This is the sixth 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 or on the dedicated guide page here

 

 

God, I love a good button. Some are so nice I could eat them.

Particularly a mid-brown horn, with swirls and chips of dark brown and cream. It’s a beautiful little slice of nature.

Unfortunately, buttons rarely get much attention. Certainly compared to a jacket’s length, breasts or lapels. 

Most of the time, customers assume there isn’t much to choose with buttons. And in one way they’re right: as a customer, once you have a type of button you like, chances are you won’t vary the material or finish across your wardrobe, just the colour.

But choosing that default is important. Buttons are the only native decoration on a jacket – by which I mean, decoration that is inseparable from it.

Buttons always make a big difference to a jacket’s style and formality, but particularly today when so few people wear a tie or handkerchief.

 

 

1. Contrast or not?

The way I’d break down button choice is this. First, do you want the buttons to contrast with the material of the suit, or jacket?

In general, buttons that stand out are more casual. So a smart dark suit will have buttons of a similar tone and colour (above). A navy suit might have navy buttons, black ones, or very dark brown.

One of the hallmarks of a blazer, on the other hand, is that it has buttons which contrast with the cloth (below). Not necessarily the traditional yellow metal, but lighter brown horn, or even mother of pearl.

Along with patch pockets, a contrasting button is one good way to indicate that a jacket is meant to stand on it own, rather than being part of a suit.

And the same goes for variation of colour or pattern within the button itself. Some dark-brown horn is very mottled and varied; some is plain. The more mottled it is, the more it will stand out.

 

 

2. What shoes?

The second question I’d ask is, what colour of shoes will you wear the jacket or suit with?

Other accessories are relevant too, but the biggest factor here is whether you’ll wear just black shoes, browns, or a mixture.

In general, buttons look better when they’re closer to the colour of the shoes. So a black or navy button will look best with just black shoes. Perhaps very-dark brown at the most.

A dark brown button can just about bridge black and brown shoes. And if you’ll just wear brown shoes, then certainly go for brown buttons.

In general, by the way, I’d avoid navy or grey horn. Neither is a natural colour, and they can look artificial.

Black will generally be nicer than navy, in the same way black shoes are. And mid-brown will have more interest than grey.

 

 

3. What texture do you like?

Third question: what texture appeals to you?

Savile Row tailors use matte, unpolished horn, which is my favourite (above). It’s dark, deep and subtle.

Most ready-to-wear brands used polished horn, which is shiny and perhaps stands out more. But to me it can look a little cheap and similar to plastic.

It’s said that Italian tailors use polished horn because they want the same look as big fashion brands; English tailors use matte horn because they can’t imagine anything worse.

 

 

And then there’s corozo, only really used in Europe and made out of nuts. Its texture is much more subtle, with swirls similar to wood.

Personally I only like corozo in lighter colours (above), as in darker ones those swirls are pretty much invisible. But one advantage of it is that it comes in a greater range of colours, and is more easily dyed.

Those three – matte horn, polished horn and corozo – are the major choices with suits and formal jackets, and the choice will largely depend on which texture you prefer.

 

 

4. Formality and style

Finally, the other more niche options. These are less suited to suits, and whether you consider them will depend on whether they reflect a style you like: sleek, trad, rural and so on.

The first alternative is metal, such as gold, bronze or steel. These are usually only used on blazers, or pea coats, and perhaps have associations with an older generation and old money.

The gilt-buttoned blazer seems to be rather fashionable at the moment, but whether you like the look will be very subjective.

Another alternative is leather, usually made up as four interwoven strips and sometimes referred to as football buttons – because they look a little like old-fashioned footballs.

Again, this is rather a look. Not as showy as gilt, but redolent of rural clothing and tweed.

 

 

Next is mother of pearl, which is beautiful in its texture, shine and two-tone colour. It comes in different colours – not just the white usually used on shirts, but off-white, pink, black and so on.

However, it’s best restricted to evening wear or other very dressy pieces. Many newcomers to bespoke get attracted to it – like flashy linings – but change their mind after a few years and revert to something subtler.

That’s it, without going into smaller areas like urea, covered buttons on black tie, deer horn on hunting jackets and so on.

