Once simply ornamental, the button as a means to fasten clothes has been around since 13th century Germany. Since then, various materials like wood, clay, shells, and plastic have been used to make buttons in every size, shape, and color. A button jar can morph into a great craft project, extra game tokens, or fashion embellishment. We have zippers and Velcro now, but buttons are more fun, engaging, and whimsical. Buttons can even be works of art, so take time to appreciate those useful, pretty little things on National Button Day on November 16.
National Button Day Timeline
Button Makers Guild established
The French established the first collective that designed artisan buttons, making buttons a status symbol.
The church denounced buttons
Europe was so crazy that the church started calling them the “devil’s snare.” This was probably because most women’s clothing of the time buttoned up the front.
Button-down collars invented
Polo players were the first to button down their collars to stop them from getting in the way during a match; Brooks Brothers copied the look and created a lasting trend in 1896.
Muscatine, Iowa, became the pearl button capital of the world
Noting the abundance of pearl mussels in nearby waters, a German immigrant opened a button-making factory in a small town in Iowa, which soon became the world’s largest manufacturer of pearl buttons.
Buttoned up button
A button once part of a Texas confederate navy uniform circa the Civil War sold for over $2,000.
National Button Day Activities
- Upcycle with buttons
- Have a shirt you don’t wear anymore? Change out the controls and make it new again. Sew on shiny metal buttons to give it an on-trend military look, or sew on kitschy novelty buttons to reflect your favorite hobby, animal, or food. Be unique, original, and eco-friendly all at the same time.
- Go on a treasure hunt
- Hit a thrift shop, rummage, or garage sale. Be on the lookout for old clothing with unique buttons. Collectors love finding ones depicting mini works of art worn by famous people or reflecting a particular era. Research to see if any of your finds are worth more than what you paid.
- Start a button jar
- Snip buttons from new pieces of clothing, claim ones you find lying loose, buy novelty ones when it strikes your fancy, or pick ones up on the cheap when thrifting. Then, the next time you need a button, you’ll have a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and colors from which to choose.
3 Facts To Push Your Buttons
- What side you button up on is gender-based
- Women’s clothing traditionally had buttons on the right (reportedly because it was easier for maids to dress the ladies they served that way) and men’s on the left (they dressed).
- Boutonnière means buttonhole in French
- Boutonnieres go through a little slit in the lapel of men’s jackets that looks the same as a buttonhole, so we repurposed the French word for buttonhole to describe the flower in English.
- Buttons on uniform sleeves were put there to stop soldiers from wiping their noses
- Widely repeated but never satisfactorily confirmed, it is said that Napoleon ordered brass buttons be placed on the sleeves of all military uniforms so soldiers would be discouraged from wiping their noses on them.
Why We Love National Button Day
- Buttons keep everything together
- Buttons as a fastener date back to 13th-century Germany. Throughout history, people went so crazy for control that they became a status symbol. But beyond all that, those little buttons do a great job of keeping our clothes together. Thank you, buttons!
- Button jars double as entertainment
- The things you can make out of buttons are endless. Rings, hair ties, preschool learning games, clothespin racers, tree ornaments, earrings, magnets, picture frames, and whatever else you can think up. Buttons offer inexpensive rainy-day fun and imaginative play for all ages and are an excellent cure for boredom.
- Buttons have spawned some perfect phrases
- Without that ideal little fastener, we wouldn’t have some of the most descriptive words in the English language. But since we do, we can call people cute as a button or all buttoned up. Tell people to button their lips, which is oh-so-much nicer than shutting your mouth. Hit the panic button or be so happy we bust our buttons. See? Controls make the world a little brighter. Or, as some might say, bright as a button.