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Why the heck are there so many different jacket sleeve cuffs?

Why the heck are there so many different jacket sleeve cuffs?

-by Clare Sheng

You may be wondering, why do some jackets cost much more to alter the sleeve length? What is a sham? What are surgeons cuffs? To help you navigate the open waters of jacket sleeve cuffs, here is a straightforward guide on what you are looking at and what to look out for when purchasing a new jacket.

Plain sleeves with lining

plain with lining
plain with lining

This is when the fabric is smooth all around the cuff, with no visible split, buttons or any other adornments. Plain sleeves are found mostly on ladies jackets, and some overcoats. This is the most straight forward type of cuff to shorten, and the least expensive.


Standard sleeve with vent and buttons

When you buy a new suit, 80% of the time, they will come with Shams, or decorative button holes on the sleeve cuffs. These are stitching next to the button on the cuff, to imitate the button hole look. With this style, we can shorten or lengthen sleeves at the cuff, as these stitching and buttons are easily removed and can be replaced.

Blog- shams
vent and button with shams

A lot of the time, the shams are not very noticeable (eg. Dark stitching on dark suits). In these instances, our customers may opt to not have the shams restitched after alterations, to save money. This is what we mean by vent and buttons, and this is what it will look like. However, it is advisable to restore the cuff to its original look by having the buttonholes/shams stitched back on, as the look is more complete.

Blog- ventbuttons
vent and button, no shams

Open cuffs – open button hole

Blog- Open buttonhole
open button hole

Open buttonholes are also called surgeons cuffs. Before the industrial revolution, all suits are custom made for each person, and the sleeves are finished with functioning button holes. This is so the doctors can open the button holes to roll up their sleeves while performing surgery.

There are a few big brands out there, such as Rhodes and Beckett as well as Tom Ford, who only produce cuffs with fully functioning buttonholes. These may look more dressed up and make the suit look more expensive, but it also means it will cost more to have the sleeves altered. From the cuff, we can only shorten or lengthen up to 1cm, as the buttonholes cannot be moved. If more length is required to be taken off, we can alter the it  from the shoulder of the jacket. It is a significantly more delicate job, and there are few tailors who have the experience to perform it in Brisbane, and therefore it generally costs more than shortening from the cuff.


Open cuffs – button holes not cut open

buttonhole not cut open
buttonhole not cut open

This is the best medium, where jackets come with the button holes stitched, but not opened. The lining is also open and lined up with the outside of the cuffs, ready to be easily converted into open buttonhole cuffs. This style means you can try on the suit, and open the button holes if the length is perfect. Alternatively, you can have the sleeves shortened or lengthened from the cuff, and easily convert it to a surgeons cuff after.


Trench coat finish

Trench coat finish
Trench coat finish

Like the plain sleeves with lining, however there is a tab and button across the forearm. Trench coats are traditionally made waterproof, worn by soldiers in the first world war. The tabs can be tightened, to prevent water running down the forearms, inside the jacket. Nowadays, it is purely for decorative purposes.

Button Styles


Courtesy Real Men Real Style
Courtesy Real Men Real Style

There are also three different styles of buttons to sit on the cuffs, spaced, kissing, and stacked. Mostly, it is personal preference which style you choose, but kissing or stacked are the most common configurations.


The finish on the cuff is like the icing on the cake so whatever you choose depends on the finished look you want to portray. Our experienced fitters can advise you on what would look best to compliment your jacket so you can leave feeling confident and looking smart.

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