Designing Dance – All Buttoned Up

by Jenny Butler
Thursday 28th October 2010

Today The Australian Ballet are giving us a close up of their button collection in the wardrobe department & they “spill the buttons” of some of their best resources! – Jenny x

Delicate, engraved mother-of-pearl buttons adorn the Columbine costume from Peter Wright’s The Nutcracker while the over-the-top Punchinello suit from Coppélia has buttons of cut stone with angles that perfectly catch the light on stage. But are buttons really important on costumes viewed from a distance by audiences, and, if there are buttons on a costume, are they used as buttons?

The answer is yes! Almost all of the buttons on the Ballet’s costumes are practical, especially on jackets. They are not just there for decoration – though some may be decorative in themselves – except when there is a risk of buttons catching, most often in a pas de deux.

Buttons often complete a costume, helping the dancers get into character. Colin Peasley, a founding dancer with the company and current artist-in-residence, says that wearing a military jacket resplendent with shiny, gold buttons really makes one feel like a soldier on stage.

The buttons are sourced locally thanks to the wide variety available, even when recreating costumes from a ballet created overseas and being faithful to the original design is a must. Jenny Howard, wardrobe’s production coordinator, is a frequent visitor to Buttonmania in the Nicholas Building and Jimmy Buttons in Fitzroy (sounds like a great job, huh?).

As you can imagine, button replacements are needed so a supply is kept in house and the wardrobe staff backstage are always armed with spares. Shelves are packed with buttons made of Bakelite, pressed metal, shell, plastic, wood, leather and more.

– Fiona Howatt, The Australian Ballet

by Jenny Butler
Thursday 28th October 2010


  • shipbuilding 6 years ago

    really loving this weeks peek into the world of dance – so gorgeous and inspiring!

  • Hila 6 years ago

    my grandmother would be in heaven with all those buttons!

  • carol 6 years ago

    i am motivated to revisit my own button collection and include them in my next painting. i had forgotten how beautiful they are.

  • Meg 6 years ago

    Fascinating insight and behind the scenes look into the work and thought behind the amazing ballet costumes.

  • Tam 6 years ago

    What a great insight into the practicalities as well as the design. The links to the suppliers are fabulous, I have been looking for some interesting buttons and now I know where to find them! Thanks for “spilling the buttons” :-)

  • amy 6 years ago

    oh i love a good button collection!

  • Shirley 6 years ago

    Does Jenny Howard know there’s a great button shop in Castlemaine.It specialises in Antique buttons.I often find myself buying buttons on holidays.You know you have too many when you find ones in your collection that you’d forgotten about!

  • Maddy 6 years ago

    I know I need to learn how to sew button-holes to make use of my collection, but I really like just looking through it anyway, even if they don’t get put to use too soon!

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