It’s time to finally write a full essay on what is perhaps the most important detail I pay attention to in menswear and how use it as a basis for purchases and commissions.
That detail is the Harmony that exists between a bottom button and a pocket line on the same horizontal plane.
Listen to our full, candid discussion on the Button-Pocket Harmony on the Style & Direction Podcast!
I’m sure it’s apparent that I’m a hardliner for certain details. For one, I like high rise trousers, not simply because of the vintage aesthetic but because I think it’s comfortable and flattering; it also plays with proportions. I also prefer loafers with a low vamp, simply because it has an elegant, almost feminine appearance. And quite obviously, I like wide lapels and spearpoint collars.
It is my predilection for these details that form the basis of my overall style, presented in the pieces I that I wear and the thing’s I won’t incorporate. It’s kinda like jazz in that the right sound comes from the notes you do and don’t play. Clearly it’s always about subjective preference, but being true to the idealized version of yourself is a philosophy I adhere strongly to. Figuring out my standards and what comprise the “true” Ethan has truly guided my menswear journey, not only in how I’ve come full circle to incorporating vintage clothing against contemporary/RTW and custom garments.
With that said, I’ve softened up on somethings despite my love for certain details I would be exuberance to see return within menswear. I may love wide lapels, but I’ve also developed an appreciation for ivy sack suits, so I do own a few “slim” lapel-ed jackets. I don’t think of it has succumbing or sacrificing my preference, but rather developing a new preference, as I’d hate a non-sack jack with slim lapels. Similarly, I’ve also enjoyed my ties from Drake’s and Gabucci, despite an obsessions with vintage untipped ones.
But if there is one detail that I’ve stayed hard and true on, it’s the Bottom Button-Pocket Line Harmony, where the final button is on the same horizontal plane (or at least within a fraction of a cm) of the pocket line.
Simply put, jackets that have this Harmony typically look proportionate to me, at least in terms of design. If the bottom button goes below the pocket line, it typically means that the buttoning point is lower, which I’m not a fan of. It simultaneously makes the jacket appear top heavy and too “short”, even if the jacket frames the body just fine. If you also factor in the distance from the button and pocket line to the quarters, it also looks inharmonious as well.
I know it’s weird. Bare with me.
The Harmony in Vintage Tailoring
If you’ve read between the lines of this blog, you’ll know that this Harmony has always been important to me. In fact, I think I specifically call out this detail (without referencing the name) when I wrote my General Guide to Vintage Sartorial Style. That piece was written in 2016, a few years into my menswear journey and only a year after i started the blog!
I can’t say exactly how this obsession (if you’ll call it that) started. I know that in much of Golden Era Tailoring, specifically the 1930s-1940s, the pocket line was almost always in harmony with the jacket. You can see this both in countless illustrations, advertisements, and photographs of the time, on both SB and DB jackets. As a guy who likes to study and compile large Imgur Albums of inspiration, I probably internalized the Harmony very early on into my journey. Its true; for my jackets to best approximate my countless inspo pics, I should strive to get the details as close as possible- that includes the Button-Pocket Harmony.
And yes, I know that in the 1920s buttoning points were higher, which meant that the Button-Pocket Line was inharmonious, though in the opposite case- the last button was higher than the pocket.
With that said, I have seen quite a few Bold Era jackets with lowered buttoning points that still have the Harmony; it just feels like the jacket is too short or too top heavy regardless. As a guy who was after the 30s aesthetic specifically, at least at that time, checking a potential jacket for the Harmony was an effective way to ensure that I was still on the mark for my desired era of dress.
Once you get to the late 1950s and early 1960s, where the ivy sack-jacket reigned supreme, the button-pocket Harmony is still present. This is in-spite of the fact that buttons are spaced further apart (when compared to previous eras), though this results in the buttoning point to be slightly higher. As you know, I’ve come to appreciate 60s ivy style, almost becoming as equal to my love of 30’s tailoring, so the higher buttoning point doesn’t bother me as much, since it’s inherent to the look. I’m just glad the Harmony is there!
Just goes to show you can change the aesthetic but retain the Button-Pocket Harmony.
It’s when you get to the late 60s and 70s where it becomes an issue, as these eras favored a lower buttoning point almost to the same degree as the late 40s-50s. When it comes to the 3-roll-2 ivy sack jack, it almost seems like makers simply kept the same jacket details and simply moved the garment lower on the button block, which results in the bottom button and the pocket line becoming misaligned visually. While the fastening point may be largely unchanged (or even proper), it still looks off and the chances are, if you have a jacket without the Harmony, you’ll get an unflattering jacket. Probably 7/10 times.
As a result, nearly all of my single breasted vintage jackets, whether its from the 1930s or the 1960s-1970s all have this Bottom Button-Pocket Line Harmony! It’s not something I take out a level for, but its something I’ve internalized where a jacket isn’t under consideration for me unless it has it (and of course, other details are in play as well). Doing this test is great, especially when you’re shopping on eBay for vintage, which I used to do exclusively before attempting to shop in person.
