[In the fall, Jonathan Vatner, Hue staff writer, took an introductory menswear sewing class. He has been blogging about his experiences on Hue, Too.]
Here’s the difference between my comfort in the trimmings store (where you buy buttons) and in the fabric store: none at all.
The button section of the trimmings store I went to looked like a bank vault full of safe deposit boxes, with each drawer full of one (or two) kinds of buttons. There was definitely an order to these boxes, one which I was utterly incapable of discerning.
To understand buttons you need to know that they are sized by the unit of “ligne,” a French word pronounced in a totally un-French way: “line.” The ligne system has something to do with the diameter of the button, but it’s not an exact correlation. Men’s dress shirts generally come with size 14L or 16L buttons. (Before we go any further, decondition yourself from seeing an “L” and thinking “large.”)
Some buttons, especially those on blazers, have a built-in shank, a solid bit that separates the button from the garment, allowing for that droopy look that everybody treasures.
Some buttons have rimmed edges; those are better for dress shirts. In the store I went to, I found something to the tune of zero buttons with rimmed edges.
Some buttons have four holes for the thread; others have just two. I figured that two-hole buttons were no-nos for my class. Which is probably the reason that, whenever I found a button I liked, it had two holes.
I placed my five buttons on the check-out counter and said hi. The clerk, an exhausted, rumpled middle-aged man, turned to his left, shouted, “one dollar” to the person next to him, deposited the buttons into a small ziplock bag and, without meeting my glance, reached out his hand for the money.