How To Move the Buttons on Your American Duchess Button Boots and Shoes

It’s a question that’s been asked many a time, so here’s a handy tutorial to show you how to do it yourself.

Luckily, moving the buttons on your button boots or button shoes is easy, though it does take time. It’s also historically accurate, except that our modern boots are made to be taken in (and the original holes will be covered), whereas antique styles were made to be let out (and the original holes showed). In my small but well-loved collection of original button boots, spanning the late 1860s to the 1910s, all pairs show very obvious evidence of buttons being moved, like these:

You can see the original holes a good inch back at the top. The buttons were re-attached with looped staples on this pair.
This pair has really obvious scarring. The buttons were moved right out to the edge, over an inch in some places, and were re-attached with thread.

So how to do it yourself? Here’s a video:




Or read on…

You Will Need…

  • A pair of real button boots
  • A pencil
  • Seam ripper
  • Small scissors
  • Strong thread – upholstery thread, strong embroidery floss, elastic thread doubled
  • Beeswax (optional, but helpful)
  • Needle

Step 1
Cut all the buttons off your boots. Yep, all of them.

Step 2
Put the boots on and fold the fly (flap) over your leg, pulling it tight where needed. Don’t try to stay in line with the original holes. With a pencil, mark the new placement of the button through the keyhole end of the buttonhole. You want your boots to be *tight.*

*Note – to get your boots really nice and tight, stitch your buttons 1/8 to 1/4 inch further than the mark you made with the pencil. The leather stretches and eases with wear, and you want the boots to fit tight all the way up, like a corset for the ankle.


Fold the fly over and pull it tight
Mark the holes through the keyhole end of the buttonholes.
My marks next to the original holes – don’t try to stay in line with those original holes, otherwise your fly will not be smooth and straight

Step 3
Take the boots off, and starting at whichever end you are most comfortable, poke two small holes right next to each other, through the leather, with the seam ripper. You will pass your needle through these holes to form the loop for your button.

Remember, for a nice tight fit, poke your holes 1/8 to 1/4 inch further back

Step 4
Stitch the button on, passing through the button’s looped shank and the holes in the leather several times. Beeswax will help keep your thread from tangling, and form a nice tight loop and knot. Tie it off however you like, then move on to the next button – you may wish to continue with the same thread, or cut it off and start anew. Both are period accurate.

I gave my buttons a good yank to make sure none of them pulled off.

Sew all the buttons on, then repeat for the other boot. You’re done!

Much better fit. These could actually be even tighter.

*Considerations and Points of Interest

  • The front seam of your boots will no longer be centered on the leg, once you move your buttons. Don’t worry about it, though – Victorian and Edwardian women experienced this too.
  • The original holes where the buttons were will not be seen when taking the boots in – you have it better than Victorian and Edwardian women, who had to live with the scarring being fully visible!
  • There is no correlation between foot size, ankle size, and calf size. Makes it tricky! We do the best we can with fitting the widest range.
  • There were many different ways to attach buttons in the past. Every cobbler did it differently – many just stitched them on, but others used staples, brads, or looped pins.
  • In the past, boots appeared with teeny tiny ankles and calves in the shop, with the expectation that the customer would have the buttons moved to fit their legs. As noted before, just about every pair of button boots you will ever see has evidence of where the buttons original were. If there are no marks, the boots were likely made custom for the wearer, or were store displays and never worn at all!
  • Don’t be afraid to make those buttons very tight. The boots should fit like a corset for the ankle. If you struggle to get them fastened, that’s about right – the leather will loosen as you wear them, but continue to support the ankle and calf, and keep the boot from slouching.
  • You can use this technique on any buttoning shoes as well, such as Astoria and Savoy Edwardian shoes.

13 Comments

  • Laurie

    August 20, 2014 at 12:22 AM

    Great Information….. which leads to another question in perhaps another post. If I want to protect these cream boots what product should I use to protect them? If I want to dye them black in the future, should I do something differently? Where would I get black buttons?

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • Lauriana

    August 21, 2014 at 6:35 AM

    Very interesting post! I don't have any buttoned boots of my own at the moment but I loved the information about the period ones.
    Now I finally understand the sample I saw in a shoe exhibition last year. Small to normal foot lengths and TINY ankles and calves. I wondered if women's legs and feet could have changed that much… Those were probably displays…. There were no creases in the feet, like you would expect from wear.

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      August 22, 2014 at 7:51 PM

      There's a very good chance those boots were never worn! I've seen some absolutely stunning antique boots that didn't have a minute's wear on them. Soles were slick and clean, buttons were in their original places. They were a sight to behold, and I imagine they brought a lot of people into that particular shoe store, with all the colorful leather tooling on them.

      Reply
  • Anonymous

    August 22, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    Could I do something similar with the new line of Astorias? I have two pairs, one from the original lot and one from the new one (I wear them to work a lot . . . ), and the straps on the newer ones aren't as fitted. I'd imagine I can just adjust them slightly on both sides?

    Thanks!

    Reply
    • Lauren Stowell

      August 25, 2014 at 5:04 AM

      Hi Eleanora – the fly should be as straight as possible. It doesn't need to keep in line with the top edge of the boots, or the previous placement of the buttons. Pull it as tight and smooth as you can.

      Reply
  • Cassidy

    August 24, 2014 at 10:19 PM

    Thank you so much for this! I tried mine on out of the box and was a little dismayed at how loose they were – good to know that this is intentional and can be fixed.

    Reply
  • Paula

    June 26, 2015 at 10:07 PM

    Just a suggestion: wouldn't it make more sense to sell the boots without the buttons attached so the customer can fit the boots to their ankles without any extra holes in the leather either sewn by themselves or by a professional shoe maker? As the holes will for ever and always stay in the leather they will be susceptible to stress and tearing later on in the shoes life.
    I myself would prefer to get the shoes with loose buttons that I can attach where needed instead of ankles that are deliberately loose.

    Reply

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