This is the fourth article in our Guide to Suit Style.
You can see the full contents so far, and browse between them, on the right-hand side of this post.

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


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

Huntsman one-button jacket – style breakdown

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Jan

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.

M

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

Sam Tucker

I actually think one button looks better with closed quarters than two buttons. The second button is vestigial; it’s never meant to be done up and it looks off to me when the two do line up when a jacket is being worn. The effect, at least to me, is similar to the awkward look of a true button three with only the middle button fastened. Because the button is vestigial, it and its buttonhole are also there purely to help add a bit of interest to the bottom of the jacket and the vestigial button helps emphasise the open cutaway. If the quarters are closed enough so the bottom button lines up, why even have it?

A one button jacket with closed quarters has none of these problems. The only button that lines up is the one you fasten. A one button jacket can look nice with very closed quarters or more open quarters, but I’ve never seen a two button jacket where both buttons line up that I’ve liked.

Ian

Excuse my ignorance – what are open quarters?

Bob

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

John

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.

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.

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.

John

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

Tim

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?

David

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.

Peter

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.

Peter

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.

Evan Everhart

Hi Peter,

Might I suggest that the real solution to yr problem of excessive shirt front or necktie length showing between the lower quarters of the skirting of yr jacket beneath the buttoned front might be easily and traditionally resolved by wearing higher rise trousers? I only wear higher rise to actual legitimate high rise trousers and they consistently prevent this very problem, as well as providing greater ease of movement (as they rise to the narrowest point on the body, the navel, and hence don’t bind at a point of movement, like the hip, and they also give a longer leg line which serves to make you look slimmer and taller; its a win all around. RTW examples are easily and relatively affordably available from such quality purveyors as O’Connell’s of Buffalo, N.Y., who have an exceptional mail order service, precise sizing, and free alterations at purchase. They even have Loro Piana fabrics for some of their trousers, and all clothes sold are of top quality as far as RTW is concerned. Happy hunting!

Ro

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.

Andrew Walker

A wonderful article. Thank you Simon.

K

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.

Henry

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

Dan

Hi Simon,
You’ve posted a lot elsewhere about the “bum freezer” and it’s rightful avoidance. But then, you’ve also indicated that you tend toward the short-fitted jacket. Most of the photos of you in jackets, to my eye, show your jackets to be “regular” length—in other words, full bum cover. Do you have any examples of jackets you consider too short? What are your personal rules for how far the jacket should fall, and still be elegant? I’m 5′ 9″, so I am often tempted to go with a 36S, but don’t want to purchase for trend.

gordon

As a new reader in France can I add a couple of associated cxomments.
The recent ungaingly & unplesant shorter tigher ill fitting style is exemplified by BBC’s NEWSNIGHT’s EWAN DAVIS. First he looks half starved and, I imagine with that salary, he has his suits made but who on earth makes them like that with his always collarless shirt showing all ? He certainbly thinks he looks tops, but to me he is verging on a freak.

Another contributor has mentioned the Brooks Brother 2/3 Ivy League style. I have all my tweed jackets and light weight suits in this style and I think it looks very flattering. On my next visit to Phuket I am hoping to have a couple of grey flannel suits in this style with turn ups this time. I wonder if they can copy this style with welting, patch pockets & hook vent?

Dam Grimshaw

Fantastic post! Really informative!

Jonathan

I’ve been engrossed in your site for a few weeks now and have become somewhat obsessive about suiting details! I’m planning on having another bespoke suit made and have been going through the details.

I’ve picked up many points from your articles but I’ve not come across any that have raised the options on the height of suit vents.

I have a preference for single breasted, two button, notch lapel suits with double vents in an English style. I’m 5ft 10inch (with a bit of middle-age spread around the waist!).

What would your advice be for a flattering vent height?

Wen

Hi Simon,

I’m getting my first bespoke suit and would love to get some advice.

