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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Miss Manners: To button or not to button is the question

Judith Martin Universal Uclick

DEAR MISS MANNERS: After seeing so many men keeping their jackets buttoned when standing, sitting to chat, forecasting weather, playing a musical instrument, lecturing a class, or sitting at dinner, and others leaving them completely unbuttoned in these situations, I have searched for your say. You once opined that buttoning a vest’s bottom button is rebellious.

Should a conductor in black tie leave his jacket unbuttoned? Unbutton it to play piano? Keep it buttoned sitting at dinner? Does a vest make a difference? I wonder about a cummerbund.

GENTLE READER: All that fuss, just because Edward VII overindulged!

As a result of a fat monarch’s inability to button the bottom button of his weskit or his jacket, here we are, a century later, with even trim gentlemen forced to do the same. Miss Manners would have thought that the London tailors who came up with this solution would have been better employed making their king a suit that fit him. Or at least consenting to move his buttons.

There is no use rebelling: From Edwardian times on, proper tailors have been making suits that hang right only with that last button unfastened, and that may require the jacket to be entirely unbuttoned when the gentleman is seated. Yet controversy still rages about whether the cummerbund or weskit that is worn with a dinner jacket allows, or even requires, the jacket to be buttoned when its wearer is standing.

However, a gentleman who is a musician should be immune from such unseemly debates. He ought to be in full evening dress – white tie as opposed to black tie – where the swallowtail coat hangs open over the pique waistcoat. Conductors are seen from the back, where the tails are fetching, or at least amusing. Pianists can throw the tails back over the piano bench with a flourish. Once a gentleman who was dressed to take Miss Manners to a ball had so much fun doing that, that he could hardly be persuaded to leave the piano bench and go to the ball.

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