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The bottom of a man’s suit jacket – button it up or not?

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The question

How many buttons should I fasten when I wear a three-button suit jacket?

The answer

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For the past five years or so, all the new jackets have been two-button. For those, it's simple: Only do up the top one.

Otherwise, one simple rule applies to all styles: The bottom button on a suit jacket – any suit jacket – is purely decorative. It is not to be used. If you close it, it will tug at the bottom of the jacket and throw it out of line. Also, it will make you look like a bursting sausage.

Many dinner jackets (i.e., formal, black tie) eliminate confusion by having only one button – and that is to be kept closed whenever you are standing. For this fall, a couple of three-button jackets – particularly heavy tweed ones, with a boxy, nostalgic look – have surfaced on runways. The question arises again: Do up the top two, just the top one or just the middle? In the 1990s, when three-button suits were slightly more fitted than their bulky eighties forebears, the way to achieve the desired cylindrical look was to do up the top two.

Then, in the early aughts, as the silhouette began to move toward the "tailored" (this, in fashionspeak, doesn't mean tailored – all suits are tailored – it just means a narrow waist), some forward thinkers began to close just the top button, to give the jacket skirts some sway.

Through all of this, old men who wore three-button suits without interruption from the 1920s right through the mid-1960s fastened what they always had: one button only, the middle one. That classic approach is what I would recommend for the new heavy jackets. The whole point of them is to look retro, so use retro conventions.

Remember too that, with all two-piece suits, the jacket is to be kept closed while you are walking around. It looks snappier. When you are wearing a three-piece suit, however, you may be excused for showing off the waistcoat.

Russell Smith is a novelist. His recent memoir, Blindsided , is available as a Kobo e-book. Have a fashion question? E-mail

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