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  • Writer's pictureBespoke JB

Holy Buttons

Updated: Sep 15, 2019

Prior to 2016 and having Made to Measure (MTM) suits created by Tom Ford, Anthony Sinclair and other MTM manufacturers, I had numerous men suits in my wardrobe (e.g., Hugo Boss, Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein) that were off the shelf and later tailored to fit me. However, none of these suits had working or even "faux" button sleeves. Understandably, these types of suits being sold off the shelf would be problematic for consumers to modify the shirt sleeve length as not all arms are equal to all men. Working sleeve holes have permanently sewn-in holes and are 'fixed', making alterations extremely prohibitive.

Working button sleeves, also known as "Surgeon Cuff Sleeves" a term explaining their existence when military field surgeons in the 19th century were required to wear suit jackets and while treating wounded soldiers, doctors would understandably stain their jackets. The ever practical tailors on Savile Row in London introduced functional buttons on the cuffs of a jacket’s sleeve, so that the doctors could roll their sleeves up when needed. Since then, surgeon cuffs have been synonymous with carefully crafted and high-end men’s suits.

Working or Surgeon Cuff Sleeves

In the last 10 years, there has been a trend by consumers and suit makers to have working button sleeves or to at least have faux button sleeves. Those that have working button sleeves are encouraged to leave the last button, unbuttoned to showcase this function and to signify they're wearing a high-end suit, a hallmark of custom suiting. This approach jives with the notion of leaving the last button on your suit jacket and vest unbuttoned.

MTM and bespoke suit-makers have even made the last button standout by using different colored thread for the buttonhole and/or a different colored thread for holding the button(s). Another trend is to have the button holes made at an angle to the sleeve.

Bespoke Styling

Getting back to my initial wardrobe of non-button holed sleeves --- I took a few of my favored suits to my regular tailor to convert the jackets into working sleeves. My tailor wasn't inclined to do them and to my surprise, a few other tailors either didn't know or wouldn't do it. I conducted an online search and found some near me who did --- prices range from $85 to the highest of $160 for a high-end Georgetown tailor. The $85 price was much more reasonable, considering the button holes were being handsewn versus machine sewn. Coupled with this work being involved with opening the sleeves, modifying the inside lining and remaining sleeve fabric to accommodate the opening up feature with the new button holes.

I had some suits converted but had the idea of converting some of my blazers (jackets without pants) to have faux button holes. Below is an example of my light blue linen/silk blend blazer being converted.

Before - Removal of Existing Buttons


The work entails removing the buttons, opening the sleeve lining and partially opening the sleeve fabric, installing the button holes (using the same thread elsewhere on the jacket to match existing button holes), sewing the buttons back on and resealing the liner. This work is considerably less involved than making the jacket have working sleeves and adds a bit of detail to the jacket.

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