The Evolution of the Button

by Beth Cooper

What do you know about the history of buttons? Buttons, those small, often overlooked elements that play a significant role in our lives, holding together fabrics and fashioning statements of style. The history of sewing buttons is a fascinating journey through time, reflecting both functional necessity and artistic expression. From their humble beginnings as practical fasteners to becoming ornate embellishments, buttons have woven themselves deeply into the fabric of human culture. Let’s take a thread-back journey through history to explore the evolution of sewing buttons.

Ancient Origins

The history of buttons dates back thousands of years. The earliest forms were not the traditional circular discs we’re familiar with today, but rather primitive fasteners made from natural materials like bone, shell, and even thorns. These rudimentary closures were essential for keeping garments securely fastened and provided a foundation for the buttons we use today.

The First Button

The Indus Valley Civilization are credited with the invention of the button and the earliest one we have in existence today dates from around 2000 BC and is made from a curved shell. The first buttons were used as ornamental embellishments to a person’s attire and signified wealth or status.

Buttoned Beginnings

The concept of buttons as we know them began to emerge around the 13th century. Initially, they were made from precious materials like ivory and metals, making them a symbol of wealth and prestige. However, these buttons were often decorative rather than functional, as the practical buttonhole had not yet been developed. Instead, garments were secured using lacing and other methods.

history of buttons

The Renaissance: Buttonholes and Beyond

The true turning point for buttons came during the Renaissance. The invention of the buttonhole allowed buttons to evolve from mere decorations to functional fasteners. This innovation revolutionized clothing design by providing a secure and efficient method of fastening. The button and buttonhole combination spread rapidly, becoming a staple in fashion design across Europe.

18th and 19th Centuries: Industrialization and Innovation

The Industrial Revolution brought mechanization to button production, making them more accessible to a wider range of people. The availability of new materials like glass, porcelain, and early plastics led to a proliferation of button designs, from simple and utilitarian to intricate and ornate. Buttons became an important means of self-expression, showcasing personal style and societal trends.

history of buttons

20th Century: From Function to Fashion

The 20th century marked a significant shift in the role of buttons. With the rise of ready-to-wear clothing, buttons were no longer just practical fasteners; they became central to fashion aesthetics. Designers began to experiment with buttons as decorative elements, using them to add flair and uniqueness to their creations. This era also saw the emergence of novelty buttons, which featured quirky shapes and designs.

Contemporary Expressions

In today’s fashion landscape, buttons continue to be both functional and artistic. The range of materials, shapes, and sizes available allows designers and hobbyists alike to explore their creativity. High-fashion designers often use buttons as focal points, turning them into statement pieces that capture attention and define a garment’s identity.

These buttons by Lori Holt are adorable! Find them here.

Environmental and Ethical Considerations

As the world becomes more conscious of sustainability and ethical practices, the button industry has also evolved. Sustainable materials like wood, bamboo, and recycled plastics are being used to create eco-friendly buttons. Additionally, a resurgence of interest in vintage and handmade buttons reflects a desire to reconnect with craftsmanship and history.

So, the next time you fasten a button, take a moment to appreciate the rich history that’s woven into that tiny, indispensable artifact.

Want to read more about the history of sewing? Check out our history page here!

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4 months ago

I have a huge tin of old buttons. Some going back to my great grandmother. Don’t know what to do with them. Any ideas? Sometimes I think I should just donate them to the town historical society

Cheryl Hall
Cheryl Hall
2 months ago
Reply to  Irene

First thing you do is remove them from the tin they are in. NOT good for them. Metal buttons need air. Corrode (turn green). , plastic buttons (celluloid) will disintegrate.
you can find more information from your state button society or the National Button Society.

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