Now we would now like to take a look at the Button. Not the kind that you push to get to your floor in an elevator nor the kind that you tap to turn off your phone. Here we are talking about the ancient and still every day item used in everything from clothing to home decoration. You can obviously find buttons in shirts, pants, as well as furniture and other home décor like drapery. Buttons come in a wide range of colors, sizes, shapes and materials. They have a rich and surprising history around the world. There are even museum displays dedicated entirely to buttons just as there are for clothing. One such famous place is the button exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution. The button is both a tool and a fashion statement. The button’s various uses, low cost and longevity probably means it will be with us forever.
The button is a type of fastener used mainly in clothing and most often in shirts and pants. But as mentioned previously you can also find them in furniture and in that case are mainly fabric buttons used as decoration and do not serve much purpose beyond that. The same can be said for large fabric buttons found on drapery. Most buttons are made of a from of plastic these days but you can still find many variations of this useful item.
Buttons have been unearthed by Archeologists that date back to 2,800 BC in both Middle and Eastern Asia. They were primarily used as a decoration first and then later it was found that they could serve as a useful item beyond just for looks. In some cases buttons are used for both aesthetics and function. Early buttons were an item that only high society would own until cheaper versions came along made of wood and bone and eventually were made of plastic as most are today. Some of these early buttons were actually art pieces that became collectibles for the wealthy. These early collectible buttons would have ornate carvings etched or inlaid into them and were not made for any clothing application but as an art piece. These were almost always bone or ivory and some even had precious stones added to them. Buttons that were used to hold clothing or fabric together first appeared in Germany in the 13th Century and were widely used in Europe within about 100 years. These types of buttons are the most common in the world. During World War I and II the military made locket buttons that contained miniature compasses. Buttons have proven to be such an important item that Charles Dickens even wrote about the process to make them in 1852.
Buttons have also shown up in political campaigns that date back to George Washington’s first campaign. The more modern style of campaign button is metal usually with a picture or slogan on the front. These are known as badge or pin-back buttons.
Before continuing on watch this short video on the manufacturing process of plastic buttons:
Button types and materials used
Buttons can be made from a variety of things. The earliest buttons were made of seashell or bone and even some were made of ivory. Eventually button making made its way to wood and then plastic and metal. Button that are still made of shell or bone tend to be reserved for collections as they are often one of a kind pieces made by an artist. Metal buttons are most common on jeans while plastic buttons are more common for shirts. The most common type of button is the flat or sew-thru button. These buttons have 2, 3 or 4 holes in them and are sewn onto the clothing item with thread. This type of button, after it is sewn to the clothing item, slides through a cut in the cloth known as a buttonhole or a loop of fabric. Flat buttons mostly come in metal or plastic and among these there are a few types. You have Dyed-to-match, which are colored to match the clothing item they are going on, there are Horn-tone buttons, which are plastic made with a brown and ivory coloring that somewhat resemble the antlers of an animal. Then the plain old metal button which is usually made of aluminum. Another type of button is the Shank button. These are much less common and involve a round button with a loop made of the same material attached to the back of it called a shank. You would sew the thread through the shank to attach it to your clothing item. This type of button would be mostly found in nice dress jackets and dresses. The last of the common buttons is a Stud button. These are metal pieces that are riveted onto the clothing item. These are much more durable which is why they are most commonly found on denim jackets and pants. These are fastened to the clothing in the same way that Flat buttons are.
Here some examples of clothing with various button types; Port Authority Silk Touch Shirt with Dyed-to-match buttons, Port Authority Long Sleeve Twill Shirt with Horn-tone buttons and Port Authority Authentic Denim Jacket with metal stud buttons.
As you can see buttons have a long and interesting history. They have changed a lot over time in both their uses as well as the materials used and who would own them. They have found there way into most clothing items we use and are very affordable which part of the reason they are so common. Last we leave you with a helpful video. Have you ever lost a button on your shirt or pants? Watch this video tutorial to learn how to sewn a button back onto a shirt. The same process works for pants and well.
Sewing 4-hole button onto a shirt