Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Button Up Your Overcoat?

(in The Whine Bar)

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Before the whining begins, let's hear it for Shubham Banerjee, a twelve year old boy in seventh grade who developed a braille printer, which he is calling Braigo, using a Lego set!

Most braille printers cost in the thousands of dollars, but Banerjee's printer (still in prototype) costs under $349, most of that being the cost of Mindstorms, the Lego set he used.  Banerjee put the building instructions and software online, declining to reap what could have been huge profits.  In the video below, Banerjee is interviewed by CNN.  When asked why he put the instructions online, giving free access to everyone, he said "I thought it would be cool to combine my love of Legos with something actually helpful...  I did that because I really wanted to help the blind people…  I hope to make more, helping the people around."  (You have to put up with a thirty second commercial to see Shubham, but he is SO worth it!)

Shubham Banerjee is breathtaking! Way to go, Shubham. The Idiosyncratic Fashionistas love you!!! (Photo above from

and now for some fine whine with your hostess, Valerie.

The Whine Bar

Button Up Your Overcoat?
Or Anything, for That Matter?

First, a pop quiz.  Here is a 1980s Krizia wool coat in excellent condition.  Lots of details, cut from a highly individual pattern. Marked down from $75 to $60 at a high end second hand sale. Question:  good buy or not?  (Reserve your answer till the end of this post.)

Readers know I love color.  Several years ago I found this jacket at a second hand store.  It's mostly rumpled now, but when I got it it was gorgeous.  Nubby pink wool with red subtly woven into it.  Ah, the Italians!  Textile magicians!  For the curious, the label on this says Fabrizio Lenzi.  It's cut beautifully, though you can't tell here.

When I first got it, it had three gorgeous buttons in dusty pink woven velvet.  One fateful day while out walking, I was offered a free sample of absolutely delicious coffee from a local specialty shop in a cup the height of my thumb.  Big mistake!  I spilled the coffee all over my jacket.  Well, I thought, at least I know what it is, so I can tell the dry cleaner.


When it came back from the cleaner's, it was clean, but missing two of its three buttons.  Below is the sole survivor.  No worries, said the cleaner, who couldn't explain where they were, or how they could have gone missing, and didn't seem terribly perturbed by his company's negligence.  You find the replacements, and we'll pay for them.

Oh, yeah?  And will you pay me for the trip I have to take to the button district (yes, readers, there is a button district in Manhattan), and the time I spend tracking these replacements down?  (Rhetorical question.  I didn't ask that.  You know the answer to that one, right, readers?)

Come to find out, there are NO buttons anything like these ANYWHERE, and the buttons were half the reason I bought the jacket.  To this, the cleaner replied that they were easy to make - just buy the ribbon.  Silly me, back I went to the button district.  I bought three colors of ribbon (none the right width or color), and never found anyone in the district who could copy this button.

Even the legendary Tender Buttons could not refer me to a person or company that could recreate the button.  (Price was no object, since the cleaner said he would pay.)  A cynical friend of mine believes the cleaner always knew he would never have to make good.  Hmmm…  I never found a pink button that did the jacket justice, but haven't been able to give it up, so it's packed away and rumpled instead of getting its share of air time.  No doubt many of you know how that is.  Amazingly, I still have the receipts for the ribbons.  Not out of determination, but because for a very short while I still thought I'd get the buttons made, and was keeping track of expenses.

Then there was this jacket.  You've seen it in several postings, but did you know it's had several different buttons, following trips to the dry cleaner's?

Originally, it had personality-free round black plastic buttons, so I changed those for these long striated bone (?) buttons.  (Sorry for the fuzzy picture. I had to blow it up beyond its limits.)

Well, when that came back from the cleaner's, half of one button had been snapped off.  Unfortunately, I didn't inspect it at the cleaner's, and didn't notice the breakage till several weeks later, when it was too late to make a claim for damages.  There was no point in buying the same button twice, so I went for what I thought was a far safer choice.


See how sharp and shiny the top two buttons are?  See how the bottom two look like they were salvaged from a fire?  The bottom two are still attached to the jacket.  I saw their condition while still at the cleaner's - same cleaner, different manager.    The new manager apologized profusely, and repeated the previous mantra - if you buy the buttons, we'll pay for them.  At least I could replace these, because I'd bought them myself.  Back I went to the button district, and bought the shiny ones you see at the top.  The next time I went to the cleaner's, that manager had been fired. Hmmmmm…. And the new one didn't know the back story, so I never submitted a claim for these either. (I have the receipt for these, too!)  I can't bring myself to replace the buttons now, thinking the same fate awaits them.  And besides, there's something to be said for the fire salvage look.

