Sunday, June 2, 2013

{Style Inspiration} Novelty Buttons

Anyone who sews vintage (and many who don't) will probably admit to a slight (or major) obsession with novelty buttons - also known as figural, goofy or realistic buttons. Schiaparelli in particular helped popularise the idea of buttons as a type of costume jewellery, her wild designs including oversize insects, mermaids, vegetables, carnival horses and pianos - among many, many more.

Evening ensemble by Schiaparelli featuring "Chinaman" buttons, late 30s

Evening jacket by Schiaparelli with vegetable embroidery and mismatched vegetable buttons

The development and rise of plastics in the early 20th century made novelty buttons cheap to manufacture, and they enjoyed a heyday in the 1930s and 40s. All the examples below are from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue archive. This is a rather picture-heavy post, there just were so many adorable examples I couldn't bear not to share them!

It was common for novelty buttons to be produced in co-ordinated rather than matching sets, such as the Roman numeral buttons on this 1936 dress.

1937: Loving the nautical stars. I also like how those cute clothespin buttons are a bit more subtle than some novelty buttons - they'd just look like ordinary toggle-style buttons until you took a closer look.

Beautifully ornate carved Catalin (Bakelite) button and buckle sets from 1937. They're all three lovely, but Bakelite bird buttons and matching buckle? Be still my beating heart!

Novelty zoological buttons (including another Catalin bird design - I have one of these, but I'd so like to have a set and make a sweet shirtwaist), again from 1937

1938 designs included Disney characters (how much would those early Disney collectables be worth now?!), flowerpots and carved fruit shapes, as well as an unusual 'stitchable' design.

Disney's Snow White was released nationally in 1938, becoming the highest grossing sound film at that time and inspiring these Seven Dwarf buttons. The "Swing Band" set also reflects popular culture of the era.

1939 - I have a set of these "Lovebirds" buttons waiting for the perfect project, and I'm constantly on the lookout for a set of the "Ensemble" buttons - they're always way pricey on ebay and etsy.

Check out the novelty plastic cherry shaped hook-and-eye closures (R) - 1939

1939: I've counted five Scottie dog designs so far - testament to the 1930s love for Scotties.

Colourful designs from 1940

Button, buckle and matching thread sets from 1942

Oversize statement buttons for 1945 - as fabric rationing had taken its toll on garment design and manufacture, buttons were one of the few remaining ways to add flare to clothes.


  1. Oh I LOVE buttons!

    I have some for my craft projects and would love to have a little jar for each colour.

    Love all the variation with the vintage ones - vegetable buttons! x

  2. So cute! I have a set of (nonvintage) strawberry buttons waiting for just the right project. Good buttons are hard to find now a days.

  3. Sign me up! So many beautiful buttons!

  4. I adore buttons too! Yep, five massive jars full of them at home!!! These ones look beauties!x

  5. I positively adore vintage buttons! It's always so satisfying when you have enough of the same type to use on a vintage based sewing project.

  6. These are all so lovely. I have a soft spot for scotties and love the swing band buttons.

  7. Love it, and I'm a big fan of fancy belt buckles too, not that I wear belts. Being short I find there's not enough gap between rib cage and hip bone for comfort!

  8. thank for sharing this!
    so much pretty things!
    i have a lot of old buttons from several grannys and just looling at them makes me happy. personally i prefer silver folk style buttons from around the alpes.

  9. My love for this post knows no bounds! I can't claim to have much of a collection (perhaps one day), but goodness do I adore vintage buttons - especially novelty ones. I love that you acknowledged that they have a large fan base amongst non-sewers, too, as the camp I fall into.

    Awesome (!) post, sweet Charlotte. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful bevy of vintage button images with us.

    ♥ Jessica

  10. such beautiful embroidery in the top picture, i love it <3


I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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