Fasten-ably Chic

– By Loren Olsen –

Many of us have romantic notions of making our own clothes from scratch. While this DIY dream can be realized with appropriate time and training, a winter coat is perhaps not the best place to start. However, there is a related project anyone can take on, likely to yield professional results:  changing a garments buttons.
TIP #1:  A Button By Any Other Name..
Shank Buttons:
Shank buttons have a post or hook at the back and must be hand sewn, but have a smooth surface. Louis Vuitton’s Fall 2011 RTW featured giant black domed buttons interspersed with antiqued gold and smaller black fasteners. While this detail was certainly quieter than other aspects of the fetish-themed collection, it made for an extremely wearable takeaway easy to adapt at home.
Flat Buttons:
Flat buttons have two to four holes in their surface that allow them to be attached by a machine (or by hand) to a garment, with the thread visible. The donut-shaped buttons of Prada’s Fall 2011 RTW may have matched the hardware on the bags and shoes, but they were also statements unto themselves. The unusual shape sometimes popped out in bright silver running along the edge of a coat, at other points matching the body of the garment or picked out a bold-hued trim.
Any garment can be revamped by changing its buttons; coats and blazers are particularly perfect subjects. In these cold winter months, coats are almost always the most visible part of our outfit. Meant to last through the season, many invest more in our outerwear than any other piece.  We can update last winter’s coat to match what we are wearing now, or make a stylish alternative to our current jacket.  Blazers are such a wardrobe staple that few stray further than basic black.  An easy – and inexpensive  – way to update is with buttons.
TIP #2:  A Hot Button Issue:
  • Take the pea coat’s common anchor-embossed buttons.  They make sense with the jacket’s Navy heritage, but aren’t helping up anyone’s style quotient. For a mod update (seen at Louis Vuitton or Burberry), replace these buttons with bigger shank buttons in new silver or black-  a clean alternative to sharpen up a wool coat.

  • Forgo round buttons all together, and go for an oval or even square shaped button.  They’re completely unexpected.

  • Old-school gold jacket buttons may feature a crest, which lends a heritage feel. Try switching these out for gold flat buttons, or for a subtler effect match the buttons to your coat.

  • Go for large braided leather buttons – perhaps in a leather that matches your bag or boot.

  • To give a blazer a glam edge, jeweled, glass or beaded buttons really take a basic blazer over the top

  • Burberry’s super-flat buttons (seen at right) are striking on trenches– try replacing tortoiseshell with black to give a jolt to an old standby. (Remember to hold on to the old ones, this easy swap is reversible so you’ll never be stuck with a dated piece.)

  • If you get a vintage coat altered to fit, ask to keep the excess if the fabric is lightweight. You can now make fabric-covered buttons that match the coat perfectly. Alternately, the daring may try a contrasting yet complimenting print.

  • The absence of buttons may be equally striking. If your coat has one row of buttons and there isn’t too much stress on them, you can replace these with interior snaps. First remove the buttons, then sew closed the buttonhole on the opposite side. Using the new seams as guides, add large sew-on snaps for the smooth look seen at Stella McCartney.
TIP #4: A Thread Ahead:
  • Remember to use a heavier thread than might be found in a hotel mending kit, as buttons get yanked around and fumbled with in the cold. There is special button and carpet thread, but any heavier type should do.

  • For both types of buttons do more loops than you think you need (or double the thread and tie a knot at the end) to make sure the attachment is durable.

  • If you opt for a larger button you may need to cut the matching buttonhole larger. Try to wrap stitches around the raw fabric to prevent it from tearing further.
If you live near the garment district or a trade-oriented fabric and trimming store, head there first for the greatest variety, especially for shank-type buttons.  Though I recommend bringing your piece into the store to see how the buttons would work with it, there are many online shopping options:

  • I found Mood Designer Fabrics to have the best options, though at this time, international delivery is not available.

  • London based MacCulloch & Wallis has been around since 1902, and has an amazing selection both in-store and online.

  • Etsy is, of course,  probably the best source for unique buttons, though with so many options, it’s hard not to spend hours looking!

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