It is common knowledge that a tailored suit will have functioning and kissing buttons (the buttons on the sleeves of the jacket or blazer). But how often do you find yourself wondering, “What are they for after all?” The answer, as usual, comes from the past.
Several explanations have been proposed to satisfy this curiosity, but the two most common involve the military and worldly.
1. Military theory
There is a popular opinion that renowned historical individuals like Alexander the Great or Benjamin Franklin were responsible for popularizing the idea that buttons should be added to the sleeves of a jacket.
Jackets and uniforms with buttons on the sleeves are commonly attributed to the armies of Queen Elizabeth I, Frederick II of Prussia, Napoleon, and Admiral Nelson.
The primary reason for adding more buttons to uniforms is that soldiers have a bad tendency of using their sleeves to “clean themselves,” such as by wiping their nose, mouth, tears, or wounds. This practice ruins the uniform’s aesthetic and makes soldiers look unprofessional.
Buttons would have rendered this technique uncomfortable and possibly painful (particularly with brass buttons), deterring soldiers from using sleeves as a handkerchief and helping to enforce the decorum demanded of an official outfit.