Back dating history

The button—with its self-contained roundness and infinite variability—has a quiet perfection to it.

Among the more extreme examples were “habitat” buttons, built to contain keepsakes like dried flowers, hair cuttings or tiny insects under glass.

Hollowed-out smuggler buttons allowed thieves to transport jewels and other booty secretly.

But, on both men’s clothes and women’s, buttons helped accentuate lovely lines, of the arm, say, or the bosom.

Buttons came in all shapes and sizes, but most often they were mounted on a shank; you ran thread through the shank’s hole to attach the button to fabric.

This design was lost with them until it re-emerged in mid-19, “clothes began to be made so close-fitting that they followed the lines of the body from shoulders to hips like a glove.” Buttons helped that snug fit along.

This didn’t mean clothes were cut more sparingly; wealthy people still liked the costly display of excess fabric.

(Reinforced buttonholes weren’t invented until the mid-13 Along with brooches, buckles, and straight pins, buttons were used in ancient Rome as decorative closures for flowing garments. Some designs took the functional pressure off buttons by knotting the fabric securely into position, then topping off the look with a purely ornamental button.

(Incidentally, as a button alternative, Mycenaeans of the Roman era invented the fibula, a surprisingly modern forerunner to our safety pin.

(This tradition of buttons-for-crime resurfaced in a heroin-smuggling attempt in 2009.) Ornate buttoning among the wealthy required some help.

Around this era is when buttons migrated to different sides of a shirt for men and women.

Political buttons took on a more recognizably modern (and less functional) shape during Lincoln’s 1864 re-election campaign.

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