Hardy Amies bespoke tweed jacket Will
Fitting on a single-breasted jacket at Hardy Amies

This is the second in a series of articles intended to create an in-depth guide to buying tailoring. Some of these areas have been covered before on the site, but not in this much depth – and we will link to further questions and posts that provide yet more analysis.

How many buttons should I have on a single-breasted jacket?

Just as hard as deciding the type of suit you’re looking for (either ready to wear, made to measure or bespoke – following on from our first post), and the material, is what style you want.

This comprises several key decisions, many of them not obvious to someone buying suits – particularly made-to-measure or bespoke suits – for the first time.

Most men have a pretty good idea what a suit looks like. Their mental image will be of a single-breasted jacket, with two or three buttons and notch lapels, and trousers that sit on the hips, probably without pleats or turn-ups.

But while this may seem ‘standard’, those men will probably not be able to describe the suit in these terms. So when presented with the question ‘what style of suit would you like?’ by a tailor or salesman, they will struggle.

In this and the next few posts we will set out those style decisions, so the reader can understand all the various choices – and most importantly, what affect they have on the look of the suit.

We start with the number of buttons on a single-breasted jacket. This is important, more complicated than it sounds, and drives a lot of other decisions.

Further Reading:

Taking pictures to the tailor – Reader Question

Tips for Steve’s first visit to the tailor

Three button suit
Vintage three-button suit

The three-button jacket

Fashions exist even within classic menswear, and over the decades men have chosen one, two, three and even four-button suits. But generally the most common style has either been a two- or three-button.

At the start of the 21st century, three buttons were more fashionable than they had been in a long time. But it’s important to differentiate true three- buttons and three-buttons that ‘roll’.

A true three- button jacket will have lapels that end, abruptly, just above the top of those buttons (see image above). When only the waist button (the middle one of the three) is fastened, this short lapel will create a sharp, awkward angle at the top of the jacket’s front. It has been designed to button the top two, and looks odd if they are both unfastened.

Most other jackets have some amount of ‘roll’ to them, so that when the top button is unfastened, the lapel rolls back and lengthens, ending somewhere above the waist button. This roll or lack of it is driven by factors such as the canvassing of the chest and the tension of the collar.

High fastenings (which three- or four-buttons naturally demand) look good on fewer people, as they shorten the plunge of the lapel and reduce that uniquely elongating, strengthening effect of a tailored jacket.

Nevertheless the style has been popular in the past when driven by specific fashions, such as the Mods. And they usually inherited parts of their look from earlier gentleman’s attire, where as little shirting was on display as possible – leading to the necessity of a high-fastening jacket or an ever-present waistcoat.

bespoke neapolitan cashmere jacket
Bespoke ‘three-roll-two’ jacket, Elia Caliendo

The ‘three-roll-two’ jacket

Often associated with but not exclusive to Italian bespoke tailoring, the ‘three-roll-two’ jacket is not designed to fasten its top button. As shown above, the jacket is only fastened at the middle button so the lapels roll naturally outward.

This is a nice, slightly more relaxed alternative to the button options that follow, and certainly more laid back than the ‘true’ three-button jacket.

Whitcomb & Shaftesbury RAF flannel suit copy2
Bespoke one-button suit, Whitcomb & Shaftesbury

The advantage of a single button

As we have seen, a higher fastening is less flattering and (certainly in my view) less stylish, while fewer buttons both lengthens and slims the wearer.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the choice of one button or two takes this argument a step further, with a one-button style lengthening the torso even more. But in fact the lapel length will likely be the same.

With both styles, the waist button is the top (or only) fastening – the two-button style merely adds another, lower button.

What’s more, most two-button jackets are designed for the bottom button not to be done up. You may be able to fasten it, unlike the bottom buttons of some waistcoats, but the cut is far more elegant without.

(Some styles have two buttons that sit above and below the waist, and are designed to both be fastened. But these are rare, often fashion ephemera, and blunter than a traditional shape. After all, why turn that single-point fulcrum into a static bar?)

