Tiny Rebellions In Manly Victorian Women's Buttons

We spent some of our pandemic downtime sorting through our massive collection of century-old Victorian buttons. We were delighted to find many with curiously masculine images. Some portray Norse, Greek, and Roman gods wielding hammers and tridents, while others show medieval knights in battle, ancient Egyptian warriors, and soldiers from Renaissance-era France.

The reason we find these macho themes so curious is that these buttons were manufactured for well-bred Victorian-era women. The women wearing them developed the language of flowers and considered reading novels to be frivolous and degenerate. We’re wondering why these same women collected and wore buttons depicting warriors and weapons?

This is pure speculation on our part, but women’s fashion was never more restrictive than it was during the Victorian era. Victoria women were laced up in layers and corsets from head to toe, and society expected them to exemplify feminine restraint in all matters. Perhaps wearing buttons depicting masculine bravado and adventures was a small act of rebellion. Maybe these buttons made Victorian women feel like they were part of the broader world, if only just a little bit. 

Note the many masculine-themed buttons on this page from Ridley’s Fashion Magazine from the spring of 1886, including the Trojan soldier Hector, a button to be found in one of our cufflinks. Image is from The Collector’s Encyclopedia of Buttons by Sally Luscomb

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Read more about antique and vintage buttons and glass, their history and our collection on our Buttonology Blog.