Brass Button Buying Guide

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Brass Button Buying Guide

Brass buttons may be the last thing to consider when making, remaking, or repairing an item of clothing, but for dressmakers, tailors, and collectors alike these, often fascinating pieces of a costume are certainly worth finding out about. From big, bold buttons for winter coats and the like, to regimental buttons used on ceremonial outfits worn for special occasions, brass buttons can be a charming and engrossing topic.

Generally speaking, there are brass buttons used every day by dressmakers, and those collected by military enthusiasts, and other collectors interested in the historical significance of these often-overlooked clothing necessities. Armed with knowledge of the differences and similarities of these types helps the buyer make an informed choice when presented with hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. While there are many modern brass buttons to choose from, an increasing number of people now collect old and historical buttons, often coming from the costumes of very famous people from times past.

Types of Brass Button

Broadly speaking, there are three types of brass buttons in general circulation today. These are the new, ready-to-sew types, the antique or historical types; of interest to collectors, and ornamental buttons. Of course, a particular button may fall into more than one category, for example, a ceremonial, reproduction button to be used in a stage or film setting, but generally, these three main categories suffice.

Modern Brass Buttons

Modern brass buttons come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes to suit every design and purpose. For ladies clothing, there are larger designs, often with natural of wildlife motifs. These are meant to be buttons to complement the wearer's clothes, but they may also be small and unobtrusive; purely functional buttons for cardigans and other lightweight items of clothing.

Antique and Military Brass Buttons

Buttons of this type are most often of a military nature. These are often sought after and collected by enthusiasts from all over the world, because they are small and can be traded cheaply due to low postage rates for small packets. Buttons from the army, navy, and air force of various countries can be collected, with particular interest being paid to British and Commonwealth buttons. Women's corps buttons are also collected. Many military buttons have a regiment's insignia on them. Buttons dating from both World Wars are increasingly of interest to collectors.

Ornamental Brass Buttons

In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in more ornamental brass buttons by dressmakers. They have many different designs, but the most popular are nature and animal themes. Because of their ornamentation, these buttons tend to be large, often more than 2.5 centimetres in diameter, and are therefore considered to be 'dress buttons'.

They are sometimes either moulded or stamped in relief, or inlaid with semi-precious stones. Often these buttons are not round, but instead are flower petal shaped or have some other designs around their circumference or in their centres. Some ornamental brass buttons have cut-outs in the shape of leaves or petals, and these can be particularly effective in enhancing the item of clothing they are attached to.

Number of Buttonholes

Traditionally, buttons are made with different numbers of holes. These are generally used for buttons in different types of garments. Below is a chart to show buttonhole numbers with their general usage in clothing.

Number of Buttonholes

General Usage


On very light-duty buttons

The hole may be an external or an internal loop


On medium-duty buttons for thread to pass through


Usually on buttons for heavy-wear applications, such as shirts or fronts of jeans

Stud Mounting

Almost exclusively for jeans

The number of holes is a general guide for the amount of use and wear a button may be subjected to. Apart from stud fittings, the more holes a button has, the more hard-wearing and resistant it is to being pulled off.

Single-Hole Brass Buttons

A single-hole brass button may have an external loop to pass a cotton thread through. If this is the case, then this type of button is generally used with heavier, thicker fabrics which cover up this loop when the button is fastened.

Military brass buttons are almost exclusively made this way, and reflect the fact that the material of the military jacket is likely to be of a thicker and heavier type. A compromise between the two are brass blazer buttons, which are normally quite large, over 2.5 centimetres in diameter, but the single loop is not as pronounced as military types to allow for the normally thinner material of a blazer jacket.

Internal single-hole brass buttons are usually made for much lighter, thinner fabrics that do not cover an external loop. These tend to be for delicate blouses made from satin or silk. Hand sewing these buttons requires quite some skill and dexterity, but the finished effect can often be beautiful and well worth the extra effort required for their fixing.

Two-Hole Brass Buttons

These are generally for medium-duty fabrics and fastenings, and differ from the single-hole buttons in that the holes are usually stamped or drilled out of the buttons themselves. Two-hole brass buttons may be employed as buttons that are not fastened and unfastened every time the garment is put on or taken off.

Four-Hole Brass Buttons

These are heavy-duty, everyday clothes, and are often employed as the lower fastenings of denim jeans or work clothes. They may also be buttons found on heavy outdoor coats, and are often large and ornamental. Because of their size, their corresponding button holes are large to accommodate them. Four-hole buttons may have symbols or other writing embossed on their outer rims in a similar manner to major denim manufacturers. Smaller, four-hole brass buttons may be employed in the fronts of denim work shirts or similar clothing.

Both two-hole and four-hole brass buttons are often made with the area for the button holes being slightly depressed when compared with the overall surface of the buttons. This is to aide stitching the buttons on, and also to allow for the thickness of the fabric the buttons goes through.

Stud Mounting Brass Buttons

These are often found on workman's jeans and other high-wear applications. Though many stud mounting buttons are now steel, brass stud buttons are often found on vintage or reproduction vintage clothing. Brass studs are softer, and therefore easier to fit than their steel counterparts. Modern reproduction brass buttons may have a brass front piece, but the rear and stud may be of another even softer material. This is to keep the weight down, but also to make fittings the studs into jeans or other items of clothing much easier. A gentle tap with a small hammer is generally all that is needed for a secure and snug fit.

Brass Button Finish

Brass buttons may be bright, shiny, and metallic in appearance, or they may be aged, either naturally or by a coloured lacquer applied during manufacture. If buttons are shiny, they have a clear lacquer to protect the finish. If the user is looking to buy military brass buttons, then careful attention should be paid to their finish. If they are too bright and shiny, this may indicate excessive cleaning, which may affect their value.

How to Buy Brass Buttons on eBay

Buying brass buttons on eBay is very easy, but because there are so many, the hardest part may be deciding just which type of buttons you want to buy. Simply typing "brass buttons" into the search box brings up hundreds, if not thousands of results, so it is much better to decide which types of brass buttons you require, and go from there.

You must ask yourself whether the buttons are needed for an item of heavily used clothing, in which case two-hole or four-hole buttons may be an option. If, however, the buttons are for an item of clothing that is not for everyday wear, possibly an evening coat or dress, then single-hole brass buttons may be the answer. If the clothing material is light and gauzy, then you should look to internal-hole buttons, so when the buttons are not fastened, they do not hang down excessively.

Alternatively, you may be after genuine, collectible, antique buttons from military history, and eBay always has many to offer. As a general rule, you should take your time when selecting buttons, and if in doubt, then you may refine your search using the category and subcategory listings.


Whether it is to replace lost buttons on a favourite coat, or buttons needed for an item of clothing just completed, adding brass buttons certainly adds to the attractiveness and allure of virtually any garment. Fitting brass buttons to a garment only requires a little time and patience and rudimentary knowledge of sewing and needlework.

For heavy, outdoor coats, brass buttons make a hard-wearing alternative to other man-made materials that do not crack or break, and as they naturally age and take on a sheen and lustre many find attractive, which often compliments the clothes of the wearer. They can often be seen as a fashion statement, and if the button design is distinctive and bold, they add a certain class and sophistication to an outfit. Military brass buttons are also increasingly becoming collectible, and many famous regimental buttons are now available from not only the first and second World Wars, but also other notable historical campaigns.

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