Double breasted jackets unfortunately are a bit harder for this, though clearly the Harmony was important still present on 1930s-1940s DBs. I’ve softened my stance on this for DBs simply because good DBs are harder to find; I also don’t believe that DBs need to have the same buttoning point as an SB jacket, since the visuals are different. Perhaps it could be because the DB has squared off, overlapping quarters, which makes an inharmonious stance work for me. Not sure why that is.
I simply prefer to buy vintage DBs in person for that reason, just so I can wear it and judge it for myself.
The Harmony Today
Now most jackets today feature the Harmony inherently in the garment. I haven’t seen very many jackets worn by folks in the industry that feature a jacket with the bottom button going below the pocket line. Even Ciccio, who has a lower buttoning point than other tailors, still retains the Harmony; it’s probably offset with closer set buttons and a slightly longer jacket length. Even Spier, who responded to my initial IG stories about this phenomenon, said that most of their models have this Harmony, even if they didn’t really think about it.
Despite it being fairly standard across many makers, there are a few times where tailors have expressed their intent to break this horizontal Harmony. According to my friend Hector, 18th Amendment has a few pieces that have the last button go below the pocket line, but that’s because they want to emphasize a lower buttoning point and a broaden the visual “V” in the torso. As much as I love Angel Ramos and his work, I probably wouldn’t commission anything from him if this was the case, though it’s for the lack Harmony and the lowered buttoning point, which I know I doesn’t work for me.
To be honest though, I only saw Hector’s commission; nothing on 18th Amendment’s IG had any indication of breaking Harmony.
Jussi, a tailor in Finland, has stated he also breaks this line (the button is 1.5 cm lower than the pocket) in order to de-emphasized the waist and draw less attention to the horizontal lines to the body. He also states that most modern patch pockets are curved like a smile, which often means that the horizontal planes aren’t equal to begin with. I did counter and say that my Harmony is more apparent with flapped and jetted pockets (hence the attention to 70s ivy earlier).
I don’t feel like I’m missing out though (I’m sure my wallet thanks me), as I’ve been fortunate to have commissioned garments that have this Harmony, whether it was requested or inherent in the garment. My MTM suits from Natty Adams and Atelier Fugue all adhere as close as they can to the matching horizontal lines. They do feature curved patch pockets, so the difference is a fraction of a centimeter and aren’t as drastic as the negative examples I provided earlier. My Ascot Chang suit is also the same way- Justin even said that I didn’t have to ask for the Harmony as they were going to do it to begin with.
Obviously there are different tailors who drop the buttoning, but like with vintage, if I was to follow my inspirations and have my garments best approximate the image in my head, my stuff should also have the Harmony.
I also haven’t had an issue with finding RTW that fits my standards. My jackets from Spier and Ring Jacket, which comprise my non-vintage tailoring, all have the Harmony, again to fraction of a cm due to the curved patch pockets. Obviously it’s not the only thing I look for, but it can be a deal breaker- I can’t imagine me ever seeing a jacket that is perfect apart from the Button-Pocket Harmony. For example, J. Crew lacks the Harmony but also has a low button point, oddly shaped shoulders, a short jacket length, and skimpy lapels. Additionally, some of Spier’s old jackets (mainly their non-Neapolitian stuff) also lacks the Harmony, but is two button and lacks the shoulders and pockets I want.
Double breasted jackets still are even harder to find, since almost every contemporary DB has a bottom button that goes past the pocket line. Again, I’ve softened my stance on this, though I don’t own any contemporary DBs (presumably because not many people make them, at least compared to SBs), so I can’t personally contribute to this section. I automatically admire tailors that do the Harmony on DBs, which is why I hold B&Tailor in such high regard (though they haven’t always done it).
Overall, the Button-Pocket Harmony is something that I noticed and now can never unsee, especially in order for me to consider a jacket as “proportionate”. And based on the DMs I’ve received on Instagram regarding this topic, many guys either always knew it or subconsciously followed it, as again, most single breasted jackets inherently have the Harmony. In fact, I’ve since pocket-pilled people, as they are now using it as one of their standards when buying or commissioning garments.
In Regards to Buying
In the conversations I’ve had regarding the Button-Pocket Harmony (mainly with those who disagree to its importance), I’ve been accused for being too picky and potentially limiting my wardrobe. But that clearly isn’t the case, as I’ve been able to create a rather expansive closet! What this “high standard” has done is simply ensure that I don’t buy anything that doesn’t fit the details I like which has the inverse effect of everything in my closet being exactly what I want (bar getting it bespoke). I haven’t had any particularly painful buyers remorse in years!
It’s definitely a carryover from my vintage collecting days, where if you saw a vintage jacket at a store or on Ebay, you had to decide in that moment if it was worth the money. I had to routinely ask myself if the garment fit my aesthetic taste and if I was ready to trade off certain details it did or didn’t have. If I was to pass on it, I had to be comfortable with presumably never seeing the garment again. While this did help me obtain a few things that have come to grace the copy of this blog, there were definitely a few purchase regrets early on.
