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1940s Buttons and Trims

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During WWII many fabrics were rationed, more expensive, and/or harder to find in all regions affected by the war. With women under pressure to conserve resources and Make Do And Mend, smaller readily available embellishments such as buttons and trims, were really encouraged as a way to spruce up old garments and add interest to plain frocks. While America didn’t have it quite so bad, the United Kingdom did see restrictions on button quantity starting in 1942. I love this article about American women and the use of non-priority buttons. How many buttons can you possibly fit on one pair of trousers?? A lot apparently.

Whether you were allowed four buttons or forty, they’re still a great way to add a little something extra to your garments. Just look at these buttons and trims from the 1941 Sears Catalog!

1941buttons

1941ribbon

1941trim

You know I love me some rick rack and bias tape now, so imagine how much my “1940’s past life self” would have been coveting this stuff. I might even have gone as far as to sell my shoe ration coupons on the black market in exchange for more fabric and trims! Haha just kidding. I’m not THAT bad ;) But ribbons DO solve my problems!

The first thing I noticed when opening my Sew For Victory pattern and reading the instructions was zippers were called “slide fasteners” back then. I thought that was kind of funny! Check out these slide fasteners and other buttons from the 1945 Sears Catalog:

1945zippers

1945buttons

I love those little star shaped buttons! They almost seem too modern, don’t they? Well I’m glad they’re not because I’d love to use them on some 40’s garments in the future.

1944lamodebuttons

How fancy are these La Mode buttons from 1944? Very! I love all the florals and rhinestones. Even though you can’t find La Mode brand buttons through a mail order Sears catalog anymore, you can still find them at Jo-Ann Fabrics!

My 1946 dress doesn’t include any buttons sadly, but it does have TWO slide fasteners! I really love buttons and trims an awful lot so my next project will definitely be chock full of as many trims as I can tastefully stuff on it :)

Does your Sew For Victory project include buttons? What kind will you pick?

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  • Melanie Montgomery

    I’ve always loved vintage buttons. I remember digging through my grandma’s sewing box and ooohing over the notions. My pattern choice does include buttons and once I commit to a fabric I’ve decided to go with vintage buttons. Not only does it use something that has already been produced, but vintage buttons are just so much cuter!

  • sallieforrer

    Wow… buttons and trims aren’t nearly this exciting anymore!! And where can I get packaged silk bias binding?!?!

  • Shelly

    Oh how I do love me a vintage button. I absolutely love these pages and wish we could still purchase some of the buttons, they’re so beautiful. My project doesn’t include buttons this time but I’m sure my next one will.

  • The Polished Button

    LOVE the buttons! I adore 30’s and 40’s buttons – so intricate! The images you have usd are lovely too! Thanks!

  • Jessica Cangiano

    I love a dose of embellishment on nearly any garment, hat, accessory, etc, and highly suspect I would have turned to notions big time if I was making my own clothing in the 40s (forty buttons for me, please! :) ). I adore these vintage catalog pages, Rochelle, thanks so much for posting them!

    ♥ Jessica

  • Tasha @ By gum, by golly!

    I am not sure about buttons on my project yet but I looove vintage buttons. I could totally build outfits from the buttons up!

  • Rachel Proffitt

    I am pretty sure that ‘zipper’ was a brand name that has since been co-opted :) We call them ‘zips’ back home in the UK!
    And you already know how I love buttons, I have some gorgeous vintage blue and red flowers I am DYING to use on something… but WHAT?!

    • Rochelle New

      Ooo blue and red vintage floral buttons sound beautiful! I’m sure they’ll just scream out at you when you find THE project for them :)

  • Kate-Em

    These pictures are lovely, what a gorgeous array of buttons! I really like the tiny tulip.

  • ShanniLoves...

    My shirt will have buttons and since my shirt is a blue stripe and I’m thinking of going with red pants I’ve got such cute nautical buttons picked out. ooh I can’t wait!

  • Charlotte Boyer

    Crazy!! We have a few of those buttons in a HUGE button tin of ours!! I’m actually going to use one on a 40s/50s/60s (yeah I know, it’s pretty versatile, era wise ;) ) shirtwaist dress I’m making o.0 How cool :D

    I love a few pretty trimmings & details on a dress, and this is a great post for referencing vintage notions when browsing the virtual shelves of online stores!

    I think its awesome how the women back in the war era really made do and mend. They really are a true inspiration!

    • Rochelle New

      That’s so neat!! I would love to get my hands on some of these button styles, even if they were reproductions. Originals would be extra amazing! I agree women were such an inspiration, especially in this era. That’s why the 40’s are my favorite :)

  • Brigid

    Would you mind sharing what page number (if you know) the notions pictures came from from the Sears catalog?
    Thanks!

  • Helen

    Ribbons solve my problems! I love that! If only it were true…

  • Jane

    My 1940’s pattern has a ‘slide fastener’ too, I thought it was so charming when I read it in the instructions. My pattern doesn’t require any buttons but I have some perfect 1940’s ones that I may just sneak onto my dress anyway! x

    • Rochelle New

      It does sound rather charming, doesn’t it? I’m a little sad my project doesn’t require buttons, so I think my next one will be a full button up shirtwaist so I can use LOTS of buttons! :)

  • Michelle

    Those buttons are gorgeous.

  • Miss Crayola Creepy

    My question is, why don’t they make cute buttons like that anymore?!?!?

  • Mary Nease

    I found an appropriate coral fabric that I decided would be used with my shirtdress pattern, and I’m using mint green buttons down the front. They match a necklace, hair flower, and purse that I already have, as well as sweater that I’m knitting. I’ve kind of become obsessed with using mint green as an accent color to all the reds and purples that I usually wear as my main colors.

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A Blog By Rochelle New

I'm a fabric wizard and wielder of needles with a passion for quilt industry cottons, bygone eras, and natural things.

i.e. I mostly do nerd things like pretend I'm a wizard, collect moldy books, and spend too much time picking up acorns in the woods, all with my spirit animal (a dog named Lucille), my personal photographer (a man named William), and a few literal fat cats in tow.

Making magic and messes in the backwoods of New York.

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