They’re small. We usually don’t give them much thought. But they’re often very important to us. What are we talking about? Buttons, of course!

No one really knows who invented the button or when. Archeologists have found primitive devices used to fasten clothes together dating back as far as 3,000 B.C. These devices, though, weren’t really buttons like we think of them today.

It probably wasn’t until the 1200s in Europe that buttons, as we know them today, were invented and became popular. From the outset, though, they weren’t common items that everyone had access to. Instead, they were often miniature works of art that were seen as symbols of rank and wealth.

In fact, many old buttons can now be found in museums and private collections all over the world. By the 1800s, artisans were crafting buttons out of all sorts of materials, including precious metals, jewels, shells, animal horns, wood, clay and even expensive cloth, like silk.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the invention of manufacturing machines led to mass production of plastic buttons like the ones that are on the clothing we wear today. Instead of works of art, these buttons are functional. They have a job to do, which is to keep your clothes fastened together and help keep the weather out!

For example, you may have heard the phrase “button up” from time to time. To “button up” means to fasten your clothes tightly — with buttons, of course! — to keep out the weather. Of course, we can use zippers to do this, too!

“Button up” can also be used more generally to mean to close something securely or to finish up the details of an ongoing project. For example, you might “button up” a tool shed before winter arrives, or you might “button up” the citations for a research paper for school.

All these meanings refer back to the button’s purpose in fastening things together. If your teacher tells you to “button up” while she’s talking, that means you should probably fasten your lips together, stop talking and pay attention!

As you start to pay more attention to buttons and the role they play in your day-to-day life, you might notice a couple of interesting things. For example, have you ever noticed how the top and bottom buttonholes on a dress shirt are horizontal (side-to-side) rather than vertical (up and down)?

Why is that? It’s purely practical. Vertical buttonholes allow buttons to be fastened more easily. That means they can also come undone more easily. Making the top and bottom buttonholes horizontal makes them stronger and less likely to come undone, which is important since the neckline (top) and the waistline (bottom) areas of a shirt receive more stress from pulling and tugging and tucking than the other areas of your shirt.

You might also notice that men’s and women’s shirts button from different sides. On men’s shirts, the buttons are on the right (as you wear the shirt). On women’s shirts, the buttons are on the left.

The historical reason for this is that, when buttons first became popular, most men buttoned their shirts themselves. Since most people are right-handed, it made sense to put the buttons on the right side of the shirt (again, as you’re wearing the shirt and looking down at your buttons) for convenience.

Women at that time, on the other hand, usually had maids who would help them get dressed. Having the buttons on the left side meant that, to the maids trying to button the clothing, they would be on their right side and easier to button.

Why didn’t this change when maids became less popular? Sort of like the QWERTY keyboard, it just became common practice and no one ever thought it was important enough to change!

52 Join the Discussion

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    • We appreciate you sharing what you think the next Wonder will be about, Rahul! Let’s all visit Wonderopolis again tomorrow morning to see if your guess was correct! :-)

    • You were super close, Kate! We think “second comment” is just as awesome! We appreciate ALL the AMAZING comments we get from our Wonder Friends…thanks for being one of them! :-)

    • Happy Tuesday, Sydney! Guess what? You can find out all about the phrase “button up” by re-visiting today’s Wonder of the Day®! We had LOTS of fun learning about buttons, and we hope you do, too! :-)

    • Thanks so much for leaving us this GREAT comment and adding something extra and WONDERful to today’s Wonder, Shundee! We really appreciate that you visit Wonderopolis every day! In fact, we think it’s AWESOME! :-)

    • We really love your enthusiasm for Wonderopolis, Annie! Great job on guessing what today’s Wonder was about, too! We’ll have to see about tomorrow’s Wonder…we can’t wait! :-)

  1. Thanks for the Wondrous Wonder! We think tomorrow’s wonder might be “why do people sneeze?” We were a little lost on the video, but are looking forward to tomorrow! Many of us didn’t know that men’s and women’s clothing had buttons on different sides. See you tomorrow!

    • Thanks for letting us know you thought today’s Wonder was WONDEROUS, Mr. Draper’s Class! We appreciate you telling us what you guys thought about the video, too! Sometimes we choose a video to accompany a Wonder of the Day® that just makes us smile like today’s video did! We thought it was super cute when the little boy said, “buttons!” :-)

    • They’re a super clever way to keep your clothes fastened, Dill! We liked learning about buttons and “buttoning up” today, and we hope you did, too! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing your opinion of commenting first, Clayton! Some Wonder Friends get a sense of accomplishment and appreciate letting us know they were EXCITED to visit Wonderopolis and learn some cool new things! We think it ROCKS that we are all different and enjoy commenting in different ways! We hope you have a WONDERful day! :-)

  2. I liked that video because it was really cute, and now I know that I might have a boys shirt because it has buttons on right side. (Hannah)

    I know that buttons can button your shirt. (Preston).

