The Problem With Functioning Sleeve Buttonholes

The Problem With Functioning Sleeve Buttonholes

functioning sleeve buttons

There is all of this fanfare around functioning sleeve buttonholes.  Understandably so.  They do often signify some level of quality and attention to detail.  And then there are those who like to keep one or more of the buttons unbuttoned, that damned ‘sprezzatura’ thing that is so often taken too far.  Don’t get me wrong here, I love functioning sleeve buttonholes as much as the next men’s style enthusiast, however, they are something that has to be done right.  And by done right I mean they have to be positioned the correct distance from the sleeve cuff, 1.25-1.5″ (as pictured above); which is sometimes not the case.

There are two sources that cause a variance from that prescribed distance.  The first is mis-measured custom garments (as pictured below).  Whether it is the maker that mis-measures or the consumer, the result is the same.  The second source is more pervasive, it is the advent of functioning sleeve buttonholes (or stitching imitating them) on ready to wear garments. As is the case with any ready to wear garment, if you are not of the size the garment is made to fit you will inevitably have to have it tailored in hopes that it will eventually fit you.

So what to do if the sleeves need to be altered?  Well, functioning sleeve buttonholes are not something that can be moved without adjusting from the shoulder, which is neither easy or recommended by most tailors I have dealt with.

Obviously, you can adjust the sleeve length from the cuff but then you end up with the situation in the photo below where the buttons are 2+” from the end of the sleeve, which is not the best look (or the buttons could be less than 1″ which is also not a good look).  For those sleeves that have the imitation stitching that stitching can often be removed and once the jacket is laundered it will look much better, at least is true from my experience.  But do this at your own risk.

So the question still remains.  What is a man to do when he needs the sleeves altered on a jacket that has functioning sleeve buttonholes?  I suggest targeting the root of the problem.  For ready to wear jackets; don’t buy them if they have functioning buttonholes and the sleeves are not the right length.  For custom jackets only have functioning buttonholes sewn if you are absolutely sure you have the right sleeve length.  Or do not have them sewn on at all (which I highly recommend for a first jacket from any given tailor).  You can always have buttonholes added later on or not at all.


functioning sleeve buttons



  1. In your opinion, what’s the sweet spot distance between the from the end of the sleeve to the buttonhole?

  2. This is a few years late, but I spent the last two years doing all the hand buttonholes for a high end, custom menswear company. We encountered this problem occasionally, when someone bought a ready-to-wear item and wanted it altered, or (more rarely) if a mistake had been made during measurement.
    Our solution was to add another buttonhole, either at the top or the bottom, which usually evened things out enough that it was not noticeable. But you are right that the best way to avoid this is to be careful about sleeve length when buying.

    Functional, handmade buttonholes are very expensive, but they are stronger than machine buttonholes and much more beautiful. It was an art I was fortunate to have work doing.

  3. Just had the same problem. Well made off the rack suit, Caruso, had button holes sewn on sleeves, not working button holes, and sleeves 2.5” too long. I’ve had many suit sleeves adjusted from the shoulder, but if too much sleeve needs to be shortened a problem is created with the shoulder. I opted today to simply shorten the sleeve from the sleeve hem, remove the stitching from the fake button holes, and have the 4 sleeve buttons sewn back on without the fake button holes. I can’t understand why the better manufacturers, some Canali, Corneliani, Pal Zileri, and others do that. If they bother to use full canvass construction, pick stitching, expensive fabrics, why create a tailoring mini-crisis, adding $65-100 to the cost of the suit with an unnecessary adjustment? Another pet peeve. No suit looks well with a belt. I wish more suit slacks used side adjusters, braces, or a Dax waistband. I have all the loops removed, and the excess fabric from shortening the slack is used to make side adjusters. Anyone requiring a belt to hold slacks up requires a diet, or a competent tailor.