Functioning Buttonhole Blues

Traditionally, functioning buttonholes sign high quality in a suit jacket. Some even see them as a symbol of status. But with so many suits being made of a superior quality, and not having functioning buttonholes, people are questioning: Are they really worth the hassle? It’s becoming quite common to find well made, ready-to-wear suits that fit quite well. Do we resist the new convenience because the buttons don’t function? Of course not! The norm is now to add functioning buttonholes to your jacket of choice to upgrade its look. It may even make it look more expensive than it truly is.

Functioning buttonholes were initially called “surgeons cuffs.” Their purpose was to serve as an easy way for military surgeons to keep their sleeves rolled-up while on the battlefield. It eventually became a status symbol in men’s fashion and was a guarantee of bespoke suiting. Suits are now mass produced and will even come clean-sleeved. We suggest finding the quality of suit that you like, at the price that best fits your budget, and letting a skilled tailor add the buttonholes for you.

Now, there are some tailors that view the functioning buttonhole as a great attention to detail – while others just see it as a greatly overrated detail. This is mainly because altering a jacket with functioning buttonholes can be extremely challenging. In order to move the buttonhole, you must adjust the entire shoulder and raise the sleeve. When doing this, you then risk an uncomfortable fit around the bicep. You’ll find even the most advanced tailors opposed to doing such alterations; however, adding buttonholes to a sleeve is a different story. It’s far from quick or easy, but it is a preferred alteration than having to move an entire sleeve. The placement of the buttons is key. Well done functioning buttonholes are precisely 1.25 to 1.5 inches from the cuff and the buttons should somewhat overlap each other when fastened. A good tailor is going to take his or her time to ensure these details are flawless. It requires a little more attention to detail, but can make the overall alterations to your suit a lot simpler.

For die-hard fans, the best solution is to request functioning buttonholes on a custom jacket only if you are 100% sure that your sleeve length measurements are accurate. In terms of ready-to-wear jackets: if you can’t try it on, it’s altogether best not to buy if their buttonholes are functioning. The chances for most ready-wear jackets needing alterations are high. Functioning buttonholes may greatly increase the cost of these alterations. The bottom line is: for those loyal to the functional buttonhole – buy the jacket unfinished and let your tailor do the functioning buttonholes for you.

Cheryl Lofton is the owner of Cheryl A. Lofton & Associates, a premier full service tailoring company based in Washington DC., renown for precise alterations, bridal fittings and custom tailoring.

Cheryl A. Lofton & Associates
719 T St NW, Washington, DC 20001
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