Richard Armitage and the “missing button”

Screen shot 2012-11-30 at 10.51.36 AMRichard Armitage, worldpremiere of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Wellington, New Zealand, November 28, 2012. Detail of left jacket sleeve. Source: RichardArmitageNet.com

Since I’m hearing remarks about this in different places, I want to weigh in on it.

This button is not “missing.” It is not evidence that he was careless or his handler didn’t look at him before he got out of the car or that he was accosted by someone who stole the button as an Armitage relic! It is evidence that Mr. Armitage is joining the ranks of the people who know.

There are a lot of style rules for wearing jackets that have to be learned, especially by people who didn’t just grow up wearing this sort of thing. One rule frequently ignored by newcomers to men’s formalwear is the waist button rule. These jackets all have two buttons at the waist — but convention dictates that in wearing the suit, the bottom button is not buttoned. (And the bottom of a vest is never buttoned either, by the way.) Armitage was a bit vague on this in his early career, but photos from the last three years have revealed that he now knows and follows this rule.

A similar rule applies to the buttons on the sleeve of a men’s jacket. These buttons are purely decorative — they have no function. Armitage isn’t going to unbutton them and roll up his sleeve! They are a vestige from an age when a more numerous series of buttons went further up the sleeve and actually functioned. Because button holes are tricky to make, and an expensive detail, and these have no function, in off-the-rack clothing the buttons are often simply sewn on. You see two, three, or four — four is the most usual number for formalwear. In a less expensive suit, it is indeed a faux pas if you can’t see the buttons — because there is nothing at all underneath them. It looks sloppy, especially if a thread is hanging from where the button fell off.

But if you look at this sleeve, you will see that there are actual buttonholes sewn into the sleeve. That is not just decorative top-stitching; those are actual buttonholes. One characteristic detail of the made-to-measure and / or bespoke suit is that even though the wearer doesn’t ever open the jacket sleeve, the buttonholes actually function. This is a mark of luxury and style. This feature in a suit says to the viewer — I am the kind of man who makes sure that all the details are right — even the irrelevant ones, even the ones I will never take notice of.

The question is how to signal that style detail to the viewer, since most people won’t look all the closely at the buttons. The convention, and this is a very, very elevated style rule, is to leave the last button open. Thus the wearer signals that he is wearing the bespoke suit and everything that that article of clothing signals to the viewer.

I find this particularly moving exactly because I know Armitage didn’t grow up with all these style rules. It’s a beautiful detail that speaks movingly to his professional coming of age.

Gosh, I’m a little teary!

~ by Servetus on November 30, 2012.

49 Responses to “Richard Armitage and the “missing button””

  1. Do you think that he is making all of these little adjustments consciously himself, or that he has been carefully and craftfully dressed or a bit of both?

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    • I suspect RA has not a clue about such a detail. However, I agree he has arrived in that he’s handled by top people now.

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    • The waist button rule is widely known in England and Europe. I can imagine that he either noticed that himself or someone pointed it out to him discreetly. This sleeve rule rule is more obscure because most people aren’t wearing bespoke suits. You would only know if it you had worn one before and your mother or father, who also knew the rule, had instructed you. His parents are not in that social segment. I assume that when you spend all this money on a suit, the tailor or stylist gives you directions about these things if you appear to need them. Or maybe the topic came up when he was being fitted.

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      • This particular element is something that he wouldn’t probably need to touch isn’t it? I mean, that he wouldn’t need to unbutton the sleeve to put the jacket on the way he would the waist buttons. It could just have been put on the hanger that way for him?

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        • that’s possible, too, although I tend to think that for packing it might be buttoned in order to make sure the sleeve didn’t fold or wrinkle inadvertently. It’s hard for me to think of this as accidental, though, just because it’s such a trademark for people who know.

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          • So many details…it would be worth it to pay people to keep track of this kind of thing at this stage – lest one end up on one of the style critique lists.

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        • Another thing to ponder — and I’d have to dig deeper into what Zegna does than I’d like at the moment to deal with this — is exactly how many options are available in made-to-measure. The tailor will have calculated pricepoints for all of them. My assumption is that while functioning buttonholes are a standard for made-to-measure, there were different options for creating them and they would have been discussed.

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          • Goodness. How much do think this custom suit might be worth?

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            • I priced it in the beginning of the trouser break post. Su Misura starts at $2k and caps at $4500. It has fantastic sleevehead tailoring. I’ve never seen a suit like that up close, seeing as how my male family members and guys have always bought off the rack in department stores. Would love to have a jacket like this in my hands to look at closely. It’s also hard to estimate cost without touching the fabric. The deal with Zegna is that they have their own special wool mills for creating this stuff.

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      • Hmm, I don’t know. I agree with Obsura that’s a decorative detail that might not need his attention unless he asked: “Say, is a button missing?’

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        • I’m pretty sure that it would have been mentioned during the fitting at some point, because he’d have to buy it / pay for the feature.

          Also, have you ever packed a suit for a man? It’s a huge pain. There are also principles / rules for that. I’ve never been with anyone who could afford (or would have wanted) this kind of suit, but it is an issue.

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          • My dad took nice suits on business trips, but they were not in this league.

