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George Washington’s 1789 inauguration gave the world its first political button.

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A button packs an extraordinary amount of information about a given time and place—its provenance—onto a crowded little canvas.

Children learn to button and unbutton early in life, and they keep doing it until they’re dead. ) But in this episode, Roman Mars’ beloved short-form design podcast asks how sound designers make “organic sounds for inorganic things.” The clicks, sproings, and clatters that sound engineer Jim Mc Kee demonstrates for Mars are the background noise of everyday life for people who use digital devices.

Courtiers might accept an unbuttoned sleeve from a lady as a love token, or wave sleeves in jubilation at a jousting tourney.

After the Renaissance in Europe, buttons—along with many other things—became increasingly baroque, then rococo.

(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.

Franco Jacassi, reputedly the world’s biggest button-collector, describes this as a time when you could pay off a debt by plucking a precious button from your suit.

Italians still describe the rooms where powerful leaders meet as On women’s clothes particularly, buttons traced the body’s lines in suggestive ways, making clothes tight in all the right places or offering up intriguing points of entry.

Men usually donned their own shirts, so their buttons faced right for their convenience.

Women with ladies’ maids wore their buttons on the left, to make it easier for the maids to maneuver while facing them.

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.

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