Friday, August 24

Or if You Want Obviously Steampunk Buttons--UPDATED

As I went back and reviewed that last post, I realized reader Marjorie might have had a very different idea of steampunk buttons in mind when she asked for examples.  There are two different ways of approaching a button-swap to increase the Steampunk flair of any piece of clothing.  I went with Victorian authenticity for my examples, because my favorite steampunk looks don't look like costumes, but like clothes one might have worn "back in the [alternate reality] day."  That's why I search for and feature "real" clothes that could translate well to steampunk; I admire pieces that would be wearable on a daily basis, not just for a few hours at a geek convention.   I also do not at all approve of cheap goods--and mass produced crap trying to cater to the steampunk crowd (and thereby diminishing this creative subculture to a fad. . . I sniff in indignation) just makes me cringe.  And those mass-produced gears and winged key trinkets not only make the wearer's outfit look cheaper, less "real," but also make the wearer herself seem limited in her creative vision.  As if Steampunk is nothing more than certain instantly recognizable trendy symbols and outfit combinations.  I prefer Steampunk with depth--that seems like it could really be as it might have been, and that seems to suggest the flow of history, the weight of time, and some kind of interesting personal narrative.

But, all that being said, the other way to swap out buttons for an instant steampunk upgrade is to go with those iconic symbols of Steampunk with the capital S:

found here

The requisite gears, and even the suggestion of a little lever and bolts--check.  Copper toned--check.  At least they took the time to antique the finish, and it has an open gear design that increases its realism. . . . overall this is not a bad button, and might look fabulous on some jacket or vest.  But it is mass produced in Thailand, and I think it shows.

Another one, with even greater and unfortunate mass-produced look:

found here

The first button at least looked like it could have been crafted from real gears assembled/welded together.  This one is so clearly a mold, and is trying to cram in as many steampunk icons as possible--gears and gages and timepieces oh my!  Still, it's not a hideous button. . . and no offense to anyone out there reading this who is currently using said buttons and enjoying them immensely;  it just screams factory mass-production to cash in on a fad, and that diminishes its appeal for me.

I almost like it a little better in the aged silver version:

found here

At least now the non-coppery tones take the edge off its jumble of cliché.  Even a little more subtlety on a piece like this goes a long way. 

JHB International (company that makes what seems to be very high end, trendy, and fairly tasteful mass-produced crap) has an entire "Original Series [of] Steampunk Buttons" on amazon:

found here

Wait a minute. . . those look familiar!  Yes, I'm being snide.  After you do a google image search for "steampunk buttons" and you start to see the same mass-produced buttons over and over, they quickly lose their fetching-ness and you long for something original.  I don't know if these are the exact same buttons by the exact same company, or if various companies are stealing one another's designs, but if you like this button you can find it in many tones and in many places online. 

found here

This one I actually like a lot more--somehow the green "patina" works with the "copper" here, and the design does not scream steampunk but more suggests.  Is it a wheel?  Is it a gear?  Is it a wheel/gear/flower?  I don't know, it is a little of all three, and that makes me like it all the more.  Subtly steampunk, the way I like it.  Now if only the button material itself looked a little higher quality. . . .

and another:

found here

Again, this one is not bad.  I happen to love roman numerals, and the image in the middle is again a little bit flower and a little bit compass, so that bit of subtlety works for me.  Instead of jamming together a bunch of clearly steampunk elements, it hints at them.

found here

Another button that is much more subtle in its steampunk design--again the flower and wheel designs working together.  If it were not copper-toned, it would not seem nearly as steampunk, but yet design-wise it might still not detract from the "period" feel of a steampunk ensemble like plastic or more modern designed buttons would.  I like this one, and could see it working well in a variety of uses, depending upon its size (larger buttons look more modern and therefore less neo-Victorian).

Now here is a button that intrigues me:

 found here

The etsy listing says this button is hand-made, and right here in the USA to boot.  Immediately I like it better than the others I've featured so far in this post, just based upon those personal biases; the only thing I don't like about this is  how much it feels automotive.  If it were a different metal tone, (brass or copper mainly) that might be better, but at the moment it reminds me of modern car/bicycle gears and steering wheels (don't you imagine the little gear in the middle would produce an ooougah!  oooougah! if you pressed on it?) and seems not only too contemporary, but too masculine for a lot of steampunk applications.  Then again, it would be perfect for the jaunty steampunk auto-adventurer, esp. on a long driving coat.

UPDATE: After I posted this, the maker of this button was kind enough to leave a message inviting me to take a look at his other buttons, which I might have liked better.  As I explained in the comments, I did not research thoroughly for this post--I just did a quick google search, figuring whatever came up would be a good enough indicator of what was out there in general.  This was not a post about the best steampunk buttons, just about what kinds of things are out there.

