Whatever happened to the three button suit? It really doesn’t seem that long ago that the normal suit; the veritable ‘everyday potato’ of suits came with a trio of buttons. I must admit, when it was everywhere, I yearned for the individuality, not to mention the elegance, of a two button suit. To me, there was something a little off about the recent three-button suit: being worn with the two top buttons done up, with awkward lapel shortness. It lacked the dignity of a low-break jacket like a one or two button. To me, two-buttons epitomised the élan of St James’ but a three-button merely reminded me of an extra from the set of Ricky Gervais’s ‘The Office’; the fat shapeless tie underneath, the terrible cuts and the ubiquitous ‘strait-jacketing’ – the preponderance of fully buttoned-up suit jackets. It looked like the sartorial equivalent of an industrial estate.
Now of course, the two-button suit is everywhere and yes, it has been ‘ruined’ by ubiquity and inelegant adaptation. However, it is still the suit I favour. This is largely because, for those with off-the-rack tastes, it is very hard to get it wrong. The low break of a one or two button jacket means that more of a man’s shirt and tie is on display, which offers a pleasant frankness to an ensemble. There is a sleekness to the cut and yet also a schoolboyish charm. The three button is precisely that; more buttoned up. The shorter lapels detract from the potential elegance of a suit; it seems, looking in the mirror wearing a three-button jacket, too restrictive. This is, of course, because it has been made, and indeed because I am wearing it, in the wrong way. There is actually a right way and a wrong way to ‘do’ a three button suit.
Firstly, I think it is far more elegant when only the middle button is secured on a three button suit. When the top one is also secured it looks, frankly, wrong. If the jacket is fitted enough (see below for ‘Fit’), then an attractive ‘X’ shape should be created when wearing the jacket with the central button fastened. This means the jacket ‘breaks away’ appealingly at the bottom rather than falling mundanely ‘straight.’
The second thing of importance is, naturally, that the jacket fits properly. Too many three button jackets are worn loose, without character. It wouldn’t do well to purchase a very slim fitting model; despite not using them, one should be able to button all buttons without any stretching on the material or strain on the buttons. The reason for this is that the jacket will eventually lose its shape if the tension is too great.
The last thing that is crucial for the jacket is the element of personality. Cary Grant used to wear his three buttoners with ‘lapel-plus’: folding the top button and button-hole over, adding to the overall length of the lapels. While one wonders why he did not simply purchase a two-button suit from his tailor, it becomes apparent that such individuality and idiosyncrasies make the suit something special. Grant’s affectation turned a many-buttoned suit from something Victorian and prim into something sporty and modish.