As anyone new to the world of tailored men’s fashion quickly learns, people who care about dress shirts – we mean really care – can be an ornery, opinionated bunch when it comes to even the tiniest minutiae of their clothing. Case in point: buttons. Those tiny clasps most people don’t give a second thought to can spark any number of heated sartorial debates. Let’s take a look at just a few of the most common button-centered issues facing today’s most fastidious dressers and see what there is to learn for the everyman.
By far the liveliest button-related discussions center on materials – and for the most part the discourse boils down to mother-of-pearl (MOP) vs. plastic buttons. So which is better? Well, if buttons had their own beauty pageants, MOP would win every time.
But while these smooth, elegant buttons made from mollusk shells have their own distinctive feel and texture that drives some men to sartorial ecstasy, does this mean there is something inherently bad about plastic buttons? Not at all. Plastic buttons can accomplish the same task as MOP buttons (at a fraction of the cost), are available in more colors and hold up equally well when it comes to the wear-and-tear of cleaning. If you’re satisfied with plastic, don’t let anyone poo poo your choice.
But moving on from material, another hot topic in the sartorial world is how many buttons should a shirt have? Some say 6, others 7, and then again others 8. Although these numbers may vary – most shirts, by the way, have 7 running down the placket – depending on how long the shirt is and how far apart the buttons are spaced. Tall guys may need an extra button added upon request, but in general more buttons do not equal a better shirt.
Perhaps a more important issue related to button placement is “stance”, an industry term used to describe how high or low the buttons start on the placket. If you unbutton your shirt and the buttons are placed too low, you run the risk of showing too much skin (or chest hair); too high and you could look like a nerd. With no standardization, stances can vary by several inches, influencing when, where and how you wear your shirt. As you might imagine, this subject has gotten a lot of talk among dandies but has earned curiously little notice by the general shirt buying public, who may be buying shirts unsuitable for their purposes without realizing it.
Finally, another major concern with dress shirt buttons is how they are attached. As a lot of sartorialists will tell you – and here they’re onto something – the quality of the sewing is usually indicative of the shirt’s overall quality, so take a look at the way your button is fastened. You shouldn’t have too much slack between the button and the front of the shirt. You can tell how firmly a button is sewn on by pinching the fabric it’s attached to and moving the button in a small circular motion – with high quality shirts, the thread should remain tightly secured around the button holes.
Also, if you tug slightly on the button, you shouldn’t feel any give or notice a stretching in the threads. While you’re at it, look for loose threads protruding from the button holes, since this is an obvious sign of bad sewing which doesn’t bode well for the overall quality of the shirt.
For the average guy who just wants a shirt to go to work in, we realize that buttons may not seem very important. But when looking for gorgeous clothing, it’s important to look at an item in its entirety. For shirts, this means the design, the fit, the fabric, and the buttons.