What are the buttons on the jacket sleeve for?

It’s universally known that working and kissing buttons 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.

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 jacket. 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.

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.

This article is also available in: Italian