Q&A: What’s the Purpose of the Lapel Hole on a Suit Jacket?

December 12th, 2007

Q: What is the little hole in a man’s suit jacket for?  It’s right above the pocket, not very big, right on the flap part.

 HUGO \'Awe/Holl\' Two Button Suit
A:  There are a few common explanations out there.  Some will tell you it is simply a way to proudly display your college pin, back when going to college was really special.  Another explanation relates to a story from way back in 1840.  As the story goes, Queen Victoria gave Prince Albert a bouquet of flowers, and having no place to put it, he cleverly cut a hole in his jacket lapel and put the flowers through it.  From then on, the Prince had his tailor make a buttonhole in all his suits.

But as far as I know, the most historically accurate explanation is that the hole was used to tether a man’s top hat so that on windy days it wouldn’t blow off his head.

Nowadays, few men actually wear top hats, so the little hole has become almost functionless (although there are some designers that manufacture top hats that can be tethered).  However, some creative sartorialists have found a use for this otherwise pointless buttonhole.  My favorite has got to be the putting a pocket watch chain fob through it.  Scott Schumann, perhaps better known as “The Sartorialist,” ran a feature in GQ in which he put his iPod headphones through the hole.  I have great respect for Mr. Schumann and GQ, but I don’t think it looks all that great.

If you’re thinking of wearing a top hat just so you can use this buttonhole, I’d suggest against it.  Ancient is not the same as old school.  Leave the top hats to your grandfather and the Monopoly man.

Pictured:  HUGO ‘Awe/Holl’ Two Button Suit | $795 at Nordstrom.

Have a great tip about how to use this buttonhole?

Share it with us in the comments!

Style question?  We’ve got answers.  E-mail us at tips at omiru dot com, or leave us a comment with your question.

Entry Filed under: Men, Men's, Q&A

13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Melanie  |  December 12th, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    I thought the buttonhole is where you pin a nosegay, better known as a boutonniere. I think it’s even implied in the etymology of the word “boutonniere.” The story about the prince may just be anecdotal, but men have been putting flowers through their buttonholes for ages. Perhaps this started after top hats went out of fashion?

  • 2. John  |  December 13th, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    I think this is one of those things that may never be known for sure (which is why I prefaced my answer with “As far as I know”).

    Certainly, the “buttonhole to house a boutonniere” explanation is a popular one, and I honestly couldn’t confidently tell you that it is true or not true.

    GQ, or more precisely, the Style Guy (Glenn O’Brien), writes in the May 2001 issue that originally, “the buttonhole accommodated a button sewn to the underside of the opposite lapel, thus allowing a man to button all the way up in brisk weather.” And, actually, in that same response, Mr. O”Brien confirms that in fact the buttonhole was used to tether a man’s dress hat, although he implies that it is not the original purpose.

  • 3. Dwayne  |  January 24th, 2009 at 10:04 am

    I have always used the button hole on the lapel of my blazers or even over coats to place a nice pin of some sort. On my blazer/suit jackets I have used the button hole to pin a boutonniere. I think it’s rather ridiculous for a man not to take advantage of this hole that’s already there verses sticking a fresh hole in your nice silk suit jacket or camel hair blazer. I’m amazed at the number of men that I see who do not take advantage of this hole. Ever during the 2009 Presidential Inauguration, President Obama wore a American Flag Pin on his over coat lapel but he pinned it above the lapel button hole instead of through the existing hole. of using the button hole!

  • 4. Anonymous  |  February 28th, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    In my opinion the buttonhole is the perfect location for an American Flag Pin or any other pin you desire to wear. The lapel button hole is also an excellent place for a carnation. Continueously sticking a pin through the suite material elsewhere will eventually dammage the suite. The also believe the buttonhole is sewn closed and should stay that way.

  • 5. JP  |  April 1st, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    I use the buttonhole in my lapel to carry extra toothpicks, my wife’s lipstick, and also comes in handy when dining in restaurants as a chop stick holder.

  • 6. Almond  |  April 24th, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    I have my tailor make my suits without the button hole. No extra charge!

  • 7. updog  |  May 12th, 2009 at 6:11 am

    that’s a really interesting answer. now I’d like to see what a tethered hat looks like.

    I have to agree that top hats may never find their way back. I still hold out hope for the bowler, though. I think it’s not altogether inconsistent with modernity, perhaps buoyed by the fact that a few cultures (agencies in Britain, indigenous women in parts of South America) still use them.

    I have to disagree about the fob watch chain. It looks terrible up there, not to mention that it’s completely impractical to keep a watch in that breast pocket, IMHO.

    What about a wireless microphone attached to a button? That might work quite well for those in the bidness. Nurse! I mean–patent!

  • 8. clyde  |  July 24th, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    OK, I don’t care if it’s for hat tethering, watch chains or flowers. What I do want to know is why is it slanted off the horizontal? It seems to follow the cut line of the lapel notch, but not sure that’s why. I have a refreshment riding on this and have been unable to find out why the elongated hole slants down and away from the wearer’s face. Help!

  • 9. Amber  |  October 24th, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    This entry just saved our lives. We were dying to solve this mystery.

  • 10. jerry  |  October 27th, 2010 at 8:25 am

    All in all, i dont find the reason why we are aguing about what, why and when ? the hole is now meaningless and i cannot pay an extra cost for it.

  • 11. Charles H Wolfenbloode  |  June 15th, 2011 at 9:24 am

    The buttonhole is a remanant from the time when a bodycoat (i.e. tailcoat) could be buttoned all the way to the top. As the coat began to be worn more open to the point of it not being buttonable, the buttonholes remained until the change from cut-on lapels to grown-on lapels. Since flowers were now worn on one of the buttonholes at this time this was kept whilst the others were eliminated and when the lounge coat started to replace the bodycoat, this was carried over and it remains to this very day. As for the story of hat tethering, I could find no evidence this was done for top hats but it is done for soft hats that have a wind trolley installed. Nowadays, a lapel pin, a flower or the pocket watch albert chain can be used on it. On country coats with a collar tab, it could also be buttonable to close the opening during inclement weather.

  • 12. jay  |  November 5th, 2011 at 3:24 pm

    This comes in really handy in the uk at this time of the year to display a poppy to commemorate those who died in the world wars

  • 13. Ericjc  |  January 28th, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    great spot for a silk knot Brooks Brothers cufflink for a splash of color

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