What is a button?:
fashion design, a button is a small disc- or knob-shaped,
typically round, object usually attached to an article of
clothing in order to secure an opening, or for
ornamentation. Functional buttons work by slipping the button
through a fabric or thread loop, or by sliding the button through a
slit called a
Buttons may be
manufactured from an extremely broad variety of
materials, including natural materials such as
vegetable ivory, and
or synthetics such as
If I could
put the history of the button into a surmised page of text then I
could never have done it as beautifully as the webpage “A History of
the Button”, by Roy Earnshaw (2):
A.D. ETIENNE BOILEAU, Provost of Paris (sort of like the Mayor)
established laws governing French craft guilds (sort of like
unions). One of these was the button maker’s guild.
candidates had to be at least 17 years of age, of legitimate birth,
and willing to fork over a fifth of their wages to the guild, a
tenth to their king.
about the earliest recorded indication that buttons were becoming
increasingly popular. And, they were also becoming buttons in the
true modern sense, thanks to the invention of the buttonhole by some
unknown genius, perhaps as early as the 13th century.
found buttons aesthetically pleasing. Inevitably, they came to be
symbols of rank, affluence and, unfortunately, oppression.
commoners couldn't afford the fancy, finely-crafted tapestry or
metal buttons the aristocrats had taken to wearing. But even had
they scraped together the necessary francs, they couldn't have worn
them: royal decree restricted them to plain cloth- or thread-covered
have rankled, especially given the extravagant tastes of the
aristocracy, who aped the even more lavish styles of the French
lust for fancier and fancier buttons, the French kings drove the
increasingly skillful guild button makers to new heights of
artistry, soon establishing France as the center of the world's
burgeoning button industry.
Francis I of France, for instance, had a formal costume adorned with
13,600 buttons, and resembled a Las Vegas casino when the bright
light hit him.
later, Louis XIV embarked upon a 72-year reign of button buying that
ultimately cost France over five million dollars, thereby draining
the national treasury. (Four wars and a new palace at Versailles
also contributed.) The Sun King favored gold buttons embellished
with precious stones, and doled them out to whichever of his
mistresses pleased him most.
kings got in the act too. Charles I of England, a contemporary of
the Sun King, popularized the use of handkerchiefs decorated with
jeweled buttons. (He was later beheaded, but not for that particular
tastes were gaudy. Precious metals were abundant. Closer-fitting,
more button-laden garments had come into style. (And most coats now
had buttons on the sleeves, to discourage men from using them as
napkins.) All these things helped usher in the century in which the
button shines forth in its greatest magnificence. “
have been found to exist as far back as the Bronze age when they
were worn as ornamentation. Though it is thought that the button can
be linked way back to 2000BC; to southern Asia around the Indus
Valley region, where they were used as a decoration – a commonality
that continued well throughout the ages. Although not called
buttons, these adornments were used to decorate belts and other
metal, a sign of prestige and rank. Primitive man used thorn and
sinew to hold clothing together. Bone stick pins were also used. The
evolution of the button in man’s hands saw the early Greeks and
Romans using shell, and wood buttons as standard closures.
the introduction of metals came, clothing was closed with metal
pins. Though this ruined fabrics from the constant use of repining
on and off.
Egyptians used cloth ties and broaches or buckles to hold their
clothes together. The Greeks and Romans are thought to have worn
buttons to actually fasten clothes. They sometimes even attached
them to pins; while other early European ruins have unearthed
various button examples of ivory, bone, jeweled, gold and silver.
century saw form-fitting clothes come into vogue and buttons became
necessary as fasteners. For a long time buttons were a status symbol
and men competed to see who could have the best, the largest or the
most intricate buttons. They were used by the nobility and made of
silver and gold. Buttons were made with exquisite paintings on them.
They were carved, inlaid, stamped and covered. Craftsmen were hired
just to make buttons.
It wasn't until sometime in the 13th century that the idea of a
buttonhole and button was conceived. Here are a few notable dates in
the button hall of fame:
*1200s Western Europe - tighter fitting clothing and more
delicate fabrics required less harmful closings than pins which led
to the modern, functional button.
*1300s-1400s -- Button mania ensued with excesses of
buttonholes covering nearly every inch of garments. Peaked by 15th
century when jeweled and gold buttons returned as decorations.
*1500s - Handmade covered buttons popular during Elizabethan
*1520 - King Francis I of France ordered 13,400 gold buttons
to fasten a black velvet suit for his meeting with Henry VII of
England about an alliance. Henry himself was just as vain and button
*1600s - Diamond buttons were desirable. The First Duke of
Buckingham had a suit and cloak covered with them around 1625. King
Louis XIV of France spent $600,0000 in one year on his buttons and a
mere $5 million on them during his lifetime! (3)
How Buttons Were Made:
his meeting with Henry VII of England about an alliance. Henry
himself was just as
of the Button, by Roy Earnshaw.