Why are there buttons on suit jacket sleeves? Here’s what they are for

dettaglio manica giacca con bottoni

It’s universally known that working and kissing buttons (buttons on suit jacket or blazer sleeves) are indicative of a bespoke suit. That said, how many times have you asked yourself: what exactly are they for? The answer, as always, has its origin in the past.

History of buttons on suit sleeves

Detail on a 3 button jacket sleeve and hand in pocket

There was a time when all men wore jackets and it was something that they wore whatever they were doing. While reading a book, climbing a mountain or simply working on their own land: the jacket has been a true essential men’s wardrobe item for nearly two hundred years.

Now, imagine a gentleman in the late XIXth century while working in his garden wearing his blazer. A bit uncomfortable look, isn’t it?

Once again tailoring adapted fashion to everyday life. Thanks to the buttons (here we are!) every gentleman could just roll up the sleeves without removing the jacket and preventing it from getting dirty.

“Right, this makes sense, but why they couldn’t just take them off?”. In this case it’s all about etiquette. At that time, in fact, taking one’s jacket off in public was akin to stripping down to your underwear.

Buttons on suit jacket sleeves today

Detail of a three-button jacket sleeve , while the third button is fastened to its buttonhole

Nowadays most off-the-rack jackets are made without working buttons. Why? Because they’re trying to fit in as many body types as possible and if the holes were actually made, it would be extremely difficult to adjust the sleeve length. Sewing the buttons on the outside making these nonfunctional allows the sleeves to be adjusted quite a bit.

But there’s something more. What determines whether or not you can have working buttons is also whether or not the jacket has sleeve plackets in the cuffs. A placket, called fessino, is the opening where the fabric overlaps which allows you to roll up your sleeves, if necessary.

If there is no placket, working buttons can’t be done.  If there’re no working buttons, a made to measure jacket can’t exist.

3… 4… How many buttons?

One of the dilemmas while getting a custom-made jacket is the number of buttons to get on the jacket sleeve. The classic tailoring usually involves two alternatives: a sleeve with 3 buttons or with 4 buttons.

The sleeve with three buttons certainly has a more sporty and a light cut; perfect in the case of a blazer (if you want to learn more, discover our article about what are the differences between a jacket and a blazer), we suggest you choose this one for more of a casual and less formal look.

Instead, the jacket sleeve with four buttons is more suitable for a more formal look, can be worn in occasions where it is necessary to show off a more rigorous and clean look; perfect for the more traditional jackets.

Finally, if you wish, you can also decide to leave the last button of the sleeve undone (a very recommended practice with the four-button jackets) to enhance the sartorial buttonhole.

2 Comment

  1. Daniel Richards says: Reply

    I have an Italian woven men’s blazer with two buttons. Why is this?
    Daniel Richards

    1. Lanieri says: Reply

      Hello Daniel, thanks for your comment. Well, it’s quite difficult to find an answer to this. Tailoring is not a science and most of the times it’s not easy to understand why a brand adds some features on its suits. That said, a sleeve with two buttons could be just a contemporary style choice, especially if buttons are not working. Ciao

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