This Is Why Men Don't Fasten Their Suit's Bottom Button

The origins of this innocuous habit date back more than a hundred years.

Every man knows the rules about buttoning a suit jacket: sometimes, always, never. That's in order, from top to bottom, for a three-button jacket. For a two-button jacket, it's just as easy to remember: sometimes, never. The point here is that "never" is how frequently that bottom button should be clasped. This rule is ironclad—and, for those of us who wear a suit jacket with any regularity, it's even second nature. But how did things get to be this way?

As with so many things, it turns out the fragile ego of a powerful man may be responsible. Slate reports that King Edward VII—sometimes referred to as Edward the Wide, though not, bafflingly, His Royal Wideness—boasted a size 48 waist. In the interest of comfort, he simply stopped fastening the bottom buttons on his coat and waistcoat. Legend then dictates that, rather than insult the body image of their monarch, the British royal court followed suit—literally—and kept those bottom buttons undone.

Advanced menswear followers will also note that, on a double-breasted jacket, the external bottom button is typically undone, as well. (The internal one stays fastened to keep the jacket in shape.) And according to menswear expert Salvatore Giardina, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the reason behind this habit also stems from the British royal court. "[Allegedly], that was just a faux pas by one of the British royalty," he says. "And the court took that to be a fashion statement and left [their bottom buttons] unbuttoned."

However, Giardina is sure to note, the members of the court were in the wrong—even if men's magazines and fashion ads depict otherwise. "Technically, on a double breasted suit, all the buttons that are made to be buttoned should be buttoned," says Giardina. What's more, these days, due to the way suit jackets and blazers are cut, you don't want to ever fasten that bottom button, rules be darned. If the jacket fits right—in other words, it's smooth through the shoulders—then closing that final button will cause the waist to bunch and the lapels to crumple. Faux pas or not, neither is a good look.

So there you have it. Overweight royalty wanted to be comfortable, and a century later, we got Tom Ford. For that, Your Wideness, we truly cannot thank you enough. And in the meantime, for other style rules, be sure to master the 40 Rules For Dressing Well In Your 40s.

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Ari Notis
Ari is an editor specializing in news and lifestyle. Read more