But looking at his website, I saw another button I just had to add to this post:

found here

Now, as you all know from your own etsy window shopping, you can find lots of jewelry made with watch parts.  Most of them use real parts, which I appreciate--the realism and all--BUT those parts are usually modern, shiny silver.  Not very steampunky.  Then I have seen some of the mass-produced-somwhere-in-Asia-to-capitalize-on-whatever-the-heck-this-steampunk-trend-is buttons that want to look like watch parts, but just look like cheap junk.  THIS button is an actual casting of real watch parts, but in beautifully steamy brass, and look at the detail!  This button makes me happy.  This is a button I could see adding to several of the jackets in my last feature, and it would look equally great in pewter.   

unfortunately sold, but found here 

These are buttons that would be hard to find, as the listing says they are vintage from the '70's or so.  BUT if one of these creative etsy metalworkers decided to re-craft something similar, esp. in brass or copper?  So much steamy potential.   Again, they are not generic enough for all steampunk looks, but would work so well for anyone who has a steampunk persona that involves gears and gadgetry.

found here

This last one is also handmade, and I like it very much; it is not steampunk per se, but it has a lovely post-apocalyptic feel.  The pitted texture of the button--reminiscent of the lunar surface, but also giving a nod to the current zombie facination--is nicely juxtaposed with the trim, traditional button shape.  Frankly, if the button did not have this smooth definition of shape, it would be revolting--less moon cheese and more moldy cheese.  But as it, it could be a potentially meaningful bit of detail in a steampunk clothing ensemble. 

So, there you go--the second way to approach steampunk button swaps.

Anyone have favorite steamy buttons?   Pretty please, leave a comment and links.  I would love to see them.

Wednesday, August 22

the hopefully helpful Steampunk Your Buttons post

A reader Marjorie posted this comment to my last post:

Love this blog and thanks for sharing your thoughts. Any chance you can show examples of what kind of buttons would make it more steampunk?

First of all, Marjorie, thanks for the kind words. And thanks for the question--which, as this is a fairly new blog that is very slowly gaining readership, was my very first comment that initiated dialogue! Whoo-hoo! Thanks for starting the conversation here on this blog. It's fun seeing the stats and knowing a lot of people come by--but much more fun when they stop and say hi.

And I am very bummed that I then proceeded to delete your comment--because I realized I had been posting as my "regular" home blog self and not as my steampunk alter ego Minnie Zephie, and so deleted and reposted it, but lost your comment in the process. : (

I would love to answer your question, though!

So, in my last post I showed you all a variety of Ann Taylor LOFT jackets, all of which have steampunk potential.  But I complained that for many of them, the buttons were not helping the overall steampunk aesthetic.  Now, sometimes buttons don't make much difference, esp. if they are pretty bland and kind of blend into the jacket's design seamlessly.  But sometimes they are terrible for steampunk--just way too modern, or just way too ugly, esp. if they are too obviously plastic.  So you can have this really cute jacket, perhaps with a cute neo-Victorian shape and appropriately vintage-feel fabric, but with buttons that are jarringly out of place with steampunk.  What a shame, to spoil a great steampunk look just because of the buttons!  Or to pass on a piece of clothing with SP potential just because you don't like the buttons--when it is so easy to swap them out!  I am a terrible seamstress. REALLY.  But even I can sew on a button and would not hesitate to do so if it would make a jacket go from vaguely neo-Victorian to Steam-sational.

Enough chatter.  You all came to see what I mean:

Remember this jacket from my last post?

The buttons are not terrible--they are a perfect match with the stripe, which makes them attractive enough, but they just sit there.  Blah. That's good if you want to focus attention elsewhere, say up to your fancy little steampunk fascinator.  These buttons don't offend, and just pretty much fade into the background of the overall look--they don't compete.  But they are plastic, which is blah and bleah. And they seem like a bit of a wasted opportunity for full steampunked fashion.  Steampunk is all about the details.  So the more historically accurate or even just playful details you work into your attire, the better!

And if you are like me, you love pitting textures against one another.  So now imagine that jacket with buttons like these:

found here

These are the real deal--antique Victorian buttons (as are the rest of the buttons in this post).  They would dress up the jacket, that's for sure, but their tones--as far as I can imagine with just this one image--would work really well with the colors of the stripes, so they would not be too busy or create too much contrast and therefore draw the eye too much.  And how pretty!

Or you could go with a slightly less-dressy button but in similar tones:

found here

Not as flashy, but just detailed enough to give some period-authentic texture to the jacket.

Another jacket, from this post, that I mentioned I would ideally swap buttons for:

Now this jacket is not my favorite.  But it has intriguing coppery tones and I like the subtle stripe pattern (and the way the pattern so nicely lines up on the peplum front indicates a well-made jacket). Actually, the more I look at just the jacket, the more I like it--except for those buttons.  Now, since they too are coppery toned, they would be fine to save for another aspect of a steampunk wardrobe--on the side of a long cargo-ish skirt perhaps.  But on this jacket, they just scream 1990's working woman.  Now imagine the same jacket with three of this beauty:

found here*

Tell me you can see it!  Oh, how delish, how elegant, and most importantly how much more steampunk that would be!