For sleeve buttons, do you prefer them to be “stacked”, “just kissing” or “side by side”?

Would you recommend getting trouser cuffs if my legs are relatively short in proportion to my torso? I am aiming for my legs to look slim and long… haha.

Cheers

Wen

Awesome thanks!

Do good bespoke tailors “sponge” their fabric beforehand? I heard this term flying around but am unsure.

Thanks!

Wen

I think they meant some sort of shrinkage prevention fabric treatment beforehand… but yeah must be some sales gimmick.

Reuben

Hi Simon,

I am looking to have a jacket done in Italy (MTM not bespoke). 2 questions: 1) As one button jackets are not common from Italy, is it unwise to ask for a one button one from Italy? of a one button jacket; 2) I am 6ft 2 and I like the peak lapels on single breasted. This I guess is erring on the side of rakish (your refer to this in the post). Is that a bad thing from a style point of view in your opinion? Rakish can mean anything from confident and bold in style, to much more immoral connotations (depending one the age of dictionary you look in),

Great blog!

Reuben

Hi Simon

Question regarding length of a jacket. What is optimal for a tall person. Are there rules as to where the jacket should end? Does it differ depending on lapel choice? When people talk about covering the seat – this seems rather vague.

Reuben

Thanks so much – really helpful

Chris Cox

Hello Simon,
I was looking at a couple of one button suits I own by two different custom tailors and noticed that the lapel roll to the button stopped a bit higher on one than on the other. Should the roll go all the way to the button or is it fine to stop an inch or so above? Should I try and resteam it or have it reshaped?
Thanks for any advice you may have.
Chris

Chris Cox

Many thanks. Believe it or not, that was going to bug me all day.
Chris

Limekiln

I came upon your blog today via a link and it looks very nicely put together. Regarding 2-button jackets and the gaping under the button, this is the standard “look” these days even without hands in pocket. I find that it makes the jacket appear to be too tight since the shirt (and tie, if worn) is almost *always* visible. This in turn is because it’s almost impossible to find off-the-shelf trousers beyond mid-rise here in the US.
About half of my jackets gape this way but I’ve come to accept it since it’s the way most people look – even though you can’t help feeling cinched!

Adriel

Great articles, just discovered and thoroughly enjoying.
I am an inverted triangle, therefore, the peak and button spread on a DB can accentuate the shoulders, thinning the waist; not ideal. As such, to create the formality of less linen showing, a three button solves this. So then why is the three button not flattering?
Or would a tautz lapel on a DB be a better choice?
Thank you Simon and others for explaining.

Bernie Leung

Hi Simon,

How should a jacket behave when unbuttoned? How does balance affect this?

Bernie

Thanks, Simon. Good to know!

P

Hi Simon, would no padding on the shoulder work for the shorter man ? Or should there be some?
Thanks

Tomas

Hi Simon,

In ‘three-roll-two’ setting, how should top button hole be finished – clean/nice part visible (so inverse than other button holes) or hidden under lapel? I hope you understand what I mean.

Thanks

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

I know you mentioned that one-roll works well with high-waisted trousers, but what about trousers with a mid-rise. I have several pairs of trousers from stoffa and I appreciate the fit and rise of that style.

Anonymous

Hi Simon,

I’m having a difficult time discerning between the three-roll two and a two button. This is will be my only suit, navy worsted. Aside from being slightly more casual (in the case of the three-roll-two) is there anything else I should consider? Not sure that it matters, but I am 5’9.

George Kwok

Hi Simon, I always wore my two button suit, but one button seems very good for me. I’m 5 foot 6 and a half, so one button jacket elongate my figure, but I do olympic lifting and I’m 180lbs athletic. Some people claims that one button suit can put too much emphasis on the waistline, exaggerating my v shape figure, but some people cliams that because my shoudler are so wide and my waist is so small, the exaggerating effect doesn’t exist due to almost no waist suppression, so what do you think?

Larry Wilcox

I love the three (3) button suit