All of them have their appeal, but do bear in mind how showy they can easily become.

Then again, at least they’re easy to change. Unlike picking the wrong cloth.

 

 

By the way, buttons inside a jacket should also usually be a nice horn – don’t be fobbed off with plastic. And anything on the outside of a trouser should also be horn or mother of pearl.

I personally liked mother of pearl on the rear hip pocket. It’s a nice tradition on Savile Row and adds a tiny touch of decoration to the rear of trousers. I’m less fussed about the internal buttons on the fastening of trousers. Horn is good there primarily because it is stronger than plastic.

Button sizes are measured in ‘ligne’, an old French system. In general, the sizes are 16L for shirts, 24L for jacket cuffs and 32L for the front of single-breasted jackets. Double-breasted jackets are usually larger, and overcoat buttons larger again. 

There is a good ligne conversion chart on The Lining Company’s website here.  

If you would like information on any of the imagery used here (all of which is from old PS posts) please ask in the comments.

 

 

Recommended reading:

Buying buttons online: Bernstein & Banleys

Reader question: How to pick buttons for a suit

Vintage buttons: The Button Queen

Buttons from Duttons (button shop in York, UK)

 

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David G

Simon

You’ve missed a widely debated question re buttons.

Two holes or four?

Sam

Could be nice to talk about the number and spacing of jacket sleeve buttons as well?

Robert

And when can we expect that post ? Were there no deadlines at your old gig ? HaHa.

Anonymous

Simon
Excellent article. But the problem is finding the type of horn required and in the right size. Apart from Bernstein, any other suppliers?

DE

Hi Simon, some interesting points here. What would you say about durability of buttons? Working in a modern office with heat/aircon means that one is constantly taking of and putting on one’s jacket and in the past I have struggled to replace damaged/lost buttons (even from the original tailor). With bespoke tailoring lasting for many years, how many spare buttons would you recommend when commissioning a new suit/jacket?

DE

Apologies for the delay in my reply Simon. The problem was colour (and to a lesser extent texture) – because on both occasions the buttons were horn, the replacements had more of the lighter cream/white tones and so ‘stood out’ next to the older (more sober) matte buttons I had originally chosen. In the end the issue was rectified by the tailor replacing all of the buttons, but this could have been easily avoided if I had asked for spares initially…

Luciano

Hi. It’s a good habit when one orders a suit to get a backup button of each kind (one big and one or two small for the cuffs) exactly because it could be tough to find the same buttons even one year later.
On a previous point I notice that almost all italian tailors use 4-holes buttons. I definitely prefer them.
And the thread can be sewn parallel or crossing (I prefer crossing)

Sam

Worth calling out – mother of pearl buttons are chronically prone to chipping, which makes them a bit useless on the cuff as they can easily be bashed into tables/ desks etc. Horn has it’s own problems with cracking. I guess the moral of the story is always get a couple of spares.

-

this is worth checking IMO
https://www.augsburgerknopffabrik.de/shop/

Chancellor

I have a suit–light grey, high twist wool, flap pockets, a touch of roping–definitely leaning a little formal even though it’s from a Neapolitan tailor (it’s his house style for a more formal suit). The light grey cloth is a cool grey, and looks to be made from white and black fibres, so definitely no brown in there.

I opted for mid-brown horn on the suit to help it go with brown shoes (given there’s no hint of brown elsewhere). It works, but I’m not totally sold on it; the cream in the buttons, particularly, doesn’t totally go with the grey cloth, I feel. My tailor thinks I should go with a grey corozo buttons for a more streamlined look.

Do you have any advice?

Hugh

Simon,

At what stage in the bespoke fitting process do you start considering this. You’ve said in the past the first fitting is for the tailor not the client. So second fitting, or at the end of the first?

Thanks,
-hugh

Winot

Good article but I was caught short by seeing a reference to urea buttons.

