Tag Archives: history

Buttons!

I’d always wanted to combine two of my favorite professions – archeology and the study of clothing – until I had a ‘duh’ moment, and realized there’s not a lot of clothing left down there.

Erm … yeah.

So I kind of dropped that idea. It’s always nice to return to it when I can, though. I love metal stuff, and metal usually survives pretty well underground. I call these O.R.Os – Old Rusty Objects. Here are a few O.R.Os (buttons) from the UK, all metal detector finds.

Some early buttons, and what is possibly a mount (top left picture, on left). The smallest buttons is like a doublet button, and is possibly lead. The oblong piece is a lead acorn-shaped button. The large button with a chip from the edge is a gorgeous medieval piece, with a fletched design in the center.

Three early buttons, and what is either a button or a mount (top left picture, on left). The smallest button is like a doublet button, and is possibly lead. The oblong piece is a lead acorn-shaped button, the loop at the top is broken off. The large button with a chip from the edge is a gorgeous medieval piece, with a design that reminds me of arrow fletching in the center.

Tudor doublet buttons and what might be an early sleeve button - if it's not early, it's 18th century. The doublet buttons always remind me of those Dots candies. The sleeve button here has a Tudor rose on it: my photography is bad and the button's corroded, so you may have to take my word for it.

Tudor doublet buttons and what might be a 15th c. sleeve button – if it’s not that early, it’s 17th – 18th century. The sleeve button here has a Tudor rose on it: my photography is bad and the button’s corroded, so you may have to take my word for it. The doublet buttons always remind me of those Dots candies. I like the one that’s ribbed. They are probably made of lead; they’re solid and pretty hefty.

Some tombac buttons from the 16th - 18th century, with one 18th century broken brass button. Tombac is an alloy of brass and copper, with possibly a little zinc, tin, or lead thrown in. Tombac is silvery-gold and seems somewhat stable - these buttons haven't corroded too badly.

Some tombac buttons from the 16th – 18th century, with a broken 18th century  brass button. Tombac is an alloy of brass and copper, with possibly a little zinc, tin, or lead thrown in. Tombac is silvery-gold and seems somewhat stable – these buttons haven’t corroded too badly. It was used for cheap buttons and jewelry.

One of my favorites: an 18th century sleeve button. It has a beautiful design of a ship under full sail.

One of my favorites: an 18th century sleeve button. It has a beautiful design of a ship under full sail. Like the earlier Tudor rose sleeve button, the link is neatly soldered so it wouldn’t stretch and fall apart. It’s a little ironic that on both examples, the second button itself broke off, instead of the link.

Another naval-themed 18th century button: a naval uniform button with a fouled anchor, haphazardly cut down to a smaller size.

Finally, another naval-themed 18th century button: a naval uniform button with a fouled anchor, haphazardly cut down to a smaller size. I guess it was easier to trim the button than enlarge the buttonhole – or maybe it wasn’t being used as a button any longer? Who knows.


The Wild Goose Chase That is “100%” Historical Accuracy

What is 100% historical accuracy? To me, it’s a hypothetical state of being in which no re-enactor, historian, or hobbyist is able to dispute your persona or prove you wrong on something. It’s my firm belief that 100% historical accuracy can never be achieved. Here’s a few of my reasons why.

a)    There’s always something else to discover. Tomorrow we could find out that what we believed as fact yesterday is inaccurate. Our perception of accuracy is always changing.

b)   What’s generally understood as correct for March 1782, England, might not be accurate for March 1782, Virginia. We might find out what is, but we also might not. Accuracy is always our best educated guess.

c)    As far as clothing is concerned, there’s a suggestion that 18th century human bodies were shaped a little differently – whether due to the clothing they wore, or the way they deported themselves. While I believe not everybody would have been shaped differently, there’s a chance that some were. So according to this idea, even if I strolled into a museum collection and put on the 18th century clothing there (not a good idea – it’s something I would never do!) it wouldn’t fit. By that logic, no matter what we do – whether it’s using 18th century patterns, techniques, and materials, we’ll never look the same as they did.

To further complicate things, how many people have you seen wearing clothes that went out of style ten, twenty years ago? Any point in time is, and was, occupied by variations in style. Here’s an example. Perhaps in one town in colonial America, there was a family from Germany and a family from Ireland, and a family from England. Maybe the English family is up-to-date with fashion. Maybe the German family is wearing regional costume that looks very different from the English clothes. Maybe the patriarch of the German family is wearing clothes that are 20+ years old, as well as being regional. Maybe the Irish family hasn’t been able to afford new clothes for years, and is wearing patched rags and second-hand pieces that don’t fit well. If a re-enactor is interpreting this town, the up-to-the-minute French-dictated fashion that many people follow isn’t going to be very accurate.

As re-enactors, we can wear these clothes that are not the French-dictated ‘standard’ – sure, dress as a 1765 German-American patriarch that stopped updating his wardrobe in 1732. Just tell people that. Make that your persona. Give your audience a reason for your sartorial choices. By giving a reason for dressing in a certain way, you fill out your character and you’ll have more to talk to people about. Think of it as a teaching moment!

In the end, we’ll never know what’s 100% accurate – and by that logic, we’ll never know if we are perfectly accurate or not. There’s a chance we are ‘doing it’ exactly as ‘they’ did. As I’ve heard history authors say, at some point you’re just going to have to go with what you know and publish. You could put off making your new reenacting shoes, hat, pack or tent until you knew exactly how it ‘should’ be made – but that might take you years.

Keep reading, talking with others, and looking at museum collections. Research and our understanding of history is a constantly evolving phenomenon, and I believe that all we can do is stay up to date with current research. Evolve with the field, give your persona reasons and a story behind your gear, and you’ll be as close to accurate as anybody can be.