That is the question raised recently by a group of college students during a workshop on appropriate interview and business attire. They asked me why they should leave the bottom button on a suit jacket undone and wanted to know where this rule originated.
After doing some research, I learned that there were no formal suit-jacket-buttoning rules in the early days. Men would button all, some or no buttons. The choice depended on the man's style. Apparently much of this changed in the early 1900s when King Edward VII started the trend of leaving the bottom button of a suit undone. He was too overweight to button the bottom button of his waistcoat, so everyone started following his lead so they would not offend him. At least, that’s what my research uncovered. I’d like to think the rule has something to do with the fit of the jacket too!
Let’s fast-forward to modern day rules.
When wearing a one-button suit jacket, sport coat or blazer, keep it buttoned when standing and unbuttoned when sitting.
When wearing a two-button suit, sport coat or blazer, leave the bottom button unbuttoned. Button the first button when standing and unbutton it when sitting. Buttoning the bottom button restricts movement and affects the drape of the jacket.
When wearing a three-button suit, you have a few options. You can either button the top two buttons and leave the bottom button unbuttoned if the lapel lays flat or if the lapel has a soft roll and folds over the top button then only button the middle button as the top button will not lay flat. Follow the same rules of button when standing and unbutton when sitting. This suit style is not common in the workplace. Stick with the two-button for business.
Double-breasted suits are easy. The general rule is to button all the buttons except the bottom one, but you can also button all of them. In fact, Price Charles prefers buttoning all of them. Keep the jacket buttoned until you take it off. The military style behind the double-breasted suit requires that it remain buttoned, otherwise the coat looks sloppy.
If you have any questions about your suits or want to know which style is best for you leave a comment below!