History Lesson: A Story About Clothing with Buttons
Posted on August 05 2019
“Women are like buttons…
They hold things together…”
The earliest known button in history to have been discovered was made of shell in the Indus Valley and dated back to 5,000 years ago. Buttons made from shell were the jewelry of this time and they became popular from 2,800 to 2,000 BC. At this time, buttons were made into geometric shapes that fit into loops on clothing. The ancient Romans held their heavy flowing garments together with buttons made of strong shells, bone, horn, bronze, and wood. Buttons, along with buckles, brooches, and straight pins were used as decorative fastenings in during this time.
The history of buttons tells us button holes weren’t invented until the 13th century. The first button guild was started in 1250 in France. Royal demand drove craftsmen to create intricate, beautiful little works of art in their buttons. During this time in the history of buttons, tight fitting clothing was the fad and buttons made it easier to make a snug, bespoke outfit. King Louis XIV was known to have spent 5 million dollars on buttons during his 72 year reign. Clothing with buttons was a profitable side business for any artisan of the day. Artists painted on buttons, silversmiths crafted fine silver buttons, carpenters carved ornate wooden buttons, textile makers made colorful buttons covered in silk, and potters baked buttons made of clay. To this day, France is known for having some of the most beautiful and priceless buttons of history.
By the 16th century, the button guilds regulated the types of buttons made and passed laws proclaiming who wore what style of buttons. The rich wore decorative clothing with buttons made of glass, gold, silver, and ivory. The poor were not allowed to wear ornate buttons of the rich and they were limited to how many buttons were worn on their garments.
England adopted the button trend as well and pushed it forward with mass production. At this time in the history of buttons, France was slower to industrialize and England had the capabilities to open finely crafted clothing with buttons to all income levels with stamping, molding, and casting. Queen Victoria, the fashionista of the mid 19th century, put buttons front and center for every woman. Young women would collect buttons for charm bracelets and necklaces. Legend said that if a girl collected 1,000 buttons on a “charm string”, Prince Charming would come to ask for her hand in marriage. After the death of her husband, Queen Victoria popularized the use of black glass buttons to express the mourning of royalty.
King Frederick the Great of Prussia, who reigned during the 18th century, ordered buttons to be sewn to the coat sleeves of his troops’ uniforms. This was to discourage the men from wiping their noses on their sleeves. We, women, have always worn our hearts on our sleeves, but we certainly do not wipe our noses on our sleeves!
In 1913, the zipper was invented in New Jersey. This, along with cheaper materials and mass production caused the fancy, ornate buttons of history to fade from popularity. Costume jewelry became the new trend for dressing up an outfit. Even with this decline, clothing with buttons continues to be a functional staple for jackets, pants, purses and other items. And, they hold steady as a fashion choice that still creates stylish dresses, cardigans, boots and more.
Just learning about the fancy history of buttons makes me want to dress up some outfits with them! As in ancient times, purely ornamental and functional buttons are still used today to spice up clothing. Take a look at the above dress and see how some simple brown buttons create a line on this dress that helps your eye move up and down over the entire length of the dress. A dress or a shirt enclosed in the front with buttons gives you the option to create a lower neckline if you want, which can be perfect for a layered look.
Cardigans are another perfect modern day clothing option that can showcase functional buttons. You can find jean jackets with metal snap fasteners, soft flowing cardigans with small buttons, or vests with pocket and frontal shank buttons. Modern button materials may have replaced ancient materials of buttons from history like gold, jewels, and clay stampings, but plastics and cheaper metals make them a wallet friendly way to add a vintage and classic look to your outfits.
Check out A Corner Cottage, Too clothing and accessories and discover tops, dresses, bottoms, and jumpsuits adorned with stylish buttons. Keep it chic and classy with our comfortable clothing for everyday wear.