Should You Leave Your Waistcoat Bottom Button Undone?
When it comes to wearing suits, one question that’s always asked is ‘do I need to leave the bottom button of my waistcoat undone?’ so we thought we would give you a brief history of where this trend came from, and give you the answers you need. We touched on it in short in our history of waistcoats article that we wrote, but as it’s a question that’s often searched, a separate blog post seems fitting.
There are no 100% confirmed reasons as to why this trend is popular, but there are possibilities and theories from the past which definitely played a huge role in it. So if you thought some men had just forgotten to do the bottom button of their waistcoat up, you’re wrong, it’s done with intent.
The 20th Century Practicality
The most common reason for the bottom button of a single breasted waistcoat being left undone is purely because of practicality. Back in the early 20th century, as we mentioned, a lot of manual labourers wore a three piece suit for their job. As we know from the history of tweed suits, it was common dress and every man wore a suit to his work, whether he was working on a farm, in a factory, or in an office, it was the done attire. With this in mind, it was often uncomfortable and restricting to have the bottom button done up on the waistcoat while having to bend, stretch, sit, stand etc. constantly throughout the day, so it was a choice made from practicality, not style. This is the same for doing activities like horse riding, the button was left undone as it actually stopped the waistcoat from moving around too much and being restrictive. It allowed it to rise up naturally without discomfort. This seems like, again, another practicality reason, rather than a fashion statement.
The King Edward VII Trend
Another reason dates back to when King Edward VII was seen with the bottom button of his waistcoat undone. People speculated at the time that he had simply forgotten to do it up in a hurried manner of getting dressed, or perhaps it had popped open and he didn’t realise, while others claimed that it was to do with his expanding waistline and he couldn’t in fact do the bottom button up as it was too uncomfortable. Whether or not it was a mishap on his part (this does seem unlikely as he cared hugely about the fit of his clothes and was often known to change outfits up to 6 times a day), or because he couldn’t fit in the waistcoat properly, we won’t know, but that does boil down to a practicality as well. If it’s too restricting to do it up and cope with your daily activities, leaving it undone seems like the viable option.
The Eton 'POP' Boys
We think, perhaps one of the most notable theories though, is actually to do with trending and people following suit, regardless if they understand why or not. How many trends can you think of that we just adopted and ended up loving and that’s become part of our regular dress now? Baseball caps are one, skinny jeans are another, or even wearing a leather biker jacket undone because it looks cooler. The bottom button being undone became a status symbol over time. A lot of posh boys from Eton college were part of a collective called ‘Pop’ and this dates back to the end of the 19th century. Only the members were allowed to wear certain specific items of dress, and one of them was leaving the bottom button of their waistcoat undone. Of course, members of this society were elite and highly respected due to wealth and class, so this tradition stood strong and since many of these men had become a part of the UK’s elite and most prestigious, Saville Row cottoned onto this trend and started adapting it for styling purposes, in order to give regular men that forbidden look.
The Saville Row Movement
Since then, it’s been a trend that everyone adapted just because. Leading actors in movies who had their suits tailored by Saville Row would have the bottom button undone, and we all know how the celebrity trends start a new wave of fashion, so everyone wanted that look. It’s one of those things that if you see someone else with the bottom button undone, or you have been told you made an error by buttoning your waistcoat fully, you feel like you need to fix it and follow suit (pun not intended). This leaves us to ponder over the fact, do we really have to follow everyone else and leave the button undone at the bottom of a waistcoat, just because everyone else does? Or should we make our own decisions about it? We do however think there are some exceptions and after doing some research, other gentlemen agree.
Our Take On The Rules
Leaving the bottom button of your waistcoat unfastened on a tweed suit or a casual suit seems fine, after all, if it did develop from a practicality, tweed suits were what the workers wore (see our history of tweed suits article) so it makes sense. However, if you’re wearing a dress suit to a fancy dinner and it’s similar to a tuxedo or is all sleek black, you might want to consider fastening all the buttons as you have no reason for practicality, and the suit will look sleeker, smart and more fitted. Of course, this is actually up to you and up to the wearer, but if you want to have your waistcoat fully fastened, do it, if you want to wear the bottom button undone, do it. There seems to be no right or wrong way anymore, but you can decide if you need it for practicality, or if you simply want to follow the path of history. Which theory do you think is correct?Gentleman's Gazette, The Spectator, Pinterest, My Suit & Tie.