Each of the button materials that are currently available on the market has distinctive properties, and none of them is ideal for all applications. First of all, note that a button is a piece of art, but it is a complementary piece of art. The artistic value of the same button varies enormously with the chosen application.
The choice of the right button material has important implications for design, texture and durability of clothes and accessories. The materials also have different degrees of flexibility which give different possibilities for the choice of size, thickness and shapes. Washability is a key issue. For example, when opting for a clay button always choose polymer clays.
Take wood buttons as another example. Wood buttons are often made from ebony, bamboo, oak, walnut and pine. They have become more popular as ecological awareness has increased over the past few years. Wood buttons are noted for a rustic feel but it is astonishing to see how many different types of texture can be realized. The list already suggests that properties vary a lot. Obviously, you usually wouldn’t use wood buttons for a raincoat, where synthetic materials such as resin are preferred. Instead, the standard application of wood buttons would be a plain casual outfit, such as the classical wool shirt or cardigan. Wood is also often used for toggle buttons, apart from antler horn.
Wood density varies and so do the material properties after water exposure. The buttons tend to absorb rain water and then expand and deform as a result. Note that varnishing can usually ameliorate some of the disadvantageous reactions. Ebony, for instance, is extremely dense and sturdy. Pine is a softer wood, and would be the more economical choice. Walnut buttons feature interesting color variations, ranging from light amber to a dark brown. Oak is a coarse wood and very shock-resistant.
Seashells, pearls (more precisely: “mother of pearl” buttons) and other shells are another commonly found material for button production. Shell buttons, for example made from mussel shells, are typically more robust than fresh water shell buttons. They are often used for vintage products. Even though the material originates from water, the material does not necessarily have optimal properties when exposed to the conditions inside a washing machine. That, of course, is not because of the water itself but because of the detergent. In general, robustness of shell buttons greatly varies by producer, so be careful not to buy a low-quality product.