Keli Gwyn
‘Way Back When’sday: Buttonhooks

Unlike us, the Victorians didn’t have zippers or Velcro. They relied heavily on buttons. Lots and lots of buttons.

The buttons were often small, making them difficult to slip through their buttonholes. Enter the buttonhook, a simple device that saved one’s fingers.


The hook was slipped through the buttonhole and around the button’s shank. A tug and a twist of the wrist later, and the button was in place.

Buttonhooks came many shapes and sizes. If you visit The Buttonhook Society, you can see a number of examples. The buttonhook seen above is one I purchased at a local antique shop.

Can you imagine having to fasten the buttons on a pair of Victorian boots, such as the ones below that I saw at the Placer County Museum in Auburn, California? Without a buttonhook, the task would be tiresome.

Boots at Placer Museum

Victorians had buttons on much more than just their boots. Jackets, bodices, waistcoats, gloves and corsets all had them. Thus, it’s easy to see why a Victorian lady or gentleman would have several buttonhooks. They might have longer models at home and a shorter version in their reticule or pocket.


Have you ever seen or used a buttonhook?

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Keli Gwyn
Friday Fun Victorian Style

The Victorians were quite gender conscious. They had myriad rules for behavior of a lady versus that of a gentleman. Bearing that in mind, it might come as a surprise to learn that they put their babies and toddlers in dressesboth girls and boys.

Little boys’ hair was worn long, too, which can make it difficult to distinguish between boys and girls in photographs taken at the time. Some speculate that since infant mortality was so high, the Victorians didn’t want to get too emotionally invested in a child until it appeared the youngster was going to survive and thrive.

When a boy reached the age of five, he would be put into short pants. I can imagine what a long-awaited rite of passage this must have been to a young fellow eager to stop dressing like his sisters, can’t you?

The final stage of a boy’s clothing progression was the transition to full-length trousers, such as those worn by his father. No doubt this milestone, known as being fully “breeched,” made him feel like a man.

At what age do you think the transition to trousers took place?

A. 8 years

B. 10 years

C. 12 years

Leave your guess in a comment. Once you have, you can see if you came up with the correct answer by following this link. You’ll need a password, but it’s an easy one: Romance with a capital R.


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Keli Gwyn