top button.

Closely related is, in my opinion, a more elegant and versatile take on the three button. It has often been referred to as "3/2.5", "3 roll 2.5", or simply "two and half button". Regardless of the proper name, this is a style of three button coat where the lapels roll through the top button and buttonhole for a more rakish and less stiff appearance. Contrary to what one might assume, it is not merely the difference between how the lapels are pressed. A jacket should have a canvas chest piece that naturally rolls the lapels to where they're meant to be. They often, but not always, have a softer construction overall. Many British and Italian bespoke tailors make this style as do high quality clothing brands.
The typical Brioni three button suit, in the late '90s at least. Note how the lapels roll more at the top, even outwards slightly. This is shown to its best advantage by only fastening the middle button.

Both of these styles can have the top two buttons fastened or just the middle, but like a two button should never have the bottom fastened. Because the bottom button and buttonhole are situated on the cutaway portion of the coat, they are not meant to be buttoned. An old adage for this, in order of top to bottom, is sometimes, always, never. If you unbutton your coat for sitting, buttoning only the middle is advantageous since it is one less to do every time.
Cary Grant commits a faux pas in To Catch a Thief, fastening all three buttons of his unusual grey blazer. As a result it looks untidy by pulling at the bottom.

The three roll two, also called "3/2 roll" or more pedantically "three buttons, lapel roll to second button", is the one that divides opinion the most, yet can be found a little more readily than the other two styles now. It's unclear where the first two terms originated, as Brooks Brothers calls their undarted jackets with this fastening a Three Button Sack and J. Press refer to it as "three button, button-on-center". Some will argue that the top button is rendered pointless by this "contrivance", but this ignores the fact that no one should use the bottom button either. Also, how many other style details with no function do we still accept as necessary on tailored clothing? This is my favourite style of three button coat. I think everyone who is a fan will agree it has a certain je ne sais quoi. If nothing else, it could be defended as a relic of when lapels first came about. They were often decorated with several vestigial buttons and buttonholes to resemble a coat with its standing collar turned down.
Note the clear roll to the middle button.

Some secondhand sellers are ignorant of this style and will fasten the top button when displaying jackets of this kind. Worse, they or their dry cleaners may even mistakenly press the lapels to the top button. The easiest way to determine is to look at the top buttonhole. If it is finished on both sides or only the "inside", which would actually face outside when worn properly, it is a three roll two. Apart from that, feeling the inner construction will give you an idea of where the lapels are meant to roll. The top button may also be situated unusually high if fastened.
This eBay seller has mistakenly fastened the top button, leaving the lapels to fight against being closed.

Confusion still abounds on this term. For example, Suit Supply mistakenly labels their three roll two Washington cut as being "2.5 button". Additionally, some believe that the top button can be fastened at will to create a "true" three button appearance. Pay this no attention. It will never look right and should be discouraged. The only time this is acceptable is if you are employing a throat latch on a turned up collar. In which case, it would also be acceptable to fasten the bottom button against the cold wind (on any coat with a throat latch, not just three roll two), since keeping warm is more important at that moment.
Throat latch in use on a three roll two sack sport coat in tweed.

All these styles will vary in the exact placement of the lapel roll and how much, depending on the canvas used and the preferences of the maker. In short, no two will necessarily look alike. For instance, a "button-on-center" from J. Press will have a more pronounced lapel roll than a "Three Button Sack" from Brooks Brothers. So while these terms are useful, they are not always hard and fast.

What is your favourite style of three button?


  1. These different variations are certainly important to note, but the variations on the three-button are really a spectrum and are more than just the three distinct variants mentioned here. Most jackets can be placed into one of the three mentioned here, but there are variations amongst the three. Not only can the lapels roll anywhere from at the middle button to above the top button, but the amount they roll can vary and change the look. I almost hate to categorize the variations, since not all that roll at the top button, the middle button or anywhere in between will be the same.

    1. Thanks! Incorporated this info into the article.


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