Buttons have been around for centuries and come in various shapes, styles, finishes and colors. But have you ever wondered why we have the buttons we do?

Interesting Facts About Buttons

Evolution of the button

Buttons were initially more ornamental than functional. Seashells, stones and metals were the first materials used. Wooden, glass and domed shapes emerged as clothing became more opulent for the wealthy.

By the late 19th century, flat colorful styles were made from milk-based casein and a formaldehyde solution to harden them. Blanks were stamped from a sheet or cut from rolls. Today’s new plastics and resins have increasingly replaced them.

Left vs. right

Have you noticed that placement is different for men than for women? Men’s garments wrap from left to right with the button on the right side. Most men were right-handed and dressed themselves whereas servants dressed women of wealth. Placing them on the left side made it possible to face the buttons while completing the task. Also, most women were right-handed and held their babies in their left arm to nurse. Easy access was essential.

Button-down collars

They actually did serve a purpose and horseback riding was the catalyst! Imagine going out for a hack with your shirt collar constantly flapping in your face. Rather annoying, huh? Shirt collars were originally attached separately so buttoning them down was the perfect solution, especially for polo players. In 1896, Brooks Brothers ran with the idea calling the shirt, as we know it today, “The Original Polo Shirt.”

Functional buttonholes

Long ago, workers in the field as well as doctors attending to patients realized that rolling their sleeves up would keep them clean longer. Sleeves were fitted so narrowly that squeezing one’s hand through the cuff was difficult unless it could be unbuttoned.

Standard buttons

Not every button on a sleeve perform a job. Some, especially those on off-the-rack garments, are just for show. They’re sewn onto the outside of the sleeve.

Imitation buttonholes

These non-functioning buttonholes are more common in custom clothing. They can be stitched on the outside of the sleeve with stitching done in almost any color.

Kissing buttons

Coat sleeve styles can be stacked in one of three ways. “Kissing” buttons overlap one another slightly—a popular style with European garments. More common ways are to have them barely touch each other or to be spaced slightly apart. Do you know the rules for buttoning your suit?

Stacked Buttons

One to four buttons can be stacked. The more you have, the more formal the look. Some bespoke tailors advise leaving the one closest to your wrist undone to display the fine workmanship of the suit. I find it unnecessary. After all, the overall details and hand stitching of a bespoke suit are already hard to miss!

Now that you’re an expert, check out the different button placements and styles you can choose when designing a custom made shirt.

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