Div IV - Costume Trimmings  (Page 1)

This section provides background, discussion and visual examples of Costume Trimmings as defined in Div IV - Section 5 of the NBS Classification and Competition Guidelines 1 (Blue Book.)

Buttons and button-like decorations have been found at ancient Egyptian and Phoenician burial sites. They were used not only for the adornment of the wearer's garments but likely served additional purposes including identification of social status and official positions, use as seals, and even as currency. As long as hooks, lacing, and belts were deemed sufficient to prevent exposure, both buttons and costume trimmings served the same adornment function. The variety of clothing decorations probably included all workable natural materials in the earliest periods and has evolved to include most man-made materials in more modern times. Our contemporary clothes are still adorned with beads, sequins, ribbon, lace, gimp, appliqués, tassels, iron-on decorations and buttons.

With the introduction of the button hole during medieval times, buttons became fairly common as a device for fastening the clothes of wealthy Europeans. However, this new usage did not take away from their adornment purpose. For example, some of the gold buttons on the 1750s coat at the right3 were used for closure but most were non-functional and served as decorative trim. The non-functional use of buttons as trim has continued into modern times as shown on the 1980s cape3 shown to the left.

An important source of costume trim to button collectors was the memorabilia passed down from one generation to the next. Since buttons and trims are obviously related, they are often found together in Grandmother's button box. Sometime in the past 70 years, button collectors decided to differentiate between those items that could be used for garment closure and those that could not. This was a dicey proposition considering the possibility of cord loops substituting as button holes and modern stretchable fabrics fitting nicely over ornaments with shanks near the edge.

As button collectors, how do we define costume trimmings in a manner that allows a reasonable organization of thought and interest but does not result in an endless list of items that have been used to adorn coats, shirts, pants, sweaters, hats, belts and other apparel? While there will be no unanimous agreement, the approach accepted by out society rests on definitions of trim characteristics that either include or exclude specific types. It is no surprise that the types of trim that are included or excluded boil down to the intensity of interest by collectors. So, let’s examine these definitions.

Costume trimmings included – to qualify, three general conditions must exist. These are (1) the trim be button-like except that the means of attachment, large size, unusual shape, or delicacy would prevent their reasonable use as buttons; (2) the trim serves as adornment with no apparent functional purpose; and (3) attachment is by sewing or mechanical means such as threaded screw or metal prongs that penetrate the fabric to attach the trim.

Costume trimmings excluded – in contrast to the above accepted criteria, the following exclusions are listed: (1) non-button-like ribbon, lace, gimp, and appliqué; (2) individual beads, sequins, and bracelet segments with two tunnel holes except when combined to form a button-like object; (3) functional items such as pins, chatelaines, key or dress holders, or sweater guards; and  (4) attachment types that involve iron-on trim and items with pin-back type fasteners (including pin and pinch clamp) as are used for brooches, campaign type buttons, and other jewelry items.

So, what does the new collector look for when attempting to create a good representation for trim? The Blue Book divides all these possibilities into two classes, 5-1 Back types, and 5-2 Special design features. Back types (means of attachment) may include one or more shanks, one or more holes on the edge, or a mechanical means (screw or prongs) for applying and removing the trim. Class 5-2 allows and supports writing awards that focus on specific characteristics such as material types, construction techniques,  decorative finish (DF), other material embellishment (OME) and pictorials. See the footnote at the end of the Div IV listing in the Blue Book.
Hover your mouse over images to see the back of the trim examples.
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5-1 Back Types (holes at the edge, one or more shanks, prongs, screws, etc.)

5-1 Back Types - Metal prong mounting
Ceramic Mounted in Metal - Paint DF  (1-3/8")

5-1  Back Types - Two Shanks on Glass
 Black Glass Faceted and BM  (2-1/2")

5-1 Back Types - Two shanks on
Bakelite - Brass OME   (2")

5-1 Back Types- 4 holes at edge
 Colored Glass - Paint DF  (1-3/8")

5-1 Back Types - Three shanks on
 Celluloid - Rhinestone OME  (1-5/8")

5-1 Back Types - Three shanks on
White Metal -Rhinestone OME  (1-3/8")

5-1  Back Types - Two holes at edge
White Metal   (2")

5-1 Back Types - Two Shanks  (3/4")
Click here to see peasant silver button/trim

5-1  Back Types - One tunnel hole
Vegetable Ivory -(1-1/4")
Could be segment of a bracelet except for single tunnel and delicate edge

5-1 Back Types - Two holes at top
Shell - Dye DF    (1/2")

5-1 Back Types - One Shank at top
White metal with attached steels  (2")

5-1 Back Types - No shanks
Fabric - Paste OME (1-1/2")

5-1 Back Types -2 holes not at edge  (4-1/2")
 Celluloid - Most likely used as hat trim

5-1 Back type - One hole (Bakelite)(1")
 Questionable - could be charm or pendent

5-1 Back types - Thumb screw
Celluloid  (1-7/8")

5-1 Back type - Four shanks
Bakelite - Brass OME   (3-1/2")
5-2 Specific Design Features (includes materials, OME, DF, shapes, backmarks, pictorials, etc.)
Note that labeling does not attempt to identify all specific design features for all examples.

5-2 Glass - Two shanks  (2")
Faceted contour shape

5-2 Celluloid - Three shanks
Paint/Pastes  (4-1/4 x 3-3/4")

5-2 Brass - Four holes on edge
  (2-1/4 x 1-1/4")

5-2 Silver - Two shanks  (1-3/4 ")

5-2 Turquoise mounted in metal - Three shanks
Click here to see usage on belt   (1-1/2 ")

5-2 Brass - Two holes at top 
Paint DF    (5/8")

5-2 Celluloid - Three shanks
Paint DF  (2 ")

5-2 Brass - Two holes on the edge (3/4")
Reverse image is second example on card
Click Here to Sales Card

5-2 Bakelite - Three Shanks
 Paint DF   (2-1/4 x 1-5/8")

5-2 White Metal - Two shank
Engraved   (2-1/4")

5-2 Antler - Four holes
Carved - (1-1/8")

5-2 - Glass Mounted in Metal
Two shanks   (1-1/4")
Thanks to those collaborators who made examples from their collections available for the images shown on this pages. They include Barbara Barrans, Lou Yeargain, Lynn Kulikowski, Adrienne Bennett, Susannah Jordan, Sharon Braund, Pat Koehler, Janet Gerhardt, Petra Williams, Jeff Lee, and Marcia Hoel. Special thanks to Jane Perry, author of A Collectors Guide to Peasant Silver Buttons, http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/a-collectors-guide-to-peasant-silver-buttons/1314095 for images and input related to the button/trim shown on linked pages. Others who contributed reviews, comments and support included Elizabeth Hughes, Gary Brockman, Pat Fields, Anne Guba, Kevin Kinne, Karen Farnsworth, Joanne Fournier, Ronnie Wexler, Tami Hacker, Vickie Roberts, Willa Mercer, and Gwen Niemisto. Potential labeling issues or suggested improvements should be directed to the Button Country team at Contact Us.

(1) National Button Society Blue Book - Official NBS Classification and Competition Guidelines
(2) The Big Book of Buttons by Elizabeth Hughes and Marion Lester. Boyertown, PA: Boyertown Publishing Company, 1981
(3) The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.