Welcome to Further Details, a recurring column where we investigate what purpose an oft-overlooked product element actually serves. This week: the horizontal buttonhole your shirt.
As you survey your go-to Zoom shirt, take a look at the placket, the part of the shirt that has all the buttons. Each buttonhole is stitched vertically, but the last buttonhole, the one at the very bottom, is horizontal. It punctuates the shirt like a question mark, but the reason it's there isn't as sideways as you might think.
Like many details of shirt designs, this one was born from practicality. We turned to Chris Olberding, president of Gitman Bros. Vintage, for the answer.
"Common shirt lore is that the last hole is sewn horizontally so that button and button-hole can endure more stress from pulling," Olberding says. "That part of the shirt would generally equate to the waist/hip area which sees more movement than the chest, per se."
As we walk, our bodies tend to twist side to side, so most of the movement buttons experience is horizontal. This movement is more intense around our waist and hips. The horizontal orientation of the bottom buttonhole gives the button leeway to shift about, preventing it from coming undone.
Generally speaking, vertical buttonholes are more prone to buttons popping out than horizontal buttonholes. So why aren't all the buttons horizontal? For one, vertical buttonholes are easier to fasten. They also look cleaner since the buttons are less likely to shift away from the center of the buttonhole. Since the bottom buttonhole is typically tucked in and out of view, a horizontal buttonhole doesn't impede the shirt's formality.
Even more common than a horizontal bottom buttonhole is the horizontal top buttonhole at the collar of the shirt. Employed for the same reasons, the top buttonhole also experiences more tension, especially on the occasion that you'd button it all the way to the top and pair it with a tie.
But, the thing that makes many horizontal bottom buttonholes more noticeable is contrast stitching. Traditionally, extra stitching was used to reinforce the bottom buttonhole and was done in a contrasting thread. "With many shirts being worn both tucked in and not, we decided over 12 years ago to match the color of the thread on this button-hole to the Gitman green of our label," Olberding says.
Though many people wear shirts untucked today, partially negating the necessity of a sideways buttonhole, the feature remains in many shirt designs as both a nod to the past as well as a pinch of style.