Do Buttons Have to Button?

What do you think about non-functioning buttons – decorative buttons? How about fake buttonholes with buttons sewn on top? Do any of these bother you, or are they legitimate design details?

I bought this pattern (Kwik Sew 498) from the Cupcake Goddess, now known as A Fashionable Stitch. Sure, I could have made this pattern myself, it’s so simple.. but that’s the beauty of buying simple patterns. Sometimes they’re so simple, there is actually a lot of work put into them to make them look that easy. If that makes sense!

And besides, she had such a great sale on this pattern, it was well worth it! Great for bike riding and I’ll bet it will be quick to whip up.

If you look closely at the pocket flaps, you’ll notice the buttons are purely decorative, they don’t hold the pocket closed.

My question is: how do you guys feel about decorative button details on patterns? Love ’em? Hate ’em? Are you only in favour of button detailing if they actually work?

At my previous job, we had at least one person who hated the faux-button detail, and only liked functioning button accents. If there was a button, there had to be a buttonhole for it to go through! At the very least, she wanted a buttonhole underneath the sewn-down button.

Me, I’m in favour of the decorative button detail if there’s no reason for it to undo. Like on these pocket flaps – the buttons tack the flap down, but they don’t hold the pocket opening closed. I’d rather skip the buttonhole if it looks OK, too!

What about you – what do you think? Do buttons have to button? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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32 Responses to Do Buttons Have to Button?

  1. Claire (aka Seemane) June 16, 2011 at 6:24 am #

    If it looks pretty then I say use it :)
    Doesn’t matter to me if they are functional or not. It kind of like breast-pockets on denim jean-jackets I never use them (they always seem too tiny and small to get your fingers into) but they look good so why not!

  2. Tasha June 16, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    I don’t mind decorative buttons if, like you said, they don’t need to open. I actually have an old hoodie that has pockets just like that skirt, with a flap that folds back, with a decorative button. However there’s actually a buttonhole and the flap can be unbuttoned! There’s absolutely no functional or aesthetic reason one would want the pocket flap unbuttoned, so it’s silly to me that I could open if if I wanted to! I’d rather a decorative button that didn’t work than one that worked somewhere where it served no purpose. How’s that for being contrary. ;)

  3. Casey June 16, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    I’m with you: if an opening/detail (like a pocket) doesn’t need to open, then false buttonholes and purely decorative buttons are fine. However, I do think that with either making functioning buttonholes or decorative ones, you always should consider the pros and cons for each. Recently I’ve been working on a skirt that has shaped hip pockets–very kind of 50s “western” influenced. At first I thought about just taking the button to a non-functioning buttonhole, but in the end decided that having a button that actually–well, buttoned–would not only be a good design feature but help keep the hip area smooth.

    I think the one type of “fake buttonhole/buttons’ that *do* annoy me are the type on dresses that sport them up the front (but do not button) and have a side zipper. It just seems odd to me…

  4. Catholic Bibliophagist June 16, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    I had a Vogue dress pattern that had nonfunctioning buttons down the front of the bodice and a zipper down the back. Seemed sort of silly to me, so I left them off. At least your button on the pocket flap does have a function: it tacks down the flap.


  5. Elle C June 16, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    I vaguely remember reading and article about how details like non-functioning buttons and other trims are the sign of a cheap garment, for instance on very high quality men’s suits, the buttons on the sleeve vents actually have functioning buttonholes. I wish I could remember where I read this, I just may have to spend some time today looking for it, if I find it I will post about it in the comments. So the jist of this is, I like my buttons to have functioning buttonholes.

  6. Funnygrrl June 16, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    It does depend, I think. Some buttons are so lovely it’s nice to use them. I agree about leaving buttons off a skirt or dress when there is obviously another fastener (zipper). Almost a lazy design feature.
    For the skirt pocket flap I say yes. I think it’s lovely. My 2c CDN. :)

  7. Sunni June 16, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    I love faux button details, but even here I feel that the button has a use – it’s holding down the flap. I think buttons are a great way to add little bits of whimsy to a garment. But I do think there’s a way to do it with class and sophistication. One of the problems with buttons is that they can be “cute” and so they have that effect on the types of garments that you add them too and sometimes I think after looking at something for so long, its hard to differentiate between being childish or being classy. Careful use of buttons is fun – like in this instance. They’ll lend a bit of sweetness and style to jazz up your a-line skirt!

  8. Vicki Kate June 16, 2011 at 7:11 am #

    It depends on so much! The overall design, the print of the fabric, the button… Generally though, I like them to do something! I dislike the ones that look like they’ve just been ‘plonked’ onto the item, if you see what I mean?

