The gleam of gold and the shine of silver

Blazers used to be simple navy-blue-flannel jackets adorned with brass buttons. Now they come in all sorts of colors and fabrics, and blazer buttons, as witness the collection at left, can be anything but simple
April 03, 1967

Cast in gold, etched in silver, carved of malachite, decorative buttons are the newest accessories for what was once the simplest article of men's apparel—the blazer. Because of its very simplicity and usefulness, the navy-blue flannel blazer, with undecorated brass buttons, has long been a leisure uniform for sportsmen everywhere. Now collectors of blazers are not only dressing them up with such luxuries as solid-gold buttons, but they are also buying the jackets in a variety of colors and fabrics, such as the silks, twill and hopsacking serving as background for the buttons in the photograph. Far from committing mayhem on what has become a classic article of men's attire, the wearers are actually harking back to the blazer's very origins in late Victorian England.

The first blazers often were so riotously striped in a "blaze" of club and school colors (hence the name) that cricket and boating contests looked like circus parades. Some of the buttons in the collection opposite are antiques left over from the jacket's earliest days when blazers were also fitted out with pocket crests in gold bullion thread to signify membership in all sorts of organizations, civil and military. In fact, the navy flannel blazer is a carry-over from the British love for a uniform, and ex-military types in England most frequently adorn their blazers with crests or buttons signifying air groups, fleets and regiments.

In America the blazer has been adopted by every kind of team—pro football and basketball, Ryder Cup golf, Olympic and Pan American squads, college teams and TV's sports program crews in the field. The awarding, next week, of the symbolic Augusta green blazer to the winner of the Masters has become one of sport's sacred rites.

The fancy-button fad, to dress up the blazer uniform, is for men who want something more individual than the stamped-out brass or the fake and anonymous emblems that come on ready-made blazers. To satisfy this craving, they are going to Neiman-Marcus, Cartier and Tiffany for gold and silver buttons, to college shops and department stores for university-seal buttons or for the "Collegeum Pulsationum Durarum," or College of Hard Knocks, design. Old Buttons, Inc., of New York and New Orleans, has its scouts all over the world, locating old Civil War and foreign uniform buttons, obsolete English hunt club designs—anything with the aura of belonging, real or pretended.

As if to emphasize the status-button fad, the newest blazer fashion is the double-breasted model, nipped at the waist, British style. It has four instead of three buttons—plus those on the sleeve—or in some cases even six down the front. The popular new Pierre Cardin model from France, with its high lapels has six buttons and incurs this kind of risk: a young man wearing one in a New York department store was approached by a matron who asked where she could find the lingerie department. When he said he didn't know, she demanded in a huff: "Aren't you the elevator starter?"

Who's Got the Button?

TOP ROW: two antique brass English hunt club designs (each set of 7, $13.50), Old Buttons, Inc., New York; authentic shotgun shell (set of 7, $3.50), Abercrombie & Fitch, New York; Stanford University and other school seals (set of 7, $7.50), Neiman-Marcus, Dallas; antique Civil War uniform (set of 7, $59), Old Buttons.

SECOND ROW: gold horsehead (set of 7, $100), Abercombie & Fitch; antique French mayor's guard (set of 8, $15), Dunhill Tailors, New York; sailboat (set of 7, $53), Old Buttons; College of Hard Knocks (set of 7, $9), Ara's, Wellesley, Mass.; gold wood-grain design (set of 8, $256), Cartier, New York.

THIRED ROW: gold-and-blue-enamel ring design (set of 8, $300), Dunhill; gold rope and anchor (set of 7, $130), Car-tier; custom design for Ford Motor Co. (to order), Ben Silver, Inc., New York; gold threaded design (set of 7, $155), Cartier; gold and malachite Greek head (set of 8, $375), Old Buttons.

BOTTOM ROW: Harvard (set of 7, $7.50), Neiman-Marcus; authentic English coin (set of 7, $26), Old Buttons; brass jumping fish (set of 7, $11), Old Buttons; gold basketweave design (set of 7, $243), Tiffany, New York; silver flying geese (set of 7, $25), Old Buttons. The silk blazer fabrics are from Chipp, the twill and hopsacking from J. Press, New York.

PHOTO

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