The Underestimated Button

In purchasing substantially expensive garments, a rather gregarious and patronising store attendant once told me, you are not only purchasing a complete garment but a collection of fine individual elements; the sum total of which is the garment itself. As a Michelin starred chef might only choose the finest ingredients for his creations, the traiteur de la mode will not cut corners in delivering the finest garment possible. The implication is that mass produced and inexpensively manufactured goods use the cheapest and least desirable components in the manufacturing process, all in pursuit of greater profit margins. Many are put off; especially those used to a higher quality of item, and in some cases exhibit their dislike for such goods rather vehemently in the establishments themselves, within earshot of the rather disinterested staff whose casual allegiance to the brand is about as strong as the stitching on their knitwear.

Whilst some of the issues are valid and unquestionably worthy of outrage, the fact of the matter is that many prospective buyers are far too quick to leap onto the vanity-bandwagon of slandering inexpensive, mass produced goods. By doing so, some of them believe it places them in a higher category; a category of exclusivity. The very fact that they bemoan a few threads flicking here and there from a garment illustrates that they are ill-associated with the wares in such a store, that usually they are to be seen walking steadily through the low-lit boutiques of gleaming windows, sparse rails, Amazonian attendants and Diptyque candles. The slander which dribbles from their lips in a vacillating manner, accentuated by guffaws and ill-merited pomposity, signifies a pity for those that shop in such an establishment.

An acquaintance of mine, who has in his words ‘upgraded permanently’ from the high street often mocks my purchases with a pleasant, well-meaning grin; ‘The quality’ he says ‘is just not there – look at those buttons.’ In one sense, he is correct. I am the first to admit that some of the cheaper garments I buy are not of the highest quality; they have been quickly, and cheaply, made and they will last as long as I wear them. This is especially true of shoes which, although beautiful on the shelf, when worn for a time begin to lose a considerable amount of that beauty. However, his mention of the buttons was immaterial and, although they were indeed cheap buttons of a quality often found on toy dolls, they were replaceable.

Buttons are one of the most important points of interest on a jacket. When someone flicks their cuff over a document, they are noticed; when they rise from a table and button up, eyes linger. Incredibly they are often overlooked, probably due to their size and functionality, but the thing is a jacket or waistcoat with poor quality buttons can be transformed by the attachment of buttons of a higher quality. I have taken to the practice of purchasing garments quite expecting to change something about them in order that I might fully appreciate them. It is rare that I like every element in an outfit; a recent example was a double breasted cardigan manufactured by H&M with rather dull blue buttons for which I purchased some high quality contrasting horn buttons. The transformation was striking.

Similarly, a waistcoat made of fine wool and a beautiful silver-grey came with the most disappointing grey buttons; the dreary colour of a battleship. I purchased some that had the deep tonal qualities of a glass of vintage port and their addition has, once more, transformed the garment.

Such changes do not alter the fundamentals of a garment but the appearance is often improved immeasurably; a garment that was once fit for the ‘dull’ racks is given renewed sparkle and individuality by this very personal ‘tailoring.’