Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Buttons, Beads, & Brocades

10.29.2020

∼ by Jade Papa

Last year, I spent a good deal of my time outside work delving into the world of mother-of-pearl buttons.  This likely seems a rather random topic, but as a native Iowan, I was intrigued to delve deeper into an industry that for a period around the turn of the twentieth century, earned one Iowa town the accolade, “pearl button capital of the world.”

By some twist of fate, around the start of my research, I was contacted by the President of the New Jersey State Button Society who had seen an article about the Textile & Costume Collection in The National, Amtrak’s travel magazine.  She put me in touch with other members who provided me with invaluable insight into the history of mother-of-pearl buttons. 

I myself became a member of the Button Society and have begun taking a closer look at some of the extraordinary buttons we have in the Textile & Costume Collection.  We’re in the unique position to see these buttons in context with the garments they were used on.  Our earliest buttons adorn men’s eighteenth century vests while the majority of our buttons are found on the bodices of women’s dresses from the nineteenth century. 

If you’d like to admire some of the standout buttons from the Collection, check out “Buttons, Beads, and Brocades: Treasures of the Textile & Costume Collection,” a presentation I recently gave to the members of the NJ Button Society. 

Jade Papa

Curator and Adjunct Professor, Textile & Costume Collection, The Design Center, Thomas Jefferson University

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