The Button Box by Lynn Knight

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The Button Box by Lynn Knight

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Anna Hollingsworth
Reviewed by Anna Hollingsworth
Summary: The Button Box takes the reader on a delightful tour of fashion, female emancipation, and the history of women's rights – all in the form of a rummage through a button box. Brilliantly written, this is a real treat for anyone interested in history, fashion, or, indeed, buttons.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: March 2017
Publisher: Vintage
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0099593096

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Buttons are the underdogs of the clothing world: dismissed as functional elements of clothing, falling into the same dustbin category with zips and shoe laces, they tend to be seen as necessary for keeping clothes on, rather than contributors to style. But Lynn Knight is set to prove that the opposite is true. We think nothing of lacing discussions about clothing and feminism with headscarves, bikinis, and underweight models – and buttons deserve a place on the pedestal of gender discussion, too.

In The Button Box, Lynn Knight rummages through her late grandmother's button box, uncovering nearly two centuries of women's clothing and history of female emancipation. The reader is treated to a magical mystery tour of the unassuming elements of dress: we are introduced to everything from the jet buttons worn for mourning in the Victorian era, to the purple, white and green buttons flying the suffragette flag, and to the toggle on the duffels of 1950s' dissatisfied youth. Spanning both general and personal history – the latter especially in the form of anecdotes from the lives of the author's grandmother and great aunt, the book describes how women's position in society has changed from something strictly governed by social rules to a somewhat more liberated existence, all in the context of wider social changes.

As someone whose strengths in the handicraft domain are pretty much non-existent, I had my doubts when I picked up The Button Box: could buttons really serve as a foundation for something worthwhile, or would they just end up being used as a vague thematic umbrella, connecting bits and pieces that do not really connect? My doubts were proven profoundly misguided. Knight writes with commendable expertise in fashion and multi-tiered social history alike. She delivers everything with a distinctive voice and with a subtle wit that shines through particularly in the episodes depicting her own life and struggles early on in her working career. Impressively, buttons occupy the centre stage throughout the whole narrative, in many more ways than I could have ever expected.

The amount of information Knight tackles in her book is nothing short of commendable: historical narrative comes together with personal anecdotes and quotes from literature, letters, and newspapers. However, this also means that the narrative reads as filled up slightly too close to the brim. The structure is dense, meaning that the reader may find themselves peeking back at pages to remind themselves what happened when and how they got to a given point.

It's all worth the extra mental effort, though: I closed the lid on the The Button Box feeling both entertained and educated. Maybe I'll even attempt sewing my own buttons onto my clothes now.

If this book appeals to you, then you might also like to try Luxury Fashion Branding: Trends, Tactics, Techniques by Uche Okonkwo

Buy The Button Box by Lynn Knight at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Button Box by Lynn Knight at

Buy The Button Box by Lynn Knight at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Button Box by Lynn Knight at


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