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.


  1. Hi Minnie
    I make the pewter gear button that you showed. First, thanks for including it. Second, thanks for the critique. I see your point about being a little on the contemporary side. Maybe I need to add some type of "Victorian" scroll work.

    We do offer this button with an antiqued brass finish, so that will help.

    If you get a chance take a look at our other steampunk buttons and let me know what you think.

    Thanks again for your input.

  2. Hey Steve, maker of the pewter button--thanks for stopping by. And thanks for giving your website--you have plenty of beautiful things there, and I really do appreciate things that are hand made here in the US. You are right--the brass buttons do nicely "age" the gear buttons, and I'm glad you have that option. (Love pewter too, but brass and copper boost the steampunk factor effortlessly and might have a better chance not competing with whatever metals might be in the accessories.) Those gear cufflinks are gorgeous! And you get kudos for having the most attractive watch button--I had to update my post to include it.

    (When I made this post I just did a google search, taking the images I found in the first two pages; I figured that would give me a good cross-section of what was out there for these posts. If I were to be looking for buttons for a jacket of my own, I would have been much more thorough)