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            • The issue is that it’s very hard to get a crease out of a suit like this without professional cleaning or steaming, so you do everything you can to avoid creating one. The shoulders get folded inside each other and the sleeves get placed in a particular way and so on. What you wouldn’t want to risk is that in an airplane situation that the corner of the cuff flipped back because it wasn’t buttoned and then the fold got pressed into the suit. I don’t know, again, because I’ve never touched a suit like this, but I suspect it would be fully buttoned for packing.

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          • Unless you mean a bathing suit, no…and after this conversation I will put that on the list of things I am thankful for. I am not a very detail oriented person when it comes to fashion I fear…

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          • I have packed for a man and I have tailored for a couple of them, so yes, you’re right, it is a huge pain to pack good suits. But what hurts worse than anything is after you’ve worked so hard, pressed and packed the suits, then hung them out, steamed and brushed them, the so-&-so puts CDs in the jacket pocket, the fat wallet in the butt pocket, and a huge wad of keys in the front trouser pocket. Yes, I screamed at him.

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            • yeah, I agree, wallet belongs in the breast pocket. I have never seen a wallet in Armitage’s rear pocket, I don’t think — maybe because it’s really hard on spinal alignment?

              I hope he had a great wallet for this event, too.

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        • There was a point at which Armitage had clearly grasped the waist button rule, and we never saw it broken after that. If he breaks this rule the next time we see him in an outfit like this one, you would have better evidence that it’s unconscious. I just think that this is such a screaming detail it’s a bit hard to think it would have been accidental. He is a detailed guy, after all ๐Ÿ™‚

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          • OOOh that sounds like a challenge…now I’m going to have to watch for it. First the thumbs, now the buttons…puppetmaster!

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  2. Well, his *stylist* knows. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I think I will name The Suit, George. Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.

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  3. Wow! What an interesting detail. I never knew that, but I love learning about all these little subtle signals in men’s clothing. How do you find these things out?

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  4. The stylist & the tailor must have pointed the way, expressing fondness of their tradition and detail, how hard would it be for him to honour that? (Note my british spelling ๐Ÿ™‚
    You would make a great Sherlock, Servetus or would you prefer to be Watson?

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    • Also knowing his occasional self-deprecating “little boy lost” vibe, I’m sure they’d have been happy to take him under their wing and tell him stuff. There’s also something at stake for the tailor who’s making a suit for a premiere — the tailor certainly knew who RA is. He wouldn’t want his suit on the front page of every website being worn sloppily.

      Hmm. I would prefer to be Servetus ๐Ÿ™‚

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  5. Can I just say wow! I hadn’t seen anything mentioned about the suit and I wouldn’t have noticed this myself. I love your analysis and how much there is to learn from it! I just look at the pictures and think how beautiful he looks, I never get much further ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Lovely hand shot. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I’ve missed any previous comments about the “missing” button, love your detailed explanation. Thanks!

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  7. apparently on the other sleeve he has all the buttons buttoned, so he doesn’t quite have it down yet, but one day ๐Ÿ™‚

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  8. Thank you very much, Servetus, for stating this fact. I loved these small details in his formal wear and was surprised when discovering bits of a discussion about RA forgetting or loosing something, when everything was just absolutely PERFECT, especially he included ! ;o)

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    • I think there’s a tendency to look down on anything you’re not familiar with, as opposed to asking why it’s different than you expect. You may be right, but you also may discover something new …

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  9. This is very interesting. I thought i knew most of the ‘rules’ as my father was a wing commander and a stickler for etiquette but i didn’t know this one.

    However, this detail isn’t just for bespoke now – Mr Bolly recently bought a suit (off the peg but good quality) that has real buttonholes on the cuffs. He remarked on them at the time – and now he knows he’s supposed to leave the last button undone.

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    • I don’t know how the military does it. There are always special rules for soldiers.

      Good to know the detail is spreading, as I think it’s really classy.

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  10. This is fascinating! All the obscure style rules are so confusing. That’s probably why I’m in jeans/sweatshirt 75% of the time.

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    • The rules are much more flexible for women than for men. Men have a narrower range of options.

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      • This is true in most situations. However, in some professions, the “uniform” has the same requirements, most unstated. For years, I wore wool suits with menswear details and good shirts to work.

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  11. Very interesting! Thanks for the discussion, I enjoyed it! Almost as much as I enjoyed watching Richard model that suit!

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  12. As with your more recent style critiques that I’ve had the chance to read, this is indeed elegantly put, i.e., Armitage’s style reflecting his professional coming of age. Thanks for this! (Yes, it gets me teary eyed, too.) ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • It’s neat to see him owning the stages. He just exudes confidence and it must help him to know he’s dressed correctly.

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  13. Thank you for the lesson in the wearing of a mans suit. My husband thinks that I am in the know with how his to dress. Ha Ha But I do try my best on those rare times he wears one of his suits. He does have a very nice one that his dad got while he was stationed in Germany in the middle 50’s gray and middle weight wool. But no button up on the sleeves. In September while at an auction and buying WWII US uniforms he also found in one of the totes a very nice double-breasted suit, from the late 30’s or early 40’s. At that time men tended to be smaller and this suit fits my 13 year old almost perfect. He is 5″4 and a half and 135 pounds.

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  14. […] by temperament, predictably, at some point, some detail of his clothing will catch my eye, as the cuff button did last year, or the trouser break. I live for the trouser break because I’m such an […]

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