Manning and Manning suit jacket
Fitting for a two-button jacket from Manning & Manning

An argument for a second button

So, you may well ask, what is the point of a second button? It seems redundant. Many commentators have shared this view, arguing that one button looks more stylish and three more practical, while a two- button jacket is just dull.

There are three principal reasons for adding the second button.

The first is practical – a little wind can turn your jacket fronts inside out, flapping them around and forcing you to repress them with your hands. Although you wouldn’t normally button the lower button, you do have the choice when needed.

The second is a matter of style: one button is sharp, singular, not to say rakish.

Notwithstanding the jacket’s heritage – coming from the morning coat and riding wear – nor its superb modern manifestation (thanks to Huntsman and latterly Richard Anderson), this is a style. And some men don’t want a style – they want normal, they want unobtrusive, they want stolid. They do not want anything that could suggest a rake. For them, the two-button jacket is the most flattering and practical.

Finally, and perhaps least importantly for today’s man and modern style trends, a one-button jacket often looks best with high-waisted trousers.

Back when all men wore braces, their trousers all started around their belly button, so the waist of the trousers and of the jacket were both at the same point.

This meant that when they put their hands in their pockets, pulling apart the jacket, no shirting was on display. While this isn’t necessarily recommended for every modern man, a triangle of puffy shirt is hardly flattering and diminishes the upward-sweeping line of the lapels.

So as a one-button jacket means more of a cutaway front, there is more potential for displaying your waist and shirt in this way. Trousers on the natural waist are not required, but the argument for them strengthens. And few men wear trousers of that height today.

One versus two-button is a matter of personality, but consider the arguments on both sides.

Further reading:

How high should my trousers be? – Reader Question

How to pick buttons for a suit – Reader Question

Credit: Permanent Style

26 Comments

  1. Good points about the trouser hight and all.
    Should one not also add the degree of open or closed quarters of the jacket, since it visually makes a big difference and hence directly affects button decisions?
    For instance, the pictured Manning jacket above seems to have more open quarters and hence visually more flair then the WS jacket, despite the later having only one button and in theory being less conservative.

  2. Simon Crompton

    True. A one-button will usually have more open quarters than a two button, but certainly not always

  3. Simon, to your point on the button decision driving some other stylistic choices, I find that a one-button jacket is much more prone to a peak lapel than a 2-button one. The peak in a one button jacket accentuates even more the elongating look of the more cutaway front. Even more stylish when the peak is finished with an upward looking Milanese buttonhole… Again, this makes the jacket a stylistic statement (which some people do not like) but I find it very flattering for men who are not very tall…
    M

  4. Excuse my ignorance – what are open quarters?

  5. Simon Crompton

    Apologies. How open the section is below the waist button on a jacket – ie how much the two sides sweep away from each other

  6. First of all, love your blog and the information you share – I dont want my comment to be taken the wrong way.
    I over heard you the other day talking about having enough suits and to paraphrase, struggling to work out what else to commission. This may not be the best post to put the question on given its based on aggregated experience rather than a one off commission, but I wondered where the future is, particularly 1-2 years down the line? Do you continue commissioning for the sake of having something to blog about? Are there other avenues you could explore like acting as a “consultant” for a readers commission and writing of their experience? Or is there an element of “addiction” to the bespoke such that in time we will be reading about bespoke dressing gowns as all other bases have been covered?
    Please take this in the naive way its intended rather than defamatory

  7. Simon Crompton

    Hi Bob, no it’s a good question.
    I certainly feel I have a lot of suits and jackets by anybody’s estimation, and I do sometimes feel that I should try lots of different people so the blog can be more comprehensive. But I try to be quite strict on getting things out of my wardrobe when they can be replaced by things of higher quality, or were just mistakes in the way they were commissioned. I hate the idea of waste more than anything else, so I do want to only have a functioning wardrobe where everything is worn, loved, and part of my day-to-day style.
    Do ask any more questions
    Simon

  8. At some point, an exhibition, which would certainly require a great deal of collaborations, might be an avenue worth exploring. I mean something around today high-end menswear (from shoes to hats) and the tools used for its promotion. Trunk shows represent a tiny portion thereof. I think it would be of insterest to many folks well beyond PS readers.

