Q. I recently attend a legislative reception consisting of cocktails, light hors d’oeuvres and networking. What is the proper etiquette for keeping your suit jacket buttoned? Many of the men had unbuttoned their jackets while talking, but I thought that one would keep it buttoned until they sat down. What would be the correct procedure?
S. F., Richmond, VA
A. Etiquette is an ever-evolving set of guidelines that help us know what to do and what to expect others to do so our interactions can be as successful and positive as possible. One way etiquette has clearly been changing is in the softening of a variety of rigid “rules”. One such rigid rule was the notion that men should always button their jackets unless they are sitting down. To button or not to button is no longer a mandate. More important is your own comfort level because if you are comfortable, you will exude an air of confidence which is a good thing both in business social and purely social situations. You might want to button because it will create a more formal look . At an interview or when making a major presentation, the buttoned look helps create an image of polished professionalism. You might choose a more casual unbuttoned look at a social or business social event such as the one mentioned in the question. The sense of comfort and approachability that the unbuttoned look gives can make joining a group and engaging in small talk easier and more pleasant.
If you are going to button, whether you are wearing a three button or a two-button jacket, don’t button the bottom button. With a three-button jacket you can button both the top and middle buttons, or just the middle button. Some image experts will tell you buttoning only the middle of the three buttons is a more casual look. If you have a double breasted jacket keeping it buttoned when standing looks better.
In today’s world the important issues relating to wearing a suit or jacket are:
1. When you have a choice, wear one. So often I go to events and am astonished to see men wearing a sweater or just a shirt or even jeans and a t-shirt, no jacket much less a tie. If it’s even a question of to wear or not to wear, then wear a jacket and tie. You can always take it off. But if you don’t have a jacket and tie and it turns out the occasion is more formal, then you’re out of luck.
2. A good fit. Regardless of how complimentary the sales person is, take your new purchase to a tailor and have it altered to fit your body. It’s well worth the extra investment. You’ll look sharp and confident.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
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Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
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