The power of a well-dressed man lies usually in the quality of a well-made suit, but that same quality is an aspect built upon many distinct and rather significant characteristics. You might have heard before how the finer details can be interpreted as both a sign of the wearer’s attention pointed towards the distinctive features of a garment, as well as a subtle way of revealing the history and the quality behind a suit.

With that being said, suit buttons can uncover a lot just by having you pay closer attention to the way they are constructed. Being able to distinguish the quality of an exquisite garment is just a matter of getting in touch with some basic information. Read on to the full report to find out the difference between working and non-working buttons, what the surgeon cuffs stand for and what defines the jacket sleeve.

suit buttons explained

Working versus non-working buttons

Some gentleman prefer the working buttons, while others favour the non-working ones as they make more sense in the modern society, but what is the real difference between the two?

The working buttons characterize the suit sleeve buttons that are functional and work. Instead of taking off your jacket, they allow you to roll up your sleeves, setting the suit apart from the mass produced garments. They stand for bespoke tailoring, defining what is otherwise known as the working sleeve, the working cuff or the surgeon cuff.

The non-working buttons are simply sewn on the jacket, decorating the outside of each sleeve but carrying no functionality. They usually represent the off-the-rack suits that most people wear without really missing the practical character of the buttons.

Deciding between the two is just a matter of personal taste, of appreciation towards the craftsmanship and sometimes a preference directed towards the valuable utility of the suit.

Surgeon cuffs

Also known as working cuffs, the surgeon cuffs are perceived as a blunt indicator of a man’s refined taste in clothing and despite them originating in the military, they survived into the modern era, still betraying social rank to this day. Typically found on higher end, tailored garments, the surgeon cuffs are a detail most men are keen on preserving on their suits.


Surgeon cuff at Z Zegna S/S ’13 men’s

When sporting this particular type of cuffs, most tailors advise you to leave the last sleeve button unbuttoned to showcase the detail on the jacket, this also being a subtle sign letting everyone know that the suit is custom made. Seeing how the revealing of the higher quality of a suit is a matter of controversy, leaving the last button flagrantly unbuttoned is seen by some as a faux pas, or rather as an unnecessary advertisement. Following onto the sartorial path and caving in to its unwritten rules should still be a reflection of your personality. So if you feel like flaunting your impeccable style, do so without thinking twice.

Kissing buttons

Either unbuttoned or not, a cuff is able to determine the quality of a suit also by calling attention to the apparently casual arrangement of buttons. If you already explored this particular aspect, you came to notice how the buttons can be put in order in at least three distinctive ways. Here’s what you should know about them.

Stacked buttons are a type of kissing buttons that are known for slightly overlapping one another. They are a signature detail of the Italian suits, known for impregnating the garment with a dashing quality. The imperfectly aligned buttons sustain the flawless skill of the tailor.

stacked suit buttons
Stacked buttons at Trussardi S/S ’13 men’s

Kissing non-stacked buttons are known for slightly touching each-other but not overlapping. They can really make a jacket look superior by highlighting the elegance of the details that aren’t necessarily immaculate. Not perfectly lined up, but neither perfectly kissing, these buttons are an excellent way of highlighting your unique style.

non stacked suit buttons
Non-stacked buttons at Burberry Prorsum S/S ’13 men’s

Non-kissing buttons are buttons that are not touching and they still look relevant by maintaining a sort of classic appeal. Some gentlemen opt for an uncluttered row of spaced out parallel buttons as they find the option cleaner. The slight space between each button really goes a long way, so again always choose according to your own preferences.

non kissing buttons
Non-kissing buttons at Ermanno Scervino S/S ’13 men’s

Fore more information about men’s suiting in general, including types of cuts and which styles to opt for, visit our men’s suiting guide.

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