A hot button issue, to button or not button?

A hot button issue, to button or not button?

Q. I enjoy reading your advice about men’s clothing. Now, I have a question for you. I am getting married this spring and just bought a tuxedo for the occasion. It is a single-breasted style with peak lapels. I plan to wear a vest with it. Here is my question: Is it ever appropriate to button a single-breasted tuxedo jacket, and if so, when? Best sartorial regards.

A. Clearly you have a solid knowledge of the specifics of what makes up wedding black-tie clothing, so it is smart of you to learn the appropriate approaches to wearing them. Of course, concepts and even rules can be broken, but what you are asking actually is how to follow the rules: “When is it appropriate to button a single-breasted tuxedo jacket?” The answer is “just about always.” Although it is not unusual to see men wearing single-breasted jackets unbuttoned for a more relaxed air, the truly correct way to wear any suit jacket — single- or double-breasted — is buttoned.

When a man is wearing a single-breasted jacket, there are two exceptions to the always-buttoned advice: The primary one (the one with a rule) is when he is seated, and the other (the optional one) is the one you are asking about — when he is wearing a vest.

As a reminder, double-breasted jackets are more formal than single-breasted jackets; they are always kept buttoned.

On the other hand, when wearing a single-breasted jacket, a well-dressed man keeps his jacket buttoned when standing. He then reaches to unbutton his jacket just as he sits down, keeps it open while he is seated, and then reaches just as he stands up to re-button it. You can observe this little ritualistic series of movements by watching the guests on any late-night talk show.

If a man wears a vest under his single-breasted jacket, he may forego buttoning his jacket. Since a vest is a rather traditional/conventional item of clothing, it tends to “dress up” an outfit. In the past, a single-breasted jacket — whether a black-tie formal jacket or a standard suit jacket — was always worn buttoned. But now, during our current trend toward more casual dressing, adding a vest to one’s combination covers more of the shirt, making the look noticeably more formal and more special. If you choose to wear a vest in a tastefully contrasting fabric with your tuxedo, and if you’d like to show it off a bit, you might decide to wear your jacket open.

So, in answer to your question, either choice is acceptable. Still, if you want to know my own preference, it is for the jacket to be buttoned. A wedding (especially one’s own) is about as elegant an occasion as a man is likely to encounter, and, therefore, calls for a sense of dignity and formality. An unbuttoned jacket implies a casual dress attitude, not exactly right for your march down the aisle. And if the vest is particularly distinctive (not a solid gray or black) it will draw attention to you . . . and somewhat away from the bride.

On the other hand, when wearing any two-button single-breasted jacket, the ironclad rule is that only the top button is fastened. After the ceremony, if you like, you can relax and undo your jacket’s button and your bow tie. Every new groom deserves his James Bond end-of-the-night moment.

Please send your men’s dress and grooming questions to MALE CALL: Lois.Fenton@prodigy.net

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