Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Jacket buttons. There is more to them than you might think. And it is not just that they should always button and unbutton. There is for example the number of buttons on the jacket sleeve to consider. Four is the Savile Row norm for suits these days but three are more common for tweed. Two are sometimes seen on odd jackets, and those spaced to take up the same room as four buttons might otherwise. Rarest of all, lightweight summer coats from the South of Italy may have only one.
If the number of sleeve buttons is not enough, there are also materials that must be thought about. With only one exception, jacket buttons should be made of sustainable natural stuff of one sort or another since they look better than buttons made from any synthetics developed to date. The sustainability exception is metal or enamelled metal buttons, which were traditionally used on court dress but are usually seen only on blazers today. They are commonly brass, gold plate or gold but may be other metals including silver and copper and are often embossed with some sort of design. The late Duke of Windsor had buttons with the insignia of various military organizations to which he was affiliated affixed to many of his suits and jackets.
Once reserved for country clothes, buttons made from deer, buffalo and ox horn, are the Savile Row standard for worsted suits today. They can be polished or matte and are used by default almost everywhere save for black tie, for there are no black horn buttons. Instead, black tie uses satin or grosgrain covered buttons that match the lapels of the jacket. But for that application, fabric covered buttons may raise an eyebrow and should usually be avoided.
Mother of pearl, which is used on well-made shirts, looks good on summer blazers and linen suits that see a lot of sunshine. It comes from oysters and is not the same as Troca or shell which is a less expensive substitute made from conch that is neither as strong, as lustrous, or as costly.
Then there are Corozo buttons, made from the seed of the tagua, a tropical palm tree. Corozo, sometimes referred to as the natural ivory, has the durability and scratch resistance of plastic without the ecological drawbacks but in some eyes lacks the attractiveness of horn.
Finally there are also leather buttons, which take the form of a knot and are usually reserved for tweed. They must be accommodated when the buttonholes are cut as the rounded shape of the knot is somewhat larger than a conventional button.
There are still other things to consider, such as whether buttons should properly have two or four holes for the thread that attaches them, but that is probably enough for today.