Even though my buying power has gotten larger now, I still apply this same logic. Maybe it’s because I still am tight-fisted over my money. Or perhaps I am just an obsessive person over my clothing (it’s both). But this really helps me on a larger scale, preventing me from buying things just because I’ve been exposed to the greater world of contemporary menswear. I want to make every dollar count (especially since I save up for grails now), which leads me to avoid simply buying vintage just for a cheap price or going too far into custom clothing. Testing all these jackets, be it vintage, contemporary, and custom, for the Button-Pocket Harmony is a great way to mitigate those bad decisions. Especially since I don’t want to own something that doesn’t fit my standards; that’s closet space and money that could go to a garment actually does live up to it.
I know that many of you are thinking I’m weird for paying attention to this detail (especially a few guys are mainly concerned with buttoning point first and everything else is secondary), but it really just means that I try to look at the entire design of the jacket. I like to see how some makers or brands take the gorge, both in shape and height. Is the lapel bellied? How is the shoulder? Do they like closed or open quarters?
Being conscious of these details and how they play with your idealized garment is incredibly important, as it provides you with greater insight into what you want to look like when you wear your clothes. Having mastery over these things will help you communicate what you want to a tailor or even know what brands (or vintage eras) to buy from! It’s all about developing taste.
Testing vintage jackets for the Button-Pocket Harmony is a simple test you can make to ensure the buttoning point is at a “good spot”. This is more important when buying vintage jackets! In the 1930s-1940s, the buttoning point was largely around the middle of the jacket, which I don’t think was too high or too low. Most jackets from later eras, especially the 70s-90s usually feature a much lowered button stance, in which the Harmony is not present, obviously because the fastening point is shifted down, resulting in a disproportionate look at least in terms of jacket design.
This is something I consider to be very important to how I view my single breasted jackets (and to a much lesser extent, DBs), though clearly I’m still able to dress happily with a rather full wardrobe. As much as it is a standard, it’s actually very internalized where now I can simply gaze upon a jacket listing and determine in milliseconds whether or not I’d buy it. It’s even quicker now, considering my giant wardrobe, where a jacket must not only meet these standards but be truly special for me to consider adding it to my already cramped closet. A 25 year old’s also gotta save for the future you know!
I’m sure that many of you have your own idiosyncrasies when it comes to clothing, be it non-iron fabric and short collars to even overly open quarters. My hope is that you embrace it and utilize it develop your personal style and approach to menswear, not to limit yourself. There is definitely a difference! If you find yourself not buying anything, you either need to reevaluate what you want or you should definitely invest in custom clothing. Just make sure that you know all the details you want and you’ll end up having mastery and confidence in your closet. It’ll be full of tools to look exactly the way you want to.
Also, thank you for listening to the podcast episode! If you listened to it, you’ll also know that other dealbreakers (or standards) include:
- waistcoats that are too long for high rise trousers
- casual jackets that are too long for high rise trousers (I talk about it in the leather jacket essay)
- poly-blend or non-iron dress shirts
- short collar lengths
- too high of a gorge
It’s all about developing personal style and taste.
Always a pleasure,
Someone has WAY too much time on his hands!
I’ve long appreciated your blog and your perspectives on these kinds of details. You’ve got some impeccable style and I have no doubt that you’ve influenced more menswear wardrobes than you know.
OMG, I never even thought about that, despite having strong views about buttoning points.
You made me go into my closet and check some jackets/suits… I hope you’re happy! 🙂
Great article and some excellent images.
Haha, I’m glad you enjoyed reading it!
Great article, Ethan, and I enjoyed the podcast as well. Wondering if pattern matching is also important to you, especially for large checks. I’ve come to believe that a one-piece back looks best (Derek Guy wrote about this years ago, https://dieworkwear.com/2016/05/27/the-one-piece-back/) as otherwise the shaping at the center seam can look odd. See these images as examples. What do you think?
Pattern gapes towards the top of the back, narrows at the bottom (not too bad): https://www.permanentstyle.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Solito-neapolitan-tailoring-768×1121.jpg
Pattern is narrower at the center seam from top to bottom than elsewhere on the jacket, and has a sort of weird sine curve effect (pretty messy-looking, if you ask me): https://www.permanentstyle.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/thom-sweeney-bespoke-savile-row.jpg
And finally, the one-piece back (perfect): https://66.media.tumblr.com/d9ac4ad7f82ac71dc88a791594b793f0/tumblr_inline_o5dm33P1gC1qfex1b_540.jpg
I I like pattern mixing as much as possible. My vintage jackets are largely pretty good with it, as are my pieces from Ring Jacket and Spier & Mackay. As I haven’t had much in the way of bespoke commissions, I can’t speak to it, but I can say that I’d prefer it if I was spending that money.
I like one piece backs, but they weren’t too common on vintage, so I can give them a pass if something I find or buy doesn’t have it.