Button styles through the ages
According to one historian, the first recorded use of buttons was for ornamental purposes, rather than practical, similar to some upholstery buttons we see today.
Buttons date back to prehistoric times, and were originally fashioned from materials such as shell, ivory, bronze, gold argent and even bone. As far back as 1600 BC, buttons were found to be a luxury garment decoration which adorned kings of Mediterranean civilisations such as the Greeks.
Look at this prehistoric stone button with its hole pierced for suspension purposes. It is thought to date back to 5000 BC, and was discovered in the Syrian, Anatolian region of the Middle East.
The Middle Ages saw the introduction of a flatter design, often decorated with stones. By the time of the Crusades (1200 AD), it had become common to wear clothes closer to the body, meaning the practical use of buttons came to the fore. Some medieval buttons were made from cloth, and others from metal. Usually this was determined by the status of the wearer.
These viking buttons are demonstrative of the geometric style of patterns that were common at that time.
Fast forward to the 1500s, and there is evidence to suggest that covering buttons with fabric became a popular practice. During the Renaissance, buttons, often decorated with jewels, commonly adorned hats, sleeves and shirts of the wealthy, while the lower classes were more likely to wear buttons manufactured from wood, copper or leather. Whatever the material, it is clear buttons were very much the thing to wear during this period!
With the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, button styles changed with the introduction of machinery capable of mass producing products. This is widely acknowledged to have led to a decrease in quality in button manufacturing, but someone who wasn’t short of quality buttons was Queen Victoria herself. The buttons she wore in mourning after Prince Albert’s death in 1861 were seen as being held in such high regard that they were widely copied for years afterwards, usually using black glass instead of jewellery. The style is still copied today, as shown by this collection sold by a US retailer.
Moving into the modern era, the style of buttons becomes more complicated. With so many waves in retro fashion, the button has retained the decorative use of old, but there is no predominant style. Buttons are also still essential practical items which are very much here to stay.
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