Member since 5/2/09
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Date: 11/16/12 5:10 AM
It probably depends on what they look like and how made. Have sewn lots of white, and white pearly shell buttons on all sorts of clothes. Most of mine, were probably originally made in the 1920's to 1940's though, and are the kind that have been cut off many garments repeatedly over the years and saved by people and just re-used many times. They are most times very uniform in shape, don't have any very thin places in between the holes in them, and are thick and smooth and well finished. They seem to all survive the Laundry (washing machine and hot dryer) just fine and probably for decades. Because just getting them wet and drying them does nothing bad to them at all. If new ones are made like that, they are probably fine in the laundry like that too.
The ones on nice silk blouses sold currently that I have ever bought (that look the same) seem to be fine too, but since they are more expensive than plastic buttons and most times only on more expensive silk blouses, those I don't toss in the washer and dryer and just wash by hand in the sink. Just because of the "silk blouse part", they are attached to.
I have bought some brand new shell buttons over the years, occasionally on cards on hangtags at big box fabric stores though,and I think even some of them were La Mode brand and some others, that instead of being white and thick and strong made, were more thinner or not as well and smoothly finished as the older ones and particular if gray/sliver pearly looking and not of uniform thickness and even a different texture on the back of them. They were more scooped out looking and not as nicely finished as the older past decades ones, some of those seemed to be very brittle in the layers (that you could even see on them) and rough on the edges, and cut too thin. Also the holes for thread to go though them I think were spaced too close together on those thinner made buttons. Running those though the laundry with other clothes, I think if they catch on things like other buttons, or hit into zippers in jeans, would be way more likely to break or chip off. Or just the places between the button holes in them, break out with wear or laundry. That has happened to me on that kind before, even if they were sort of expensive, just because they were not plastic. So I do think things like that were often made better in prior decades then now maybe sometimes.
So I think lots of shell buttons, made today, may not be as expensively and carefully (and as thickly cut) made as some from a lot of past decades back in time maybe, but just getting them wet won't hurt them at all. If not made thick and smooth and well finished though, going through the laundry, and getting banged around with other stuff in there, might be more likely to catch on them or any rough spots on them and break them up eventually. I don't know how to tell something like that from the internet, but I could tell just for me, if instead I was really holding them in my hand looking at them and feeling them instead, if I thought they would hold up, by just even comparing them to lots of 1920's and up ones I have handled before. Not sure if that is going to help you a whole bunch though.