Ever taken a close look at the buttons that adorn your clothes? These days, most are made of plastic, but some high-end shirtmakers still use mother of pearl buttons, which give off beautiful iridescent shine and offer more depth of color than their plastic counterparts.
In the late 19th century, a large percentage of mother of pearl buttons were made in the United States with factories set up along the Mississippi river. These companies, in towns like Muscatine, IA, stamped buttons from the inner surfaces of freshwater clam shells harvested from that body of water. By 1916, the U.S. was producing close to 6 billion buttons a year. But by the mid 20th century, over harvesting, plastic buttons, zippers and foreign competition led to a decline in the industry.
These days, most pearl buttons are made overseas, but thankfully, shirts from brands like Isaia and Kiton still offer this luxurious detail.