(I am sounding ridiculously excited, I know.  I can't help it--I already love buttons in general, antique buttons in particular, and this exact amazing button elevating that jacket?  Just to imagine it makes me light up inside.)

Another jacket I really like, from the LOFT post, but whose buttons I loathe:

Wait, let me clarify--I like the buttons, and even like them on this jacket, but do. not. like. if this jacket was to be used as a steampunk element.  They are just too modern, too high-end mall.  Instead, imagine this jacket with buttons like this (minus the pin backing):

found here

They appear to be tonally equivalents, but the antique texture and look of the latter would just add so much more "authenticity" to this jacket in a steampunk ensemble. 

Or you could go with a darker, more distressed look on that same jacket, with something like these:

found here

See how the different buttons would really affect the overall flavor of the jacket?

My favorite idea:  a subtly textured and muted colored jacket like that can be the perfect backdrop for a more eye-catching button, like one of these:

found here

As the blogger at that antique site writes:

Brass picture buttons from the Victorian era are very collectible. These charming discs were stamped with images taken from everything from operas to children’s books, and animals. In fact, if you wanted to tell the world you were a fan of a work of literature, you’d sew buttons featuring scenes from the novel or story on your coat or shirt. Other picture buttons took their cues from nature (flora and fauna), the sciences (stars and moons), or mythology (cupids and fairies).

So how perfect would it be to hunt down picture buttons that represent your own steampunk character?  Flora and fauna for a jungle adventuress, rabbits for an "Alice in Wonderland" mash-up, trains for the traveler. . . . Or, conversely, such picture buttons could infuse a little of your own real-world personality into your character.  And with a very plain but texture-rich fabric, as that brown jacket has, you could get away with mismatched buttons easily, without them either seeming too out-of-place or too busy.  Even different metals would work together, as long as there was some element (size, shape, motif) that unified them.  Such a collection of buttons would together tell a story on your lapel, one of your own creation.  LOVE this idea--in itself so steampunk!

And remember this jacket, which I can't decide if I like or hate, but which I could see being fabulous in some steampunk diva's wardrobe:

Again, when I look at the various elements, I kinda like all of them, and they work together overall really well, even that crazy modern print.  Except those buttons--ew!  Totally cheap and way too plain.  And if you wanted to make this jacket steampunk, they are--in my opinion--totally unacceptable.

But imagine that jacket with these:

found here

Still the silver tones, which compliment the color of the jacket well.  But a much more playful texture, which better compliments the extravagant details on the overall piece.  Once again, however, you could decide to change the feel of the jacket with radically different buttons, such as those black distressed ones, or even the elegant, softer tones of the first buttons I featured above.

Last example, also from the LOFT post:

I like these buttons just fine on this jacket.  They work great for the railroad look.  But they just don't do it for me if this jacket were to be part of a steampunk look--they would really detract and I can't imagine how they would go well with any other accessories.  Even a plain, flat, four-hole button in whatever color the background of the jacket is (navy? grey?  hard to tell) would end up working like the lavender buttons in my first example, not adding to the steampunk look but also not obviously detracting. Or a pewter button authentic to Victorian times, something modest, like what a workman would wear.

But if you wanted to get creative with this jacket. . . how about buttons like this?:

found here

Oh, that is a fabulous button!  Victorian jet and mother of pearl!  I imagine buttons like this on that jacket would subtly play up the masquerade aspect of steampunk.  You would not want all five buttons on the front to be the same, so I would choose these for the three in front and choose a simple, complimentary jet for the side pocket details.  You just would not want to go any dressier than this style of button--that would not suit the jacket's "story."

Unless you wanted to go with something like this, to play a more feminine detail on such a "masculine" fabric:

found here

Is it wrong that I these buttons look so fabulous partly because they are so dirty?  That wear and grime is instant character. 

So, those are just a few examples of what you could do with jacket buttons to downplay the vintage of your jacket and play up its steampunk potential.

Now of course there are other factors you would have to keep in mind if you wanted to put your own more steampunky  buttons on any item of clothing that was going to see regular wear.  Some vintage buttons cannot be machine washed--you would have to investigate a little online to find out what materials to avoid (like wood--gotta love wooden buttons, but they just can't hold up to machine washing and drying).  Also, you might really need to see them in person, to evaluate their true coloration, their condition, and their size.  So I would probably save the real Victorian buttons for things that will be handled with care, such as jewelry and accessories.

Reproduction buttons--with the look of antique but the durability of modern resins and metals--would be the ideal.

So if you want to add one more layer of detail and steampunk "verisimilitude" to your wardrobe, start looking at your buttons with a more critical eye.  You can do online searches for images of Victorian clothing to get ideas of what kinds of buttons might traditionally go where, but overall I would just go with buttons you like and stick them where you like!

One button (this one not victorian, but oh so steampunk) I found while making this post that I very much like:

found here

And with that, I wish you all happy button hunting!

*This link also led to a great history of the button overview with links, which I recommend.