Zoom September 2013

Yes, those innocuous little fasteners called buttons are on many of the garments in your closet, but there’s a lot of history behind those diminutive discs. Their most distant ancestors were often ornamental and made by hand—the earliest known was crafted out of seashell 5,000 years ago in Pakistan. This was followed by the hefty garment closures of Ancient Rome and expensive versions bedecking clothes of rich Middle Agers. Later, more elaborate ones were de rigueur in the royal courts of post-Renaissance Europe. These worked a little differently than the ones on your polo shirt. The birth of the modern flat “sew-through” button came about with the advent of buttonholes, first appearing around the 13th century. Before this, buttons used to fasten clothes had a shank, a small loop on the back that was sewn onto the fabric. This style can be seen today largely on formalwear. Strongly riveted, snappable studs coincided with the invention of denim jeans in the 19th century. Around the same time, the Industrial Revolution modernized the button manufacturing process, which is why a single plastic button today costs less than 1/100th of a cent.

michael isenbek

Michael Isenbek, Associate Editor, dabbles in both fiction and nonfiction writing, coordinates the Pulse event listings and writes the text for "Zoom," among other editorial tasks. He has a Master's Degree in Liberal Studies and a Bachelor's Degree in Cultural Studies with a concentration in Journalism from SUNY Empire State College.