New York magazine periodically publishes lists of the best thises and the best thats, and among those thises and thats are the best dry cleaners.  Having learned my lesson, when a really special Krizia shirt needed cleaning, I took it to one on the list.  This was a shirt I bought at retail, and even at a substantial discount, it is the most expensive shirt I have ever bought.  It was made of a very crisp linen, with an absolutely amazing subtle lustrous finish, as if it had been coated lightly in whipped egg whites, and ironed.  To top it off, it had equally amazing buttons.

The buttons are meant to hang loose, as here.  Despite being made of wire, they drape, and give the shirt a very sensual look.  You can't see it in this photo, but there is a very generous underpanel of material that bridges the gap between the left and right sides, so whether the button is loose or taut, there are no accidental puckers exposing flesh in odd places.

When the time came, I took this shirt to the Very Special Cleaners recommended by New York magazine, and was careful to point out the buttons to make sure nothing went awry.  Guess what?  Not only did it come back missing one button, but it was also missing the amazing glaze.  I pointed out the missing button to the assistant right away, who said he'd call the plant and have them look for it.


Of COURSE they never found it.  It must have gotten sucked into one of the drainage holes in the machine and catapulted straight into another universe.  And of course you know what they said - get another button, and we'll pay for it.  Readers, who do you think keeps this button in stock?  In desperation, I called the New York Krizia store - at least a season after I'd purchased the shirt - and described the button, expecting nothing.  Imagine (you can't possibly, actually) my amazement and relief when the woman on the phone told me to come to the shop, because she had a pair she could give me.  OMG!  So the shirt above has all its buttons, but I confess to some chagrin that I didn't have the satisfaction of presenting Very Special Cleaners with a bill for their incompetence.  (And they didn't even waive the cleaning fee or offer to pay for my transportation or time.)

[Many thanks to Hannah Kurland of Marmalade Vintage who took the above two photos. And to her daughter Vita, who now owns the shirt. (It's too small for me now, but not for Vita!)]

But the piece de resistence is this Pendleton jacket.  That's me on the right, and Hannah Kurland on the left.

It's a very understated jacket, but it came with garish gold buttons. Nononononono!  Back I went to the button district, to a huge emporium, where you can literally spend the best part of an hour looking for the perfect button (right color, right size, right shape, right statement, right material, right price, etc.)  Finally, I came up with a black plastic button with metal grommets inset.  I bought four to replace the garish gold buttons - one each for the cuffs and two for the front button holes.  In the highly enlarged grainy photo below, you can just barely make out the button in the orange circle.

A few weeks ago, I took it to my favorite dry cleaner, with whom I've had many good experiences.  She inspected it (so she could write the ticket properly - black, jacket, etc.), and then looked closely at the buttons.  Will they be a problem, I asked.  Oh, no, she replied, and even if they were a problem, we would cover them in aluminum foil, or cut them off and sew them back on afterward.  So, off I went, secure in the knowledge that I and my jacket were well taken care of.


When I went to pick up the jacket, instead of the four grommet buttons, it had four buttons very much like these:

I said to the woman "These are not my buttons."  She replied she didn't know if they were mine or not, since she sees a lot of buttons every day.  I understand, I said, that's why I'm telling you that these are not mine - I would never have rhinestone buttons.

This is the point where your dry cleaner is supposed to say "Oh, I'm very sorry - I have no idea what could have happened.  I'll look into it and get back to you as soon as possible."  And she did say she'd get back to me, but there was no apology, no surprise, no regret, no concern.  There was, however, a repetition of the statement that she saw so many buttons she would have no idea, etc.  Two days later she called to tell me that she had called the plant, and the man she spoke to said something had happened to the buttons (it's not clear what), so he had replaced them with these.

Without putting a note on the jacket?  Without calling my cleaner to let her know?  Without returning what's left of the buttons, if only as a sign of good will?

And you can imagine what the cleaner said:

If you replace the buttons, we'll pay for them.

This time, I said no, I'll tell you where I bought the buttons, and you can go there and replace them.  But I don't know what they look like, she pointed out.


As it happens, this button store has a website, so I spent about an hour looking at their online selection, thinking I could find them and have the cleaner pick them up for me.  When I couldn't find the buttons, I called the store's 800 number, and was told to email them a drawing.  So I did - top and side views.  (You can see I'm no artist.)

A day later I got an email response: these buttons are no longer made.