  9. Simon Crompton

    Interesting, nice idea

  10. Carmelo Pugliatti

    In Italy two buttons are see from tailors and bespoke customers as dull and ordinary,mainly a ready to wear thing.
    Generally Italian tailors cut three buttons,or three roll two.
    I see that in UK is the opposite,and two buttons are the main choice for a single breasted bespoke.
    Is a interesting difference.
    Single breasted one buttons is very unusual in Italy (and this is another difference with Saville Row).
    I see that where Italian and British bespoke perfectly agree is in the preference for the double breasted coat.

  11. Nick Inkster

    Interesting discussion on one vs two button SB.
    I have many examples of both, and in reality the decision to go with one button alters very little in regards to cut or fit; it is simply a question of not cutting a second buttonhole. The buttoning stance, lapel length and snap in the waist don’t change.

  12. Hi Simon,
    In my opinion the number of buttons at play affects the overall look of an outfit when one has to wear in addition a knitwear underneath a jacket. To me, for instance, a cardigan looks better with any jackets, but a three-roll-two one. And conversely, a crewneck looks at its best under a true three-button jacket.
    John

  13. Simon Crompton

    Good point, you’re aligning necklines at that point

  14. Simon,
    I’m also curious about the question Bob mentioned: Have you ever or would you consider being a consultant for a reader in helping with his own wardrobe needs?

  15. Simon Crompton

    Sure, and I have done it a few times – though more for corporates and groups. Given the time it takes, it unfortunately has to be very expensive for an individual.

  16. Simon,
    I would like to second Bob’s idea of you following somebody else’s bespoke commission.
    This would doubtless prove hugely popular and interesting for readers and makers alike and could provide an interesting perspective on taste, style, expectations and the tailors ability to respond.
    All parties could learn from it and the idea of a “Guest Commission” would be a great outlet for andthe expertise you have garnered over to date.

  17. Simon Crompton

    Thanks David

  18. The three roll two button is also very common to the “Ivy League” style int he United States.
    Simon – I find I often have shirt showing below the button point. I know I have poor posture but have been working to correct it. Is there anything else I can do to minimize this? All my jackets are RTW, two button. My pants are mostly mid-rise, sitting about one or two inches below my belly button.

  19. Simon Crompton

    Hi Peter. As pointed out in comments above, the amount the jacket is open below the buttoning point varies a lot from jacket to jacket, and this is likely the biggest cause. Unfortunately it’s not something you can correct in a jacket. If you are looking for ways to mitigate the effect, you could wear a thin cardigan underneath the jacket, like the Finagon I designed for Smedley
    Simon

  20. Thanks Simon. I do have a cardigan for that, not a Finagon though.
    I have a narrow waist and almost always need a fair but of suppression in the jacket waist. I thought that might contribute to the problem. I suppose a bespoke jacket could handle this better than an altered RTW.
    There is a bespoke tailor in my city but he prices seem to good to be true. I suspect the quality of work may suffer to meet the price.

  21. For me, buttons can also influence the appearance of formality or casualness in a sports coat or suit. A (single button) dinner jacket, for example, speaks of formality as all buttons are engaged (necessarily) when the jacket is done up. By contrast, a 3/2 roll sports coat suggests casualness by design due to its unused lapel button. In effect, more numerous buttons equate to a greater possibility to leave them undone.

  22. Andrew Walker

    A wonderful article. Thank you Simon.

  23. Simon,
    I am looking to have a single breasted suit made in Hong Kong – my first. Quality and price are the two primary considerations. Looking to get recommendations on trusted tailors. As for the rest, your posts are a treasure trove of information.
    Thank you.

  24. Simon Crompton

    Thanks. I’d go for WW Chan – almost Row quality, at a much lower price point

  25. I’ve read a few places that 3 button suites are more flattering on overweight guys. Any truth to this?

  26. Simon Crompton

    A two button will make the torso look longer, which is normally what a larger guy wants

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