button, knoblike appendage used on wearing apparel either for ornament or for fastening. Although buttons were sometimes used as fasteners by Greeks and Romans, they were more often merely ornamental disks. They first became widely used when fitted garments came into use in the 13th cent., and their popularity has varied with the changes in fashion. In the 16th cent. they were magnificent and were classed among the vanities; made of silver or gold and jeweled, they were often set in a long row touching one another. In the 17th cent. cloth-covered buttons with embroidered decoration were popular; buttons appeared on everything, even handkerchiefs. The Puritans, considering buttons a vanity, used hooks and eyes. Early settlers in North America often used buttons in trading with the indigenous peoples. The manufacture of buttons began in the United States c.1826. Buttons, originally made of bronze or bone, have also been made of materials such as metal, porcelain, paste, wood, ivory, horn, pearl, glass, and plastic. There are two main types, those made with holes and those with shanks. The latter have a loop of metal let in through a hole or soldered into place.
See D. Epstein and M. Safro, Buttons (1991); D. J. Wisniewski, Antique & Collectible Buttons (1997).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.