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Functional buttons on your finely tailored suit may seem like a bit of a novelty today, but much like the bow tie, the handshake and many other gentlemanly practices, it has an origin.

Let us regale you with the history, from Lord Nelson to turn-of-the-century surgeons—like the one played by Clive Owen in The Knick—to modern dandies of Savile Row…

1700s

Buttons appearing on cuffs started in the military, purely to show rank.

Legend has it that Lord Nelson made the lower-ranking cabin boys of his navy wear buttons to stop them from wiping their noses on their sleeves.

1800s

Before all the bespoke tailors showed up, Savile Row in London was occupied by a different type of needle-and-thread professional: surgeons.

Because speed was preferred over sanitation (mainly because sanitation wasn’t really a thing yet), surgeons preferred to have functional buttons so they could roll up their jacket sleeves to work on patients and not worry about blood staining their tailored outerwear.

1900s

Surgeons were regarded as the highest of class, so naturally, men in other professions wanted to emulate their style. The surgeon’s cuff was requested so often that it became standard issue on most tailored suits.

2000s

Today, the surgeon’s cuff is unspoken code for a well-made suit, favored by modern dandies on Savile Row as well as higher-ups on Wall Street.

—B.C.

CONTRIBUTORS

  • Bryan Campbell