Jackson Hart

Hi, Simon.
‘Excellent read. However, please expound on the reference to ” urea” buttons for WINOT and me. -Thank you

Rups

since I’m concerned with animal welfare, are horn buttons produced in a responsible way? I have no idea but Id hate that a pretty thing I buy may have caused suffering to an animal.

secondly in the 8th picture down you have a daks waistband (believe thats correct terminology), is this difficult for many tailors to make on a pair of bespoke trousers, and is it costly for them to do so? seems like a good solution along with adjustor tabs.

Anonymous

Simon, at what oz. and up would you consider something a heavy cloth?

N.M.

Nice! I’ve been waiting for this time.
Can I expect an arictle about lining of this guide in the near future, too ?

(Now I’m thinking about which color of button/lining to use for each escorial tweed…)

N.M.

Thank you, I’m looking forward to it. I want to hear your thoughts about material/weave/colour palette (to outer material/tie or as back of waistcoat) of lining rather than full/half/unlined option.

Anonymous

Nice article – thank you. I like the response, as to the wideness of the debate but, as I suspect with many, the frustration is to access and choice. As the small haberdashery shops disappear (following your article I visited the ‘Button Queen’ – the shop is now closed but online remains) buttons are now very difficult to find (outside of bespoke) without going online – and even then hard to judge (one issue being that many button sites are aimed at woman’s wear).
A follow up article on arrangement (waterfall, kissing etc.) and linings would be welcome. I have found that the lining is often a good indicator of the colour palette that might be applied to tie choice.

Ben

Appreciate this post as I’ve actually never given buttons much thought. Now that I’m thinking about it, though, the idea of buttons standing out on their own seems kitsch and a little foppish—a bit like jewelry on men. I’d also question the outright assertion that horn is stronger than plastic. I’ve seen eyeglass marketing that touts the exact opposite for their “high density” plastic frames. And as I’ve never had any buttons—horn, plastic or otherwise—break on me, the point is perhaps moot.

Anonymous

I like the tasty buttons at the Tender Buttons shop in NYC.

https://www.yelp.com/biz/tender-buttons-new-york

R Abbott

I recently had a light grey herringbone cashmere sports coat made. I’m very happy and can’t wait to wear it! (I received it during the summer, when it was out of season…) The one aspect I’m not happy about is the buttons. What would you advise for that type of sports coat?

anonymous

Simon,

Apologies if this was in the post, but what is an alternative to the proverbial gold (or other colored metals) buttons on a navy, single-breasted blazer? I appreciate the gold button heritage, but perhaps it’s time to move on.

For many years, I wore said navy blazer with gold buttons very casually on weekends (e.g., with chinos, polo shirts, sweaters.) But now, I wear it more formally (e.g., with grey flannels, French-cuffed white shirt, shepard’s check or other smart tie, white linen handkerchief.) Perhaps mid-grey mother of pearl? The goal is not to look as if I am wearing a navy suit jacket.

Great post, and thanks in advance for your thoughts.

Tony

If it’s a blazer, it should have gold buttons really, because that is what heritage dictates.

An odd jacket in blue hopsack etc can have any button you like, because then it’s not a blazer.

Sorry to be pedantic.

Rups

All this worry by guys about looking dated, or from another period, is in my opinion misplaced. if you constantly try and fit into sort of looking like most guys in the western world you are in a race to the bottom, constantly trying to compromise what looks elegant, for trying to fit in and not look a little different in some way.

How about having the courage to be an individual and do what YOU like if that is elegant and aesthetically pleasing? If you want to wear gold buttoned DB blazers then just do it. Same goes for a trilby or neck wear like a scarf. Yes of course you’ll stand out from the guy wearing the ubiquitous jeans and a polo shirt days but you can’t be both elegant and ‘current’ at the same time now as the very idea of men wanting to be elegant and refined has disappeared from modern culture.

There is a line where you step into cosplay and become a figure of fun, but wearing gold buttons on a blazer is not crossing it! Just had to get that off my chest Simon!

Anonymous

Hmm.

Blazers have gold buttons. No more to discuss there.

Blue coats can have anything you like on them, from MOP to brown, to whatever you want.

Not sure there is anything to discuss here really Simon.

Except that blazers have gold buttons.