    If they’re purely (and obviously) decorative, I prefer them to be buttons with holes in, as I always think that shank buttons that aren’t threaded through a button hole flop about in a rather unattractive way, and with buttons with holes you can at least sew them tight to the fabric!

    So, I’m kind of back to the beginning in that sometimes yes, sometimes no!

  9. Corinne June 16, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    A debate of form versus function, yes? In garments that are worn daily, functioning buttons/buttonholes are essentially a practical application. But there is nothing wrong with a button, without it’s hole, as a decorative feature. If you study vintage clothing, particularly in the 30’s and 40’s the button is used both ways. It becomes a design feature. Vintage buttons are beautiful and can be the perfect accent on a vintage style dress. IMO the button on the pocket flaps of this skirt are a great design feature. One of my favorite dresses was on the back cover of a Threads magazine where there were a little parade of covered buttons down the front of a beautiful wool dress. I think the closure was a covered button placket in the left side seam. Stunning.

  10. LinB June 16, 2011 at 7:32 am #

    I think that buttons were originally only decorative. They all had to be made by hand, and rich people had buttons made of precious metals and jewels, that they removed from one garment to wear on another garment when it pleased them. People held their clothing together with pins and ties for many centuries. Even when shell buttons became mass-produced in the 19th century, people used them as much for decoration as function — a la the Cockney Pearly Button Suit. I like to sprinkle decorative buttons on my clothing, instead of or in addition to beads, for spot decoration (or stain coverage, on vintage fabric that I cannot completely clean). I also prefer buttons or fabric ties to zippers for closures.

  11. liza jane June 16, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    I actually just put non-functioning buttons on patch pockets on a skirt I made. I was wondering the same thing- if it was considered cheap or not. In the end, I really like the buttons so I’m okay with it. I could have made them functional, but couldn’t see myself actually buttoning the patch pockets closed so I just sewed them on top. Interesting topic!

  12. Krista June 16, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    I used to think that all buttons had to be functional and that non-functioning buttons were the sign of a cheaper garment, but then I started looking a lot more closely at historical garments. Take a look at men’s court coats from the 17th and 18th century – when they were heavily embroidered and trimmed. There are buttons and faux button holes, but there’s no way the jacket would actually close at the front (by its very cut) to button up even if they were functioning (such as, so now I don’t worry about it. There are times buttons need to be functioning, and there are times when they just add a nice detail.

  13. TanitIsis June 16, 2011 at 8:09 am #

    I love decorative buttons but hate faux pockets… Where it looks like a pocket is but really it’s just a seam or a welt. Not terribly rational, I know. I don’t care if the pocket is big enough to actually be functional, either. Hmm.

  14. Stephanie June 16, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    I made a dress from a vintage pattern that had decorative buttons down the front but actually closed with snaps down the front. ( ) It sure was a pain hand sewing on all of those buttons and then all of those snaps. But then again, if you don’t have a machine to do button holes, it’s a lot easier than hand done or bound button holes. So, they don’t really bug me. What I do hate are pockets you can’t open!

  15. Debbie Cook June 16, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    I agree with Krista’s comment:

    “There are times buttons need to be functioning, and there are times when they just add a nice detail.”

  16. msmodiste June 16, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    I was just coming to say the same thing as Tanit-Isis… I don’t mind a non-functioning button so long as it’s not standing in for a function that I wish the garment actually had! And fake pockets are the worst offender. (Every garment should have pockets, IMO.) But, I don’t mind at all if the buttons are still there on, say, the front of a dress that I’ll never button up. (button-front dresses never lay smooth on me!) I say leave ’em for looks, sew it up and add a side-zip :)

    For the skirt in your example, however, I personally don’t view that button as non-functioning. It’s not holding the pocket closed, however it is tacking that pocket flap down. To me it seems more that the pocket flap is the non-functioning piece!

  17. Beth (SunnyGal Studio) June 16, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    I like buttons in all forms, functioning and decorative. What about beads or embroidery? they have no function but add visual interest – so I say yes to decorative buttons.

  18. superheidi June 16, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    No function but very very pretty:

  19. sallyann June 16, 2011 at 9:57 am #

    If a button is meant to bedecorative – so be it- and have a good time picking out the perfect buttons. Once I made a mock wrap skirt that had buttons from the waist down 9 inches or so and a zipper in the back. It just looked odd.

