Wednesday, 10 February 2016
The Button Queen
Are They or Aren't They?
You know how it is, you keep looking at the buttons on a jacket and thinking, 'Are they or aren't they?' I was never quite convinced that the buttons on my vintage glen check cashmere jacket were real horn. The doubt that they weren't was building and affecting my enjoyment of wearing it. I wasn't losing sleep exactly, but the jacket wasn't coming out of the wardrobe. I'm not against good acetate numbers, but this jacket demanded horn and I wasn't entirely satisfied it had horn.
What to do? It's not as easy as one might expect to know what material was used to make a button. If the swirls and colour variations on the buttons are uniform, then that tends to indicate that they are not horn. But acetate buttons can be manufactured to have uneven colours, and be lathed by hand like the best horn buttons. They also feel similar to the touch , though you might feel a graininess on horn buttons, and make a similar sound when tapping. Biting a button won't reveal much (unlike mother of pearl on shirt buttons, which feels harder and colder when nibbling than plastic). You might spot a seam on plastic buttons, but then again you might need a microscope to do this. Burning will reveal something: horn will smell and plastic will melt, but then you may ruin a perfectly decent button.
As there was no sure-fire way of knowing with the buttons I had, it was decided. I would buy horn buttons from a reputable button merchant and replace them. For the grey jacket, I chose polished four-hole hand-crafted suiting buttons in dark horn from The Button Queen of Marylebone, London.
You can also find good buttons at haberdashers MacCulloch & Wallis (1902).
I am very satisfied with the buttons. If I have a complaint, it is that the person who replaced the buttons on the jacket didn't quite shank them as I would have liked. They are slightly too tight to the jacket. Here we go again...