Why Don’t All Jackets Have the Same Number of Buttons?

Buttons pull your look together in the most literal way possible, but the number of jacket buttons can vary from style to style. Why?

Don’t we have enough to worry about matching shoes, choosing a lapel shape, or just deciding between a suit or tuxedo?

If you’re hip to traditional formalwear rules this won’t be news to you, but button counts were once an important way of establishing formality through design. Personal style wasn’t always as fluid as it is today, and if you look for it, you’ll find that some jackets still use button count to elevate formality.

Generally, the fewer the buttons on the closure, the more formal the jacket. Think of ultra-formal tailcoats: the jacket doesn’t even close! Tailcoats usually have some buttons, but none of them are functional.

Single-button jackets are the most formal in modern menswear, and not coincidentally, most single-button jackets are tuxedos or dinner jackets. Two-button jackets are more versatile but a little more casual, too. They can be dressed up or dressed down, from a cocktail party to a black tie optional dress wedding. You can find modern tuxedos with two-button closures, but they’re most often used in suiting.

Three-button suit jackets are less common, and you rarely see three buttons on a tuxedo—they’re too casual. The outlier here is the double-breasted jacket. Despite having 4+ buttons, they’re generally considered more formal than a two-button jacket (and again, not all of the buttons are functional).

So how does your new-found “button smarts” help you get dressed? Now that you know the design intent behind button counts, forget it. Really.

Choose a jacket that appeals to you and compliments your body type. The only reason you might consider choosing a one-button over a two-button is if you’re attending a very formal event or a black tie wedding. Even then, it’s unlikely anyone’s going to publicly shame you for making a relatively small style choice. Do you—style shouldn’t be as rigid as a poly-blend suit.

Need more info about buttons? Talk to our style advice columnist, Mr. Buttons.