Jason

Simon,
I think the case of the ‘Gold Buttoned Blazer’ both SB & DB deserves a post on its own.
It’s a very complex subject and is probably one of the most divisive and difficult subjects amongst flaneurs.
In the majority of cases it looks simply dreadful. People rock up looking like umpires or Terry – Thomas.
Conversely, with the right cut, cloth, buttons and accessories it can look absolutely masterful.
Back in the ‘70s , ‘The Village Gate’ sold a fabulous version that became de-rigour amongst the cognoscenti and the other week I saw somebody sporting absolutely the right shade/cut navy blue, gold buttoned blazer accessorised with a light blue button down oxford, the right jeans and dark brown suede loafers. It looked beyond good and reminded me of those halcyon days but make no mistake, this is seventh grade, black belt flaneurism and not for the faint hearted. Even the choice of belt is key !
Indeed, it would be great to set three master tailors the challenge of creating the perfect gold buttoned blazer.
Regards,
Jason

John

Hi Simon,
A very interesting topic, indeed. I wonder what you would have to say when one were considering a suit jacket that could be worn as a separate. Say, a navy DB – with patch pockets – that could be worn on its own, as a blazer, while remaining part of a suit.
As you surely guess, the idea being to have the option to wearing a navy DB suit with black oxfords or even very smart black loafers, not any loafers!
How are buttons to be factored into such an equation?
John

Jason

What a great article and quintessential ‘Permanent Style’
Last year I relaunched a fabulous 16 year old Zegna navy blue cashmere blazer by replacing the buttons with a nice mid brown horn. It has a new lease of life and I’m loving it again.
When it comes to the noble art of flaneuring, God really is in the detail !

Mark E. Seitelman

Sadly, Tender Buttons in New York closed at the end of August.

It was a lovely and convenient shop.

Anonymous

What buttons do you recommend for grey flannel trousers? Is that considered formal if it’s an odd trouser?

Fastship

I had a fantastic Crombie style overcoat made in Escorial this summer but what set it off were some Whitby Jet buttons we found ages ago on a dirty weekend to the Count’s seaside home. Mrs Fastship bought me some jet cufflinks to go with it. Little details…

Russ

Don’t forget that a subtle further change can be had by sewing the selected buttons to the garment in a contrasting coloured thread – this particularly works well with white mother of pearl buttons where the selected colour for the cotton button fixing relates to the main fabric or picks up a trim.

I recommend to your readers a very old firm in my native Yorkshire called ‘Duttons for Buttons’ . They stock little other than buttons, and if you post them a sample they can usually match it from their stock of 10,000 styles. Their website explains the procedure, as well as showing part of the online selection.

Jesse Beamish

Hi Simon. Just wanted to thank you for an incredibly detailed article

Jesse

Dan Dee

Simon, I also am a button addict and greatly favour dark brown unpolished horn where possible.However, I have been wrestling with the aspect of robustness required to preserve a visual balance with the solidity of the cloth. It was demonstrated to me in Huntsman that a heavy Estate tweed might seem too outdoors for town..but if it is balanced out with heavy trs. and strong shoes, bold tie etc..the whole ensemble can look great and fine for town. The opposite then, would suggest that a lighter cloth requires lighter trimmings. I’m concerned that the 2 tier unpolished horn on a heavy suit or jacket might look out of balance with say a 9oz. I notice A&S and others tend to use very light flat plastic buttons on light grey summer suiting and flannels…I assume the normal horn might look too heavy for the airy summery palate..and to give a more refined look to the hefty flannel? These are not trying to emulate horn and are more like the celluloid in fountain pens etc. I have always enjoyed heavier cloths to date..but now I’m considering a lightweight….I have just noticed that Bernstein’s polished horn are flatter with a slim rim…could this be the answer? Have you any views on this aspect..and do you know what the received wisdom is among the tailoring fraternity? This is a great thread, by the way…right on the button!…..thanks, Dan.

Alec

I love that brown check fabric. Do you happen to know which bunch it comes from?

