BOSTON -- The committee assigned to choose a John F. Kennedy Memorial statue to stand outside the Statehouse has run into a hitch: No one seems certain if the top button of the late president's suit coat should be buttoned.

The issue arose when two models for the statue had the top button fastened, and Ed Martin, an aide to Sen. Edward Kennedy, asked if it could be unbuttoned.

"If you went to Brooks Brothers they'd tell you that if you button the top button it throws the suit out of line. You just don't do it," said state Sen. Joseph B. Walsh, cochairman of the 28-member Special Legislative Commission on a John F. Kennedy Memorial.

But history may beg to differ.

"I looked at 200 photographs of JFK and his top button is buttoned," said sculptor Isabel McIlvain of Concord, whose work is one of five semifinalists for the statue. "But if you want him unbuttoned that's all right by me."

Essayist E.B. White once said admiringly that Kennedy never feared the weather, and that he moved bareheaded and confidently through history.

"You would think that {the top button} was always open," said JFK Library Curator and former presidential aide Dave Powers.

"But I went back in the files, '60, '61, '62, '63, and it's buttoned in the pictures."

The button issue must be resolved sometime soon. The $150,000 statue is expected to be in place by the former president's 72nd birthday in May 1989.

Kennedy, a Democrat, served as president from 1961 to 1963.

He began his political career as a congressman representing Boston from 1947-53 and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1952.