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Monday, January 25, 2010

Change the Buttons, Update the Look

If you are living frugally, chances are you aren't spending a lot on your wardrobe. And if you are seriously eco-conscious, you're probably not inclined to buy mass-produced clothing from  polluting factories in far away places. The most frugal and green among us keep their clothes for a long time, only buy what they need when they need it, and often select their "new" clothes from thrift shops and second-hand sales. But that doesn't mean they don't want to have an attractive, up-dated wardrobe.

While those with sewing, or even better, tailoring skills can completely rearrange a frumpy garment into something that is far more au courant, many of us might find shortening a pair of pants or repairing a droopy lining a big challenge.

But just about anyone can sew on buttons. New buttons can totally change the look of a piece of clothing. And while I've seen price tags as high as $25 for a single button, most fall into the moderate to really cheap categories. You may already have some buttons. I have an old cookie tin filled with buttons that were my mother's. She did a lot of sewing in the '50s and '60s, and many of the buttons date to those decades. A few are much older.

If you haven't inherited a button box, start your own. Save all the extra buttons that come with new clothes - you may need them for replacing lost buttons, of course, but you'll wind up with lots of extras. Remove the buttons from clothing you turn into rags. Look for buttons at yard sales, flea markets and estate sales. If you find a second-hand garment that doesn't work for you but has great buttons, don't feel guilty about buying it just for the buttons. You can always replace the ones you like with ordinary ones from your button box; then give the garment away. Fabric stores, craft shops and knitting shops are the best sources for new buttons. And you could try making your own if you are clever. A friend of mine made wooden buttons from thin slices of hardwood twigs. Someone else I know made clay buttons she decorated and fired in a kiln.

Here are a few ideas for using buttons to change the look of some of your clothes:

  1. If your black winter coat is getting a tad tired, change out the existing black buttons to gold or silver metallic buttons. Or if had metallic buttons, substitute black buttons. For a dressier look, find jeweled buttons.
  2. Recover cloth buttons with a contrasting material. Or make new cloth buttons to replace boring, plain buttons. A button covering tool can be found at fabric and craft stores. Here is a short tutorial.
  3. Consider changing the size of buttons on a good jacket or coat to give it a newer look. If you go up quite a bit in size, you'll need to have the button holes made larger. A tailor or dressmaker can do this at a cost that will be a lot less than the price of a new coat. 
  4. Use mismatched buttons of the same size to make a dull shirt more interesting.
  5. Add rhinestone or pearl buttons to a vintage cardigan sweater to really jazz it up.
  6. Sew a collection of interesting buttons of the same color, but different shapes and sizes, around the neckline of a simple T-shirt or sweater.
  7. Substitute a really dramatic button for the top button of a shirt, jacket or coat.  
Have you used buttons to change the look of a piece of clothing. Please share.


  1. I often change my buttons...decent ones in shops can be expensive, but I do push the boat out sometimes! I also sometimes buy a garment from a charity shop just to get the decent buttons!! I like the idea of trying to make my own though. Might give that a go.

    On a cream cardigan I recently changed all the cream buttons to red buttons, and the second from top button to a red glass and jewelled button.

  2. Hi PlastikOrganik,
    thanks for stopping by! Buttons can become an addiction - I have come really close to buying a thrift shop outfit just for the buttons, but have, so far, refrained. I've got all those fabulous buttons that were my mother's! Send me a photo of the cream cardigan with the red buttons and the special one on top. I'd love to see it.