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Sunday, 6 October 2013


Prehistoric peoples held their garments in place with thorns and with cords made from animal sinews. Later, with the introduction of metals loose flowing robes were fastened with a girdle or a pin.

The Ancient Egyptians used cloth ties and broaches or buckles to hold their clothes together.

Buttons have been known to exist as far back as the Bronze age when they were worn as ornamentation. They were used to decorate belts and other metal objects.

In the tombs of Egypt and of Mycenae in Greece ornamental buttons of gold, glass, and earthenware from 2,500 to 4,000 years old have been found.

The ancient Greeks and Etruscans fastened their tunics at the shoulders with buttons and loops.

In Anglo-Saxon times buttons were unknown. Instead of "buttoning up" their coats, men fastened them by means of a ribbon which they pulled through holes in the lapel introduced for this very purpose.

In medieval Europe, skewers of wood, bone, ivory, silver, gold, or brass were used for fastening clothing, elaborately fashioned for persons of wealth and simply made of wood for common people.

Before the 13th century, the use of buttons to fasten your clothing was taken as an indication that you led a loose life.

It took the buttonhole to popularise the button in medieval Europe. Buttonholes were invented by Moorish tailors as a means of fastening garments and adopted in Europe in the 13th century. Then buttons became so prominent that in some places sumptuary laws were passed putting limits on their use. The earliest evidence comes from 13th-century German sculptures, which show tunics featuring six buttons running from neck to waist.

Buttons in fourteenth century Europe were hand-made in beautiful shapes and colors. They were both costly and decorative and used to boost the ego and attract attention. John Brandon, for example, who died in 1384, was shown with 40 buttons on the sleeve of his undervest alone.

The wearing of gold, silver, and ivory buttons in fourteenth century Europe was an indication of wealth and rank. Expensive buttons were also made of copper and its alloys. The metalsmith frequently embellished such buttons with insets of ivory, tortoiseshell, and jewels.

There was a button mania in the late Middle Ages, resulting, in some outfits adorned with thousands of buttons, all of them with accompanying buttonholes. Dressing and undressing became a laborious process, but created a niche for the employment of professional dressers.

Francis 1st of France (1494-1547) had 13,600 gold buttons on a single coat, which he wore when meeting King Henry VIII of England,.

In the 15th or 16th century someone discovered that a loop slipped over a button, or a button pushed through a slit in the cloth, made a better fastener for the close-fitting garments that were coming into style. For some time, however, the chief use continued to be ornamental.

The asymmetrical fastening of jackets of the wrapover style came into fashion in China during the 15th and 16th centuries and was worn by men and women, royalty and peasants. It was the material and the buttons that showed rank. Peasants wore rough cloth fastened with anything that came to hand while the emperor wore silk and furs fastened with jewels.

King Louis XIV had a coat with 123 diamond buttons on it.

In the 1700's metal buttons were used and button covering was created. Metal threads were wound about a button in intricate patterns. Miniature scenes were painted on ivory or glass buttons. Some buttons were engraved and inlaid with silver.

Frederick the Great organised the buttons on soldiers' coat sleeves being sewed on the top sides of their sleeves. This was to ensure that the soldiers would scratch their faces open every time they tried to wipe their noses on their tunics.

In the middle of the 18th century, Matthew Boulton, the English manufacturer and partner of James Watt, introduced the bright, costly, cut-steel button, which was made by attaching polished steel facets to a steel blank.  Matthew Boulton built the Soho manufactory near Birmingham. The factory produced small metal articles such as gilt and silver buttons and buckles.

The waistcoat of Toussaint Louverture, liberator of Haiti (1743-1803), had 18 buttons that were decorated with reproductions of London-based Italian artist Agostino Brunias's paintings.

Men's and women's buttons are placed on opposite sides because, historically, men have always dressed themselves and are mostly right handed and women who wore ornate clothing had assistants to help them dress.

During World War 2 Canada gave out buttons to people who tried to enlist but were refused due to medical reasons to show their willingness to fight.

Japanese male students often confess their love to a female by giving them the second button from the top of their school uniform. The second button is the one closest to the heart.

Today, 60 per cent of the world's buttons are made in one Chinese town, Qiaotou, which churns out 15bn buttons a year.

1 in 75,000 people suffer from koumpounophobia, the fear of buttons.

Sources The Daily Mail, Encyclopedia Britannica, The Independent, Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia © 1998 The Learning Company, Inc.

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