logo - Join me in the 1900s mid C20th
The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Button hooks,
mid 20th century and before

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The need for button hooks: children's button-up shoes

Child�s button-up strap shoes, 1940s

Button-up strap shoes.

Button-up shoes were not really practical because they could only fit well on one particular width of foot. This put pressure on the button which worked loose and eventually came off. It then had to be sewn back on again. A thimble and a strong needle were essential for getting through the leather.

Shoe button with its large rounded metal shank

Shoe button. Note its large rounded metal shank.

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.

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Button hooks and how to use them

Old everyday button hook with one end a shoe horn

This button hook incorporates a shoe horn. Both button hooks in my mother's effects.

Old everyday button hook with a wooden handle

Simple button hook. Both button hooks in my mother's effects.

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.

Collection of button hooks with different style handles, thumbnails

Collection of button hooks with different style handles.

Click for a larger image.

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.

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Button hooks for buttons on clothes

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.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.