2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Engineering

A small flat button
A small flat button
Metal, plastic, and leather shank buttons.
Metal, plastic, and leather shank buttons.

In clothing and fashion design, a button is small disc- or knob-shaped, typically round, object usually attached to an article of clothing in order to secure an opening, or for ornamentation. Functional buttons work by slipping the button through a fabric or thread loop, or by sliding the button through a slit called a buttonhole.

Buttons may be manufactured from an extremely broad variety of materials, including natural materials such as antler, bone, horn, ivory, shell, vegetable ivory, and wood; or synthetics such as celluloid, glass, metal, and plastic.

Hard plastic is by far the most common material for newly manufactured buttons; the other materials tend to occur only in premium apparel.


Buttons and button-like objects used as ornaments rather than fasteners have been discovered in the ancient Indus Valley during its Kot Diji phase (circa 2800- 2600 BC) and Bronze Age sites in China (circa 2000- 1500 BC), and are attested in Ancient Rome. Functional buttons for clothing became widespread with the rise of snug-fitting clothing in 13th- and 14th-century Europe.

Types of buttons

  • Shank buttons have a small ring or a bar with a hole called the shank protruding from the back of the button, through which thread is sewn to attach the button.
  • Covered buttons are fabric-covered forms with a separate back piece that secures the fabric over the knob.
  • Flat or sew-through buttons have two or four holes punched through the button through which the thread is sewn to attach the button. Flat buttons may be attached by sewing machine rather than by hand, and may be used with heavy fabrics by working a thread shank to extend the height of the button above the fabric.
  • Worked or cloth buttons are created by embroidering or crocheting tight stitches (usually with linen thread) over a knob or ring called a form.
  • Mandarin buttons are knobs made of intricately knotted strings. Mandarin buttons are a key element in Mandarin dress (Qi Pao in Chinese), where they are closed with loops. Pairs of mandarin buttons worn as cuff links are called silk knots.

Button sizes

Buttons are commonly measured in lignes (also called lines and abbreviated L), with 40 lignes equal to 1 inch. For example, some standard sizes of buttons are 18L (11.43 mm, standard button of mens' shirts) and 32L (20.32 mm, typical button on suit jackets).

Types of buttonholes

Machine-stitched keyhole buttonhole with bar
Machine-stitched keyhole buttonhole with bar

Functional buttons (as opposed to decorative buttons) are normally paired with a buttonhole. Alternately, a decorative loop of cloth or rope may replace the buttonhole. Buttonholes may be either made by hand sewing or automated by a sewing machine. Types of buttonholes are:

  • A plain buttonhole, by far the most common type. In plain buttonholes, the raw (cut) edges of the fabric are finished with thread in very closely spaced stitches (if made by hand, often the button stitch). When stitched by hand, a slit is made in the fabric first and the result is called a worked buttonhole.

Sewing machines offer various levels of automation to creating plain buttonholes.

  • A machine-made buttonhole is usually sewn with two parallel rows of machine sewing in a narrow zig-zag stitch, with the ends finished in a broader zig-zag stitch. (One of the first automatic buttonhole machines was invented by Henry Alonzo House in 1862.)

When made by machine, the slit between the sides of the buttonhole is opened after the stiching is completed.

  • A bound buttonhole, which has its raw edges encased by pieces of fabric or trim instead of stitches.
  • A keyhole buttonhole is a special case of a thread-finished buttonhole that is normally machine-made due to the difficulty of achieving it by hand working. It is characterized by a round hole at the end of the slit to accommodate the button's shank without distorting the fabric.

Keyhole buttonholes are most often found on tailored coats and jackets.

Buttonholes often have a bar at either end. This is a row of perpendicular hand or machine stitching to reinforce the ends of a buttonhole.

Additional images

Buttoned doublet, later 16th century.

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