The suit jackets hanging in your closet serve you well and keep you looking sharp, from board meetings to baseball games at the bar with your buddies. If you’re like most men though, you probably don’t really know the history of your suit jackets. No, we don’t mean the actual ones you own, but the history of the garment itself.
It might surprise you to know that the suit jacket has a pretty long, storied history. Sure, they’ve been around for quite a while and they’ve kept everyone from kings and presidents to paupers and poets warm, but that doesn’t even tell half the story.
Keep reading to learn more about the history of suit jackets. Knowing where they came from can help you wear yours better, and it can also give you some great cocktail party fodder when you’re not quite sure what to say to the guy standing next to you.
Know Your Buttons
One of the strangest things about a suit jacket to the average man today is why it has all those buttons on the cuff. Sure, it’s nice if you need to replace a button and can’t find one, but then you have a strange looking jacket that’s missing buttons, don’t you?
The reason suit jackets have those buttons is because they used to be very useful during WWI when the suit was really coming into it’s own as we know it today.
Medics who wore suits actually used to roll up their sleeves to avoid getting blood on them when they performed any sort of routine surgical procedure or attended to a wounded soldier out in the field.
Why wouldn’t a surgeon just take off the jacket? If they were in the field and performing surgery or tying a tourniquet, they would have been worried about being shot at by enemy forces.
Their jackets had logos and markings on them that identified them as medics, which at the time, were off limits in terms of the standard rules of engagement. Many surgeons and doctors also worried about being shot at by their own men in the heat of battle if they weren’t wearing a clearly marked jacket.
It’s also interesting to note that your jacket is a little shorter than your sleeves for a similar practical reason. When suits were just coming around, they weren’t easy to replace because they were very expensive.
If your jacket sleeves were a little shorter than your shirt you wouldn’t have to worry quite as much about getting mustard on them. It’s still true today if you think about it, though suits are more affordable for the most part.
The Fat King
If you’ve been told one thing over and over again when it comes to suit jackets, it’s probably that you shouldn’t button that second or third button.
You’ve been told to leave it open time and time again. Maybe you’ve even been reprimanded by your tailor or a fashionable friend that knows better.
Have you ever wondered why there’s a button there in the first place if you’re not supposed to actually use it? Is it just another insane feature of the suit jacket that makes little sense in the real world, like those cuff buttons for soldiers?
Many people believe that buttoning the suit jacket all the way down used to be the standard way to do it – at least before Louis XIV had a little too much mutton and couldn’t get his jacket closed anymore.
As crazy as it sounds, the story stays that Louis XIV found himself unable to button the last button on his favorite dinner jacket before a big ball. As a sign of deference and respect for their supreme leader, the other men went without that button as well.
Whether or not that’s entirely true is hardly the point, but it sure does make a good story. If there was a king that would have influenced the course of men’s fashion, it definitely would have been Louis XIV and his court of well-dressed subordinates.
What’s with That Lapel Hole?
If you’re like most guys out there, you’ve probably wondered why you have a hole in your lapel that looks like it’s for a button. When you look to the other lapel though, there’s no button there. So, what’s going on there?
The answer is actually quite simple, and has a lot to do with how we get around. While you might be getting to work in your own car, sharing a ride with a friend or colleague or getting on a commuter train, those weren’t options for men back in the day.
Years and years ago, men rode horses where they needed to go. That meant that you didn’t want a jacket flopping around, and that you were also going to be out in the elements without a windshield protecting you.
Over time, the button got removed from one side of the lapel, but the hole on the other has remained. It seems to be a little bit of tradition at work when it comes to men’s clothing, much like those cuff buttons.
That lapel hole also gives you a place to stick your fresh or silk flower to spruce up your look.