Friday, March 19, 2010

Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button?



It has recently been suggested to me on separate occasions and by the same person that one, I ‘should practice what I preach’, and two, that I should become a butler. We all know that we teach that which we most need to learn, so the first admonishment came as no surprise. I admit to balking at the second suggestion but upon closer consideration, thought I might explore that avenue. I came across a fine institution in Toronto aptly named The Butler School. Charles MacPherson offers a comprehensive 8 week course designed to teach one everything required to be a first class household staff member. Were I not approaching 60, I would give enrolling more serious consideration. However, I have been in contact with them and will undoubtedly learn a great deal from what the school has to offer.


One early morning I suddenly awakened with the thought of buttons on my mind. I thought The Butler School will cover this subject. Alas, it is one subject time does not allow them to handle, so I will digress and delve into a few ins and outs of the button.


Have you ever noticed how buttons are attached to many new garments and then when you need them they seem to have vanished? Perhaps we threw them away when readying our new clothes to wear. Perhaps they snagged on something along the way either in the washing machine or on a trail in the woods. Invariably, thanks to three culprits, our buttons do pop off and do need to be replaced. One, over time our clothes mysteriously shrink and the buttons pop off from shear force. Two, the machine which stitched them on to begin with is systematically flawed and once the thread breaks in one spot, the thread comes unravelled. And three, the chemicals in the laundering process are so strong that they in fact cause the threads to disintegrate and the button falls off and is devoured by the washing machine. In most cases, a combination of one or more of these culprits acts in unison.


To be honest, I am at the mercy of the button mavens when it comes to replacements. I do not have a button jar with needles and assorted colored threads parked in a logical place in a handy drawer. But miraculously a suitable button and serviceable needle and thread appear when necessary. I do remember when I was a child that my mother and grandmother had sewing baskets teeming with hundreds of buttons and other paraphernalia that only they would know how to employ. Whatever route you decide to take, I hope buttons will be there when you need them.


When discussing this column with a friend, she launched into the whole question of buttoning buttons - or not. Although originally buttons were used for fastening, they soon became quite useful as decorative accents as well. Take for example, the three-piece business suit. There could be a lot of buttons to consider depending on the tailoring. However, the bottom button of both the vest and the jacket are should not be buttoned as a fashion rule. The same would be true of a suit styled with two buttons. Fastening the bottom button creates an uncomplimentary look no mater what body the garment is encasing. At the dinner table, by the way, it’s perfectly acceptable and far more comfortable to unfasten your jacket buttons - all of them. You will not only enjoy your meal more, but your jacket will hang straighter.


Buttons on shirt sleeves are curious as well. I have recently found that there is, to me, a new style. It’s a sort of two-button style, but instead of the buttons lining up one on top of the other they are placed side by each. This is undoubtedly to accommodate different wrist sizes. For me this presents a problem because my wrists are different sizes leaving me with the obvious dilemma of which button to choose. Surely I would want to use the same button on each sleeve for uniformity, making one sleeve too tight or one too loose. I suppose I should be happy that I have such a serious dilemma to deal with in the first place and just carry on.


Have you ever lost (okay, popped) a button at an inconvenient time, for example when dining out? I have. That scenario is usually accompanied with the question, “have you a safety pin I might borrow?” In these situations, my advice is to act as though nothing had even ever happened, making sure not to draw any attention to the mishap. Safety pin or not, this will test your true coping mettle. This may be a good time to excuse yourself and remedy the problem some how in the private. Consulting the wait staff or kitchen personnel might be a place to start. Resourcefulness rules! You will never have been so thankful for a safety pin in your life.


There you have it. Reflections on the button. It’s rightful place on a garment, how it is done and undone, and the idea that a safety pin may be your greatest ally in the world beyond the confines of your home.