  20. Heather June 16, 2011 at 10:36 am #

    I think either way works, though for this particular skirt I would do a functioning button just because it would hold my ID and keys in the pockets while riding my bike. Either that or put snaps right under the decorative button on the flap. :)

  21. Selina June 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    I don’t think it’s been mentioned yet, but I think another good example of buttons as a decorative detail are the button blankets the Haida create. They do wear them:
    Really beautiful example of a way buttons can be used to make something visually appealing.

    I do agree that being able to unbutton a pocket flap for an un-functional pocket is pretty annoying though. If you’re going to make the effort, why not just go the whole way and make the pocket bag too??

    And lastly, I do like the pocket/button detail on the skirt pattern you’ve purchased Tasia. It’s very cute and would be equally nice in the main skirt fabric, or in a contrasting colour or pattern. Making that view is also a very good excuse to go to Button Button :)

  22. Sewingdina June 16, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    I can see how purely decorative buttons could have the potential to annoy so careful thought is needed. I agree with Sunni that the ones on your skirt pattern are holding down a flap and the pockets are there, fine.

  23. Laurie Brown June 16, 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    I have no problem with decorative buttons, as long as they are attached firmly enough that they don’t *look* like they are just floating there doing nothing. What I *do* have a problem with are fake pockets! Those drive me insane!

  24. Sherry June 16, 2011 at 2:50 pm #

    I think a buttonhole is necessary most of the time, even if it is not cut and the button is sewn on top. I made some trousers recently with back pocket flaps and just sewed on the button without a buttonhole (I don’t have buttonhole capacity at home!), and it looks…lacking! But pocket flaps are usually functional, so that’s probably why it looks odd.
    In this case even a fake buttonhole might just look messy with all those angles going on. I’d probably just place the button.

  25. Sallie June 16, 2011 at 2:51 pm #

    I think it depends on the garment. Some garments – like suits or coats – that are traditionally very tailored I think should have working buttons. My fiance just bought a suit for our upcoming wedding and was really upset that the buttons at the cuff were purely for decoration. It certainly doesn’t effect the wearing, but it would be a nice bespoke touch. But for a skirt like this – which is adorable and you’re right, perfectly simplistic – I don’t mind putting a button on just for looks. I think a big contrasting button and maybe contrasting bias binding or piping would look so great on this skirt!

  26. Lisette June 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    I like decorative buttons, but the patterns I buy rarely call for them. Ironically, I hate when they add the faux buttonhole…really, what’s the point!? If I have a light fabric and I’m using heavy/large buttons (like my Ruby shorts) I use sew-in snaps and then add the buttons so it only looks like they button. Ergo, no buttons sagging down into the bottom of the hole.

  27. Jane Elise June 16, 2011 at 5:54 pm #

    I like decorative buttons. I think they give a nice finish in the right context. Such as buttoned tabs on a shirt dress that don’t actually unbutton. I think it would look strange to just sew down the tab without a button. Buttons on pocket flaps are nice too.

  28. Rhia June 16, 2011 at 8:03 pm #

    I love buttons, and I love them more than zippers. For some reason I don’t like much of decorative zippers (since there’s been so much of them recently in fashion) but I like all buttons, decorative or funtional. Only if the buttons should have been functional to make the clothing practical but are non-functional instead I might get a bit annoyed. I just recently made a dress with decorative, non-functional buttons in the bodice.
    Men have non-functional buttons in their suit sleeves, why couldn’t we have them aswell? Like Beth said, they add detail and visual intrest just like beading and other decorations, so why not :)

  29. Jo @ a life in lists June 16, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    I’m going to dissent with the majority – decorative buttons/zips/flappy bits really annoy me! Not sure why, but perhaps on patterns it’s the idea of the extra work for no real gain (even though quite often gthey make the garment more flattering). Basically it’s a bit of an irrational dislike!

  30. Mae Wilson June 17, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    I hate non-functional buttons. On that skirt, the button actually has a function that doesn’t require a buttonhole so I think it is cute. Buttons with a snap closure make me wince.

  31. Lilian June 17, 2011 at 5:31 am #

    It’s funny you ask this question, I just finished a skirt with 6 buttons (2 rows of 3) which have absolutely no button-function at all and are there just for fun. So I guess you could say I have no problem with it and actually love it.
    There is a difference however, if you make something more couture-like. Then I think it’s a faux pas to use buttons in this way. (‘Cause in couture we expect bound buttonholes right?)

  32. Rachel June 18, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    I’m a big fan of buttons being decorative rather than functional. I also like decorative zips.

    I do however hate “decorative pockets” – you know the kind, that look like they’re going to be a pocket but aren’t. Hate em!