When Allison saw a Dolce & Gabbana ad featuring a black wool dress enlivened by a row of mismatched buttons across the bodice and down the shoulders and elbow-length sleeves, she had the urge to copy the look with something thrifted.
Some months ago, she had found a late 1950s “Chic Debs styled by Norma Gale” fully lined black wool dress at Central Thrift for $3. It had a more scooped neckline than the D&G dress and slightly shorter sleeves, but it had a fitted waist and otherwise was reminiscent of the dress in the ad.
When she walked into The Button Store in west Los Angeles, clutching the D&G ad, owner Faye Moattar wasn’t surprised. Allison was the seventh person who had been in her shop, looking to copy the same ad.
The Button Store, which specializes in exclusive lines of new buttons from Europe (mostly Italy and France), as well as vintage buttons, was exactly the right place to go. The inventory is jaw-dropping, with each button more special than the next. It’s the place to go for buttons from the 18th and 19th centuries, ethnic buttons from the Middle East, hand-painted glass buttons from the 1880s, enamel statement buttons from the 1970s, shell buttons, horn buttons, wood buttons, gold-plated buttons, sterling silver buttons, you name it.
Many of Moattar’s clients are costume designers from studios, looking for authentic buttons and buckles for period garments.
Allison wanted to see everything, which would have taken days. With Moattar’s help, she quickly found 13 buttons that had the look and feel of the ones in the ad. The ones she picked ranged in price from $3.50 to $13.50, so the total expenditure – dress and buttons – was $125.73. Moattar said the D&G dress sells for $4,000.
“Make sure you put an uneven number of buttons across the front,” she told Allison. “Start with a button at center front and work out.”
Allison laid the buttons on the dress, coming up with a pleasing arrangement, and then taped them down to keep them spaced correctly during sewing. It took about an hour to sew them on.
But what happens when it needs to go to the dry cleaners? Moattar said that some customers prefer to remove expensive buttons before cleaning, but if you don’t, cover them with aluminum foil to protect them.
“If the button was made before the 1920s, don’t give them to the cleaners,” she advised. Dry cleaners were not around before then, and so buttons were not made to withstand cleaning solvents. Even up until the 1950s, some buttons were not made to be dry cleaned. “For myself, no matter what the year, I prefer to take the buttons off and put them on again after cleaning,” she said.
Moattar, who is a dress designer and has designed buttons for high-end labels, said she often will mail order her buttons. Customers send her photos of a garment needing buttons and she’ll correspond via email to find good matches.
The dress finished, Allison persuaded her friend, the talented Janice Littlejohn, to model it. There was no size tag on the dress but – continuing this redo’s lucky charms – it fit her perfectly.
The Button Store, 8344 W. Third St., Los Angeles, CA 90048. 323/658-5473. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.