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Jacket Buttoning Ritual – What Men Already Know

by Sonya Glyn Nicholson

-By Sonya Nicholson

The ritual of suit and sport jackets “buttoning and unbuttoning” is very simple:  Each time a man or woman wearing a suit or sports jacket sits, he or she unbuttons one jacket button. And every time he or she stands, the person re-buttons the jacket button.

I love rituals.  There is something knowing and beautiful about  participating in the intentional repeating of a pattern of behavior.  Being a part of a ritual allows the ability to communicate volumes with a simple action or series of actions.   We may light candles, do sun salutations, tuck a child into bed a certain way, clink wine glasses while making eye contact but not cross glasses during a toast, or even adjust our wardrobe in a certain way when we sit or stand. The ritual feels lovely and this is perhaps why we enjoy repeating it.

In regard to jacket buttoning and unbuttoning, the practical reason for unbuttoning a suit jacket when sitting is obvious since if the button remains buttoned while sitting, the tension placed on the button-hole and button causes wear and tear on the tailoring work and robustness of the cloth and stitching over time.

The custom of buttoning just one button of the classic jacket could be a little less practical in application.  Apparently King Edward VII, “Bertie”, son of Victoria (1841 – 1910, King 1901 – 1910) was so heavy that he could not get the bottom button of his vest fastened and so His subjects followed his lead and today most men’s suits, sports jackets or vests are not designed to button the bottom button. Or, the practice of not buttoning the bottom button could be a result of early (very long) waistcoat design. So, to allow for more ease during walking, the bottom buttons were left undone.

Men have known this buttoning ritual for ages, but many women are perhaps oblivious to some degree.  Notice how Don Draper in the Mad Men series pulls off the buttoning/unbuttoning ritual effortlessly : MAD MEN.

This ritual may vary from culture to culture (e.g., in Japan and China, business people and uniformed students could be expected to fasten all buttons regardless of jacket styles.)

While there are many variations on this detail of unbuttoning and buttoning, the standard sitting while unbuttoning and standing while buttoning is an iconic practice that is worth capturing here.

Many men are often proud to say that they are in touch with their feminine side and we laugh about this and appreciate it at the same time.  So in turn, by participating in what has traditionally been viewed as male culture, women can discover a certain strong appeal and aura of power in experiencing the world of their male counterparts, as well.

Sonya Nicholson


This post is also available in: French, Italian, Spanish

One comment

Hoover — 10 January 2013 10:29

Hi there,

something to ponder on (un)buttoning – how’s it when one is wearing an overcoat and sits down on a train or subway, for example = sitting just for a minute or two without undoing the overcoat? I guess that’s okay even for the jacket given the short time this occurs. Any ideas?