Throughout the history humans have come up with a variety of ways to get their garments to close and fit – ‘to make ends meet’. For someone just beginning their adventure with historical clothing, the labyrinth of which fastening on what garments in which era may seem a bit daunting – is it lacing? If so, what kind of lacing, or should it be buttons, or points or hooks and eyes? In the present article I plan to make the maze a little simpler and discuss what kind of fastening were used in which periods, from early medieval to Victorian.
One of the earlier fastening to be introduced in Europe – early garments were rather loosely-fitting tunics, kirtles and cloaks. To go over the wearer’s head the opening had to be wide enough – but too big an opening was not always welcome. Enter the ‘keyhole opening’ – a round neckline with a slit in front. Small brooches were used to fasten the edges of the slit together – and the wealthier the person, the more ornate the brooch. Bigger brooches were used for cloaks and mantles or for the Viking overdresses ( apron, or Danish dresses). Although maybe most popular in the medieval times, brooches have survived the last millennium both as practical and decorative items – and they are still used to pin traditional Scottish attire nowadays, for instance.
Viking brooch from the British Museum
Brooches for the cloaks, Bayeoux tapestry
another brooch from the British museum
Tudor ‘ouches’ – a more ornamental variation of the brooch, often used on sleeves – here in the portrait of Isabela of Portugal
Ouches on restoration bodices – again, more ornamental than practical – a perfect example on the bodice of Mary Henrietta
Regency brooch, italina, from the British Museum
2. Laces (and their variants)
It seems that one of the earliest laced garments were 12th century bliaut – there is still a lot of controversy around this, but I am pretty convinced it was the first time when dress edges were actually laced together ( more on it in my article on the bliaut construction)
Dresses in this period were laced at the sides through hand sewn eyelets , using a plaited or woven cord.
The same method was used in late medieval kirtles – from the 14th century onwards there is more and more evidence of gowns and kirtles being laces at the sides, as well as the front or back.
The method of lacing varied – cross-lacing was used alongside ladder- and spiral-lacing. The eyelets were hand sewn, sometimes with a metal ring being placed over the hole and over sewn with linen thread, rendering the eyelet more robust – but no grommets were used at all, until they were introduced in the 19th century.
Sometimes metal rings were used on their own – here used to lace a burgundian gown. Lacing continued to be used throughout history as it was a convenient method of closing the garment tightly – the following garments could be laced:
Medieval: doublets, cotehardies, kirtles, gowns, jacks;
laced kirtle. boccace_de-mulieribus-claris_vers1490_Argia_web
11. laced gown michael pacher, mary of burgundy
12. lacing on the kirtle, pin on the sleeve Stark-triptyque_National-Gallery-of-Art_1480_detail
Tudor: kirtles and gowns (lacing usually hidden under the placard),
Stuart – dresses, gowns, bodies (stays), buff coats
buffcoat, laced, 1640VAM
14.Gerard Terborch (Dutch Baroque Era Painter, 1617-1681) Mirror
stays and busk, VAM
18th century: stays (predominantly spiral-lacing with offset eyelets), ‘robe francaise’ (at the back, under the pleats, serving more as a fit adjusting means here)), for waistcoats and breeches (at the back), jackets, robes (with lacing over the stomacher – often only decorative)
16. stays 1780, VAM
Detail of a 1725 Robe à la Française, LACMA. example of decorative lacing
waistcoat – back, VAM
19th century – stays, corsets, dresses,
late Victorian bodice, lacing eyelets
Worth polonaise, laced in front, VAM
corset lacing, 1864 VAM
Ties and points are, in a way, a variation of lacing as in principle the idea is similar – using a strip or two of fabric or a cord to tie garments together.
Points were introduced first in medieval times, 11th-13th century, as a means of attaching a single hose to the braies. In the following centuries, as hose extended up and covered more and more leg and buttock, more points were needed, as was a more robust garment to which they could be laced. Late medieval doublets, pourpoints, etc, sport pairs of eyelets at the hem to which another pair on the hose corresponds – a cord with metal ‘aguillettes’ was passed through the eyelets and tied on top – a ‘point’. Similar method could also be used to fasten doublets in front. Holding up hose and later britches by attaching them to a doublet survived until about the mid 17th century – at the end, these were mainly a decorative item, often fashioned from silk ribbons and sporting pretty bows.
points in doublet
Points attaching a sleeve in lave medieval gown
marie of burgundy
Ornamental points on this boy’s gown and on a grown man’s doublet
Jan van Bijlert (1597-1671)
King Charles I (1600–1649)
Fabric ties – one of the easiest methods and a popular one too – mostly used on shifts, (necks and sleeves), coifs, bodices (early Tudor gowns), ruffs, collars, 18th century petticoats and gowns (again, often purely a decorative function), regency gowns (apron fronted ones), Victorian bustles (for tying a bustle pad around the cage), camisoles, hats, or as ties holding up the drape of bustled skirts, etc.
ties on boy’s shirt.
boyshirt1540s Bath museum
ties on bodice of Cecilia Heron, worn without placard
Cecilia Heron, Holbain
buffcoat, 17th century
german buff coat. Lederkoller
ties on the overgown
lady knollys 1562
drop-fronted gowns (more pictures of the pink ones http://www.vintagetextile.com/new_page_736.htm)
Drawstring – most likely used in medieval times for braes – but it seems there is no evidence of it being used in chemises. Chemises laced at the neck are also a L.A.R.P. invention it seems, (sorry Errol Flynn! ) -There are chemises aplenty gathered into a narrow band of fabric, but somehow almost no evidence of drawstring being used in garments until the 19th century (in regency necklines, transitional stays cups, ruching of skirts etc).
