It seems a bit odd to have a lapel buttonhole on your jacket, but no button on the other side, doesn’t it? Why is it even there in the first place?
Like so many things in menswear, there are a handful of origin stories, many of which have very practical beginnings. The story of this button hole is no different.
Apparently, there was a time when men would wear dress hats that came complete with a small elastic cord with a button on the end. This button on a string was used to fasten to your jacket lapel, such that in windy conditions, you wouldn’t lose your hat if it blew off!
Another story is that at one point there actually was a button on the opposite suit lapel — but on the underside — such that you could button the coat all the way up in very chilly conditions. I think this is a great idea, especially since you can’t see the button with it being on the underside of the lapel.
Yet another origin story is that Prince Albert (1819 – 1861), when presented a small bouquet of flowers by his bride, Queen Victoria, cut a small hole in his jacket lapel and wore the flowers. His tailor then made the smart move to include a small hole on the left lapel of all of his jackets. Needless to say, the trend caught on.
Fast forward to today, and that buttonhole is used largely for flowers or boutonnieres. By the way, in Europe this lapel buttonhole is called a boutonniere, while in the US, a boutonniere refers to the floral arrangement.
It’s important to note that whether you opt for a single flower or a boutonniere, that you put it through the lapel buttonhole versus pinning directly to the fabric. There are some cases, however, where it may be best to let your florist arrange the boutonniere as he/she likes, but generally speaking, you should always place a flower directly through this hole. And if you look closely on well made jackets, you’ll see that there is a small bit of thread running horizontal on the backside of your jacket lapel, just below the the lapel buttonhole. This is where your flower stem goes. It’s a neat little trick to keeping everything in place.
So, there you have it! A little helpful background on your lapel buttonhole. Consider having your tailor install a small button on the backside of your opposite lapel such that you can button up all the way in the fall and winter months. And during summer, don’t forget to put that buttonhole to good use and put a flower in there!