    Have a wonderful day. We love you Wonderopolis!

    Yeah!

    • You guys are GREAT, Hannah, Preston and KF Dragons! Thanks for brightening our Wonder day by leaving us this SUPER comment! :-)

    • We like that question, Chance! Buttons are important because they help keep our clothes fastened and keep us looking well-dressed! We think they’re really fun to WONDER about, too! Thanks for sharing your comment with us today! :-)

    • Thanks for WONDERing about buttons with us today, Bryce! We appreciate your comment and your point of view! :-)

    • We thought that was super interesting to learn, too, Amos! It’s FUN to WONDER about the history of things sometimes! Thank you for being a GREAT Wonder Friend and hanging out in Wonderopolis today! :-)

  3. Tomorrow’s Wonder might be about having a cold, or a runny nose, or bloody noses, sneezing, or about how tissues were invented.

    We liked the craft ideas for making button beings or button bracelets. :)

    Thanks, Wonderopolis!

    • Thanks for letting us know you liked exploring all the cool button crafts found in this Wonder today, Miss Kirsten’s Kindergarten GT Class! We hope you guys have FUN making some of them to share! Your ideas for tomorrow’s Wonder all sound SUPER interesting…we can’t wait to visit Wonderopolis tomorrow! :-)

    • We’re not 100% sure, Mr. Flab, but we don’t think so! Unless there was once a really fashionable dinosaur called the Button-Up-a-Saurus! We WONDER what that dinosaur might have looked like? :-)

  4. Hey wonderopolis! I am in the mood today, reading this wonder made my day. I like this wonder and it is very cool to read about. Cool things to learn about!!!

    • We’re so happy that you are having a much better day today, Emily, and that you visited this Wonder of the Day®! We hope you had as much FUN learning about buttons as we did! :-)

    • Hi, Rosa! Thanks so much for visiting today’s Wonder of the Day®! There are LOTS of ways to “button up!” You can learn about them by re-exploring today’s Wonder! :-)

    • Thanks for sharing how you “button up,” Cody! Did you have as much FUN as we did learning about other ways the phrase “button up” is used? Thanks for visiting Wonderopolis again today and leaving us another AWESOME comment! YOU ROCK! :-)

  5. I see you guys took my idea for the Wonderopolis app. I have been waiting for the app for a long time. Thank you for using my idea! :D

    • We’re glad you thought this Wonder was COOL, Asher, and we think your idea for a future Wonder about doorbells is AWESOME! Thanks so much for suggesting it! :-)

  6. Buttons are used for lots of things…. shirts, dolls, decor, even pants. Think about what would happen if we didn’t have buttons for pants…that would be bad.

    • What a GREAT comment, Devan! Even though some types of pants don’t use buttons, we totally agree with you about the buttons thing. We think buttons are AWESOME! Thanks for stopping by this Wonder of the Day® and sharing what you think about them with everyone in Wonderopolis! :-)

    • We think it’s AWESOME that you liked learning and WONDERing in Wonderopolis today, Jelin! Thanks for leaving us another great comment! :-)

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed this Wonder about buttons, Melanie! Thanks for letting us know you liked it, and THANKS for being a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

    • That’s a great question, Devan! Most of the comments we receive from our AMAZING Wonder Friends are ones we can share with everyone. Once in a while, though, a Wonder Friend leaves us a comment that might be offensive or mean, so we don’t share those with everyone. We appreciate receiving every comment, though, so THANK YOU for sharing YOURS with us today! :-)

    • That Wonder is a favorite of MANY Wonder Friends, Eleanor! The Phineas and Ferb video was AWESOME, too! Thank you for sharing that you liked the AGLET Wonder of the Day®. For those Wonder Friends who might like to explore the Wonder Eleanor is referring to, check it out here:

      Wonder #528 – What Is an Aglet? http://wonderopolis.org/wonder/what-is-an-aglet/. :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • What’s the right way to button up?
  • Why do men’s shirts button on a different side than women’s shirts?
  • Why are the top and bottom buttonholes on a shirt horizontal?

Wonder Gallery

buttons_shutterstock_74097121Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to have some fun with buttons? Ask a friend or family member if they have some buttons that you can use to make some of the crafty button projects below. If you want, you can also always go to the store to buy a variety pack of buttons.

When you’re finished, share your project with your Wonder Friends! Post a picture of it on Facebook and let everyone know how much fun you had making it. We can’t wait to see what you come up with!

 

Still Wondering

Check out Illuminations’ Shirts Full of Buttons lesson to explore subtraction in the comparative mode by answering questions of “How many more?” and “How many less?” as you match sets of buttons.

 

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