inside Victorian bodice, drawstring is used to make the neckline smug
drawstring used to make the neck fit better
Simple and a relatively inexpensive way to temporarily connect two bits of fabric, pins were used for ages. Veils were pinned to barbettes and wimples, sleeves were pinned to the shoulder-straps of gowns and kirtles. In the 16th century gown placards were pinned at the sides to the main gowns; in Stuart times collars were sometimes pinned to bodices (and having worn a big collar in windy weather I can understand how this works perfectly!) n the 18th century there is some evidence that the gown fronts (robes anglaise and polonaise) were sometimes closed in front using pins (Serena’s article). Hat pins were especially popular in the 18 and 19th century when fashionable headwear was pinned securely to one’s wig, hairpiece or simply to hair to stop it being blown away!
sleeves pinned to the kirtle
rogier van der weydan, c. 1450
For some mysterious reason buttons appeared relatively late on the scene. They seem to have developed from decoratively applied beads before being seen as functional buttons. As a form of decoration they have been known for millennia, with buttons used as functional items only appearing on the scene in the 9th century (Hungary), some earlier evidence of them being used paired with buttonholes can be found in the 13th century ( Germany)
Buttons soon became all the rage, and the 14th century close-fitting garments sport them on front closures and sleeves, with the rule being ‘the more the better’… needless to say, their popularity has thrived over the ages and many forms have been developed – in medieval times metal shank buttons were popular, as were cloth buttons or cloth covered round/dome buttons. Tudor and Stuart times see a profusion of lavishly decorated ball buttons, covered with silk or linen thread, often sporting additional decoration with metallic threads. The 18th century is famed for its ornamental buttons – elaborately embroidered, wrapped or covered buttons are everywhere, reaching quite a size by the end of the 18th century. Flat buttons with holes are a relatively new invention, though. I am by no means a button expert – for more info on deaths-head buttons, Dorset buttons, embroidered, covered etc, I believe Gina B is the person to ask – and her DVD’s are fantastic if you fancy making some on your own!
The buttonholes, the bane of every costumier nowadays, were carefully handstitched with a strong thread – and in later centuries often corded for strength.
micheal pacher, stoning of st stephen
Charles do Blois pourpoint , 14cent_13
doublet buttons vam
buttons on a casssaque. Portrait of Jan Six by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn c1654
buttons on a redingote 1790f, lacma
.Waistcoat ca. 1780-1800 via The Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Buttons on late victorian bodice
Together with thongs , horn toggles are a form of a button really and were used predominantly on medieval shoes (especially Viking origin) and seem to be used in the northern more primitive cultures, ( Siberian tribes, Inuit, etc ). Mysteriously they seem to almost disappear ( apart from toggle like ornaments used on Tudor garments) for centuries from the high fashion, with toggles on shoes being discarded – buckles, lacing and buttons being used in later centuries.
Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543)_ Portrait of Margaret Wyatt, Lady Lee 1540
Hooks and eyes.
I believe a simple Winningas or dress hook was the predecessor of the functional hooks and eyes closure – Winnegas hook being a simple hook placed at the end of the binding wrapped around Anglo-Saxon calves – the hook simply caught the woven braid easily making sure the bindings stayed in place.
.Saxon-dress-hook-tag UK Detector Finds Database Ref. No. 1912
Proper hooks and eyes (or as they seem to be known before the end of the 17th century, crochet and loop) were used on late medieval garments to close collars, livery coats and gowns – as fabrics with patterns were popular in the second half of the 15th century, a closure that would not disturb those patterns was especially welcome!
Jean Fouquet. Portrait of the Ferrara Court Jester Gonella. c. 1442.
Later they were used to close jerkins, gowns, jackets, bodices – and are still in use today, predominantly on lingerie items.
hooks on a late Victorian bodice
The hooks were also used on the corsets, as a means of preventing the petticoat and skirts to ride up!
hook on corset, VAM
Invented by a French Corsetier, Jean-Julien Josselin in 1829 they became extremely popular after the slot and stud closure was patented by Joseph Cooper in 1848. The spit busk took over the corsetry as it provided two things – rigid structure and a front closure that made it so much easier for the corset to be put on and removed by the wearer. Various form developed over the decades, including narrow, wide, conical and spoon busks. To my knowledge they were never used in any other item of clothing apart from corsets (well, historically speaking – 21st century excluded here)
spoon busk, 1883, VAM
corset with busk, lacing and studs, VAMs
Mark that the above picture shows press studs too – there were a recent invention as well and they were mainly used as supplementary means for skirts closures.
press studs on a Teens bodice – to secure the sleeve. the tony buttons are only a decoration here:-)
Well, and there you have it – a brief outline or what was worn and when. By no means encompassing all the wealth of possible closures but at least a start! 🙂
Fashion in detail, VAM, all 3 books… http://www.amazon.co.uk/Underwear-Wearden-Jennifer/dp/1851776168/ref=pd_sim_b_3
Janet Arnold – all the books….
Medieval Tailor’s Assistant http://www.amazon.co.uk/Medieval-Tailors-Assistant-Garments-1200-1500/dp/0903585324/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370354784&sr=1-1&keywords=medieval+tailor%27s+assistant
The Tudor Tailor books – http://www.tudortailor.com/bookshoptt.html