In our last post about Washington & Lee University in 1969, many were surprised — including myself — by how many of the young men had fastened the top button on their three-button jackets.
It certainly led to many speculations here and on our Facebook page. Was this a regional thing? Were the jackets made as straight-up three-button models, rather than with a lapel that wants to roll to the middle button? One reader took speculation to such a degree that he surmised that all these natty young men had been instructed by the photographer to button their jackets for the photo, and fastened the top buttons instinctively.
Over the years we’ve explored many quirks of dressing during the Ivy heyday and preppy ’80s, including wearing a crewneck sweater high in the front and wearing your oxford-cloth buttondown with the rear of the collar askew. But we’ve never addressed the merits — if there are any — of buttoning the top button on a three-button jacket. Your menswear textbooks advise against it — whether your jacket is English, Ivy, or Continental — and an unfastened buttonhole on one’s lapel is a crucial sartorial signifier for orthodox trads standing athwart fashion history.
Instead of a 3/2, you could call this style the 2/3, as in fastening two out of the three buttons:
I reached out to G. Bruce Boyer for his thoughts on the matter, and he wrote:
In the ’50s, “genuine” Ivy Leaguers — i.e., guys who were students at decent colleges and universities — buttoned either the middle or the top two buttons of their coats. Many jazz musicians, hipsters, blue-collar followers of the style, and rockers buttoned only the top button.
Richard Press — grandson of J. Press founder Jacobi — had this to say:
Washington & Lee’s 1969 alleged fashionistas were expert mimes of an arcane campus style that died when top-tier Ivies opened their doors to previously disdained student populations. Nevertheless, during the heyday, Fence, Porcellian and Cottage Club wouldn’t be caught dead buttoning anything other than the middle button.
This comment, by reader “Roycru,” takes a diplomatic approach:
So far, much of the evidence that any rules about buttoning your jacket existed before the invention of the Internet might be considered as hearsay in many courts.
On the other hand, pictures on websites like Voxsartoria and the several blogs that post scans of pre-Internet-era Brooks Brothers catalogs show many variations of buttoning. These pictures are evidence of the pre-Internet freedom men had to button their jackets (which, after all are their private property) any way they wanted.
After this post went up, I threw on a new herringbone sportcoat over a pair of khakis to run some errands. I fastened the top button, and it felt pleasantly mischievous. It also felt Japanese. For all of their scrupulous attention to detail, the Japanese are well known for the quirk of fastening the top button, as these images show.
We’ll end by putting the matter to a vote. Shall we say it takes 2/3 to win? — CC