Readers, what do you think?  Is there some conspiracy between the button industry and the dry cleaning industry?  Does the button industry deliberately make frail buttons that can't stand up to dry cleaning, and does the dry cleaning industry deliberately use chemicals that ruin buttons (or maybe uses processes that dissolve threads so buttons can get lost) so you'll have to go out and buy more buttons each time you clean your clothes?  Does each industry own stock in the other?  Do some people go into the dry cleaning industry to amass amazing button collections from hapless people who take their clothes to the cleaner like lambs to the slaughter?  I called a national dry cleaners' association and asked their representative what is usually done in cases like this, and to my surprise he acted as though no one had ever lost a button before.

So the jacket remains at the cleaner's, and I have no idea what to do next.

If this has happened to you, what did you do?

Okay, now let's go back to the pop quiz.  Was that Krizia coat a good buy?

I think I know why the previous owner gave it away.  (Yes, gave it to a charity.)

Same coat.  Except this time you can see I've put a post-it note everywhere a button is missing.  I bought this coat before I broke my ankle, and had to wait till after I was out of the boot to make - yet again - the trek to the button district (around 6th Avenue and 38th Street, for interested readers).  I was there for a good half hour, and saw all sorts of fabulous buttons, none for less than $4 each, and many for quite a bit more.  Flat ones, round ones, hand-painted ones, textured ones, bone ones, plastic ones, wood ones, composite ones. There was no shortage of gorgeous buttons to choose from. But we're talking - at the bare minimum - $28 for buttons alone.  And then of course, I have to figure in what will happen to my investment if I ever take the coat to the dry cleaner. I was thinking about all that at the button store. And then I decided, the heck with it. They're only decorative anyway, not functional. And I didn't buy any.

So what's your answer to the pop quiz?  Is it the same now as it was when you saw the first picture?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jean (who has been uncharacteristically silent throughout this discussion) is simply eternally grateful that her neighborhood dry cleaner, that she has been using since 1989, has never ruined, lost or substituted any buttons on anything she has had dry cleaned. What's that about anyway? And then she realized:  I do have clothes with buttons and I love and collect buttons, but I don't actually wear a lot of clothes that fasten with buttons. Until now, I guess I never realized the extent to which I wear clothes that wrap and tie or zip! I am the queen of zippers.

While Valerie wore a cropped jacket with buttons, I wore a longer jacket that zipped up the front.

Again, when Valerie wore a structured jacket with buttons, I opted for a knit, wrapped top.

My motorcycle jacket is a case in point: Why wear buttons when you can zip your way into and out of your clothes?

Ladies and gents: Go to your closets, fling open the doors and examine your clothes. Are you a buttoned up or a zipped up person? What say ye? We're dying to know.


  1. How about buying extras when you buy new buttons? I also love buttons and keep containers full of them on hand. If you are a button person, you have to have them!

  2. I'm BOTH a zipper person and a button person...but I would suggest Valerie remove the buttons before taking the item to the cleaner, and put them back on after the item is cleaned. A hassle, yes, but no more so than all those fruitless trips to the button district!

  3. I would take the buttons off before sending the garment to the cleaners. I know it's work taking them off and then sewing them on but if the buttons are unique and make the garment, then it's worth it. Or go to Jean's cleaners.
    Sorry for your button agony, I would be very upset too.
    Thank you for your posts, they are always interesting.

  4. Yes! I'm not sure how you would go about it with the white jacket, but def. take the buttons off before sending it to the cleaners.


  5. It's obviously a conspiracy! I've been very fortunate in that I have never had my dry cleaners lose a button, but I have lost a few on my own while wearing the garment in question. The only sure solution has been stated by previous commenters - remove the buttons before cleaning. It's a pain, but will save time and frustration later. I like the Kritzia coat, but I would have probably left it behind, knowing I'd never replace the buttons ;)

  6. Moral of the story- go to Jean's cleaners, take a photo of the garment & the close ups of the buttons with your cell phone in front of the cleaner when dropping it off, buy extra buttons for replacements. And give the bad cleaner a bad review on Yelp!

  7. We have a French laundry. They tske off the buttons and sew them back on if you ask (and pay) for them to do so. I have a feeling that's not an option with yours.

  8. you have been very brave to be as persevering as
    you have been with your beloved clothes,because
    those buttons were beautiful and added to charm of
    them. However,I would take off the buttons and sew
    them on again after(myself) because, in my humble
    opinion, it is just easier emotionally even though that
    would be time consuming .