With the advent of the online made to measure era there are few customization options that I feel have received more support and and attention than contrasting buttonholes (functioning buttonholes are another but I’ll save that for later). And I will come right out and say it; I do not like them and I do not and will not promote them here on FYGblog. Before I delve further into why I take such a stance I think I should first make a distinction. I think there are two types of contrasting buttonholes. There are the type that do not match any color of the suit fabric (photo to the left and first photo below), typically this detail is only on the distal buttonhole on the sleeve and in the most offensive cases on the boutonniere. And then there is the type of stitching that picks up a color from the fabric (second photo). The first classification is certainly contrasting and is what I am addressing; it is nearly impossible to do this in good taste. The second classification is not contrasting. But I feel there can be some confusion and thus I feel the need to clarify myself. In contrast to the first class, I believe that this method can sometimes be done in good taste (mostly with checks and plaids); as is done in the second photo.
So, perhaps in the past you have wondered to yourself: should I, or can I get contrasting buttonholes? Perhaps you were wanting of direction or advice. Perhaps whatever clothier you were acquiring your suit from was telling you that ‘it’s what all the cool kids are doing these days.’ Or that it will ‘exude a more casual look.’ Or that ‘it really shows that your suit is custom made for you.’
Well, to this I say: ‘Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. Don’t listen to a word of it.’
My reasonings are simple and sound. The most important and substantial reason is perhaps not what you would think of first. In more traditional and classic men’s dress one of the primary objectives of a man’s clothing is to draw the eye of the onlooker up to the face of the wearer. I am of the opinion that one of the most effective ways of doing this is done by using vertical lines (pinstripes, ties, lapels, suspenders, pants creases etc). Any abrupt interruption of said vertical lines will interrupt the eyes path up to the wearers face; horizontal lines and hot spots are perhaps the two most common offenders. Horizontal lines make the onlookers eye pause and perhaps even move side to side. Hot spots, which is what contrasting buttonholes are, make the onlookers eye pause on a single spot, like a buttonhole.
If you look at the first photo above the red boutonniere and red distal buttonhole are two of the first things you notice; they immediately draw your eyes away from the face of the wearer and to the red. Which is unfortunate because this is an otherwise excellent ensemble.
A further case against contrasting buttonholes is one that is perhaps more common is that the off color of the stitching makes the suit less wearable because it will be harder to match or complement it. Great if you can complement it, but that does not assuage the first problem with contrasting buttonholes. Not to mention that fact that contrasting buttonholes are not appropriate in a traditional business setting.
Now, to address the clothiers comments above. I must counter. It shouldn’t matter ‘what all the cool kids are wearing these days’ because you should be able to make your own style and many of the ‘cool kids’ and advertisements you see wearing jackets and shirts with contrasting buttonholes would look better without them. To the argument that the suit will ‘exude a more casual look’ I say that a casual look should not rely on the color of one’s buttonholes or stitching (don’t even get me started on contrast pick stitching). But it should rely on the cut of the suit, fabric of the suit and what a man pairs with said suit. And lastly, my favorite argument people give in favor of contrasting buttonholes (and by favorite I mean it agitates me the most), ‘it really shows that your suit is custom made for you.’ Let the suit speak for itself, if it is custom made for you then the fit should be spot on and that says far more about a custom suit than does the color of the buttonholes. And you seek to express your personal style, do it by using accessories and pairings. The combinations are endless and can be changed at will; you are not stuck with one single color plastered about your chest or wrist. Be understated about, not garrish. If you want something that stands out or is aggressive, do it by means of fabric or pattern, that is a much more tasteful way to go about things.
The devil is in the details,