Magnificent Bastard

Monday, October 20, 2014

Challenge the MB: 3-Button vs. 2-Button Suit Jackets and Blazers

Challenge the MB: 3-Button vs. 2-Button Suit Jackets and Blazers

First I must say I am a great fan of your writing, and I am delighted to find you back.

With that said, I feel compelled to respond to your 3-button / 2-button post of February 18, 2014. I must politely disagree with your conclusion that the 2-button suit shows more class than 3-button.

If you scroll down the Kennedy-Nixon photo in your post so that only the suits are seen (removing the influence of the photogenic Kennedy and the smarmy Nixon), I think it is undeniable that the 3-button suit is more likely to belong to a higher-status individual than the 2-button. Nixon's 3-button could easily be a bank president, while Kennedy's 2-button (with Kennedy removed) could just as easily be the owner of a car dealership or the president of the local Rotary. Replace Kennedy's pocket square with a couple of cigars and you have Rodney Dangerfield in Caddyshack. Not so with the 3-button.

For the record, I am a committed 2-button man. It suits my build, I like the look, and I feel like James Bond when I'm fitted out in a British-silhouette 2-button. The 3-button has always reminded me of a lab coat. These personal distinctions may result from my early 1960s childhood, when the young and fashionable sported 2-buttons (such as Kennedy, later the Rat Pack) and old men and fuddy-duddies the 3s. But that was BF for me (Before Fussell, who, by the way, I have MB to thank for introducing me), and now I notice and interpret things differently. While I am not arguing Fussell's infallibility, I think the 'proleness' of the 2-button is evident in the way the V broadens the shoulders in the same way as (Fussell points out) do epaulettes, emphasizing strength and, thereby, physical labor. The 3-button wearer in the photo appears never to have done a day of physical labor in his life, and I believe that is the intent.

Even your example of Todd Palin works against your argument, I think: Palin is a physical laborer and could model a 2-button to advantage, yet he dresses (or is being styled) to appear higher-classed. (Forget Ahmadinejad, of course; he looks like he gets his clothes at a rummage sale.)

I am glad to finally get this off my mind, as I had been dwelling on it (and particularly because I had learned about Fussell through your site and have been greatly influenced by him). I have also long intended to write to tell you how much I enjoy your blog. And I absolutely love the new logo. Keep up the great work!
—Paul

A: We welcome reasoned dissent from our readers and it's clear you've given this topic a lot of consideration — we especially admire how you use Fussell's observations regarding epaulettes against us! That hurts. But to continue the discourse, here is a thought: If a 2-button jacket is working correctly, it doesn't merely broaden the shoulders (as we agree epaulettes do). It reinforces the overall V-shape of one's torso, which is to say, it broadens the shoulders while narrowing the waist.

The sort of hard labor that creates this shape, in our experience, is many hours at the gym, many hours in the pool, or perhaps if you have very good genes and disciplined eating habits, many hours on fairways or polo fields. It is a look, in short, that comes from (moneyed) recreation rather than full-time bricklaying or ditch-digging, which tends to create a thicker, lumpier, less elongated look.

As for Todd Palin, we agree with your analysis — he no doubt turns to 3-button suits because Frank Luntz (or some other top-notch GOP campaign consultant) has determined through extensive focus-group testing that small-town conservatives of a certain age equate 3-button jackets with bankers, brokers, and other corporate nine-to-fivers maintaining the lower rungs of the top quintile.

But who, other than Todd Palin's wife, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christie want to win that vote? Not us, and not you! As we think Fussell would agree, there's a difference between what a prole thinks an upper looks like, and what an upper looks like. In this case, the difference is as subtle as a single button. But as you have found out from your own experience, that single button (or lack of it) makes all the difference in the world. Keep wearing 2-button jackets, and keep challenging us to think more deeply about the choices we make. We appreciate the feedback!

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