Text and images are copyright. All rights reserved.
As a young child growing up in the early 1940s, my shoes all did up with buttons which had to go through button-holes in leather straps, as shown in the picture.
Even though shoe buttons had quite long shanks, it was still hard on the fingers to get them through the button holes in the thick leather.
The solution was to use a button hook.
Every household seemed to have a button hook as an essential item. Some basic examples are shown in the photos.
To do up a button with a button hook, the button hook was poked through the button hole and twisted round the shank of the button. Then it was brought back through the button hole with a twisting motion, which brought the button with it.
Undoing buttons was easier and, even as a young child, I could do it. A button hook was only needed for doing buttons up.
I was very relieved to see the end of button-up shoes and button hooks. This happened for me when buckles replaced the shoe buttons. There were a number of holes in the strap which allowed the buckle to be done up in several positions, for a better fit. I suppose I must have been about 10 years old when I had my first pair of buckle-up sandals. I can't remember my first pair of lace-up shoes.
Although I only used button hooks for shoes in the early 1940s, the profusion of really elegant button hooks still in families' collections showed that they must also have served as ladies accessories, probably to keep to hand or display on dressing tables for doing up dress buttons. Remember there were no zip fasteners or velcro.