Limekiln

Buttons are indeed interesting – you immediately spot ones that seem right and ones that are tragically wrong. I have a shirt in the former camp and when the idea of wearing it pops into my mind it’s the buttons that lead the thought. But I also have a lovely burgundy pima polo shirt, hijacked by white buttons that just screamed “look at me, I ruin the look of this polo”. I ordered mottled brown coconut shell buttons online, spent a relaxing 20 minutes replacing all 3 buttons, and enjoyed a Hamlet moment at the end.
Which brings up two more related points:
1. Contrasting buttons are OK, within reason. But I never thought there was anything good about contrasting thread. For example 4-5 buttons on a navy jacket sleeve with (only) the lowest one tied using light blue or red thread. No thank you.
2. Sewing. I always found sewing buttons or sewing a hem to shorten trousers to be stressful. Mainly because my mother used to do it for me, and my wife does it for me now. Therefore I cannot do it right, because it’s hard and complicated. Sewing remains somehow still very woman-dominated. Just look at the plethora of youtube self-help content on sewing. I have yet to see a man offering advice. I only latterly decided to try it, realising that my reticence was only because I didn’t have the right technique. A few youtubes later and I now almost actively seek out little sewing projects because I know how to properly sew a button and how to properly hand sew a hem. Like looking after footwear, there is simple pleasure in simple tasks like hand sewing. When you’re shown the shape of the overall task you’re undertaking, there’s terrific satisfaction in simply following the process. And because there’s work/time/concentration involved, in the end the garment becomes somehow more valued and special because you know you did “the right” job.

Amri

This is extremely helpful. Thank you, Simon. I’m in the process of replacing the buttons on several of my odd jackets. The most challenging one, however, is a mid grey wool/linen/silk with lots of white and black slubs. It’s a lighter shade of grey than the donegal jacket above, but because of the silk it doesn’t have the same fuzzy warmth. It looks like the buttons on the donegal are the 50% mottled kind (using the B&B nomenclature) or similar, correct? I’m wondering whether that would work for this jacket or whether I should go to 75% mottling. I want to casualize it a bit but not stand out excessively. For context, I general work in a casual environment and therefore, apart from extremely formal events, pretty much never wear black shoes. I prefer various shades of dark or medium brown (including burgundy). I would most likely wear this jacket with plain dark charcoal or, on the opposite end, cream or maybe fawn trousers. Right now, the grey buttons that it has only easily allows for black trousers with black shoes. I’m quite amazed at how little else works. Would either the 50% or 75% mottled achieve the shift away from brown I’m looking for? I suppose I could also get a set of both, since they’re quite inexpensive, but I would appreciate your input. Thank you.

kris

Hi Simon! I just received a beautiful Ring Jacket Tweed. It´s basted sleeves with no button holes. Would you go for holes or just attach the button without?

Adam

Simon,

On a two button suit, is there a rule of thumb of how high / low the top button should be? Is it at the mid-point of the suit as measured from top to bottom? Or lower?

Thank you in advance.

David

Hi Simon, Drakes has their Archive Sale, and while I see some houndstooth-esque sports jackets in my size (42), Drake’s functional buttons could be an issue, I think. I think you wrote elsewhere that adjusting a patterned sports jacket is very difficult? Drakes adjusted a grey flannel jacket for me, but obviously that didn’t have a pattern. I think this might be more trouble than it’s worth. Would you agree? Thanks!

Paul F.

Are 23L buttons mostly interchangeable with 24L buttons for jacket cuffs? Most sites, like you, note that 24L is the standard size button for jacket cuffs, but The Lining Company only seems to have size 23L buttons at the moment. Relatedly, what’s the standard button size for an interior breast pocket on a jacket? Is there one?

Ravi

Hi Simon,

What’s your view on unbuttoning the first button of a jacket sleeve? I’ve seen you do this in some suits, but not all. For example, does the unbuttoning make an outfit more or less formal, or is it simply a sign that the outfit one’s wearing is bespoke?

Many thanks!

Felix

Hi Simon, you mention that Savile Row tailors traditionally use mother of pearl buttons on rear hip pockets. Is this done even when the rest of the buttons–coat and trouser front–are horn? What color MOP would they use? Thanks!

Miika Nieminen

Im so glad I found this awsome and specific info on buttons from your site. Could you be more specific on button size for DB jacket, please. Im planning my first bespoke DB suit and would bring in my own buttons to the tailor.