I am a loyal fan in San Francisco. Your style, commentary and photos are extremely helpful in navigating the bespoke world, and more importantly, developing my style.
Question: my tailor is making a navy three-piece suit, single breasted, notch lapel. Nice and simple. Cloth is Minnis, from the Saville Row book.
I cannot seem to make a button selection, however. I source from Tender Buttons in NYC. I have narrowed it down to three: dark brown, matte finish; navy blue, matte finish; or black, polished finish. Any thoughts are appreciated.
David Serrano Sewell
The first thing to note is that there are no hard-and-fast rules about buttons with bespoke suits. That should be obvious from the distinctly different attitudes in England and Italy.
English tailors prefer matte, horn buttons. Reasons given include that it is traditional and that it differentiates them from ready-made suits. When Italian tailors use horn buttons, however, they are nearly always polished. They are also more likely to see the similarity to fashion suits as a positive. For more formal suits, the Italians normally go with corozo, a type of nut. That is polished and looks like plastic until you look very carefully. I don’t like it that much, but more for the polish than the material.
French and Spanish tailors vary more and experiment more. Cifonelli in Paris has made jackets for me with three or four different types of brown button that I’ve never seen elsewhere. Spanish tailor Calvo de Mora had so many different variations I ended up buying four different colours. And in the past I’ve sourced my own buttons in mussel shell from Duttons in York.
So any choice is a personal one. I’ll set out the different factors for you to consider, and the common associations and rationalisations made for each.
The finish: Readymade suits usually have polished buttons, and Savile Row suits usually have matte ones. If you want to associate with the latter and not the former, go for matte buttons.
The material: Natural materials like horn and corozo are tougher than plastic. They also have a surface that is patterned and that varies subtly between the buttons. When I used to have readymade suits with plastic buttons, I never had one shatter; but it does happen. The variegation is lovely in light to mid-brown horn buttons; in other colours and materials it is barely noticeable. The natural materials are, of course, also associated with better suits. Choose which features and associations you want.
Colour: A dark colour, like navy or black, is more formal and looks better with dark suits and dark shoes. Brown buttons will look good with brown shoes, and if dark enough brown is more versatile than navy or black. The paler the button, and the stronger the pattern, the more casual it is. Unusual colours and metals are also more casual, which is why they are often a way to differentiate a blazer from a suit.
I hope that helps David. I would go with brown, matte buttons on your suit, unless you nearly always wear black shoes. But that’s just my choice.
Images, from top to bottom: horn buttons on Huntsman jackets; pale brown buttons on Choppin & Lodge cotton suit; metal buttons on Timothy Everest grey fresco blazer. First and third images: Andy Barnham