Though buttons are primarily used for fastening, their early use was in fact, not as functional. Early buttons were utilized as seals, ornaments, and decorative accents, and it was only in the 13th century that functional buttons as we know them today became in vogue.

Today’s modern clothing buttons are usually classified according to:

  • Ligne Number
  • Manufacturing Material
  • Attachment
  • Manufacturing Technique
  • End Use

Classification According to Ligne Number
The ligne number (expressed as “L” next to a number, like 12L, 14L, 16L and so forth) is the measuring unit used for buttons; it refers to a button’s diameter. The larger the ligne number, the bigger the button.

One ligne is equivalent to 0.635mm or 0.025 inch. Using this figure, a 12L button has a diameter of 7.62mm or 0.30in while a 50L button has a diameter of 31.75mm or 1.25in. The ligne number might be an unfamiliar measuring unit to a lot of people, but it can be easily calculated for once you convert it to millimeters or inches. For more information regarding the calculation of ligne numers, please refer to this post How To Calculate Button Size By Ligne.

Common button sizes include 12L (usually used in button down shirts), 16L and 18L (both button sizes are seen on collared shirts), and 24L (for pants). Other buttons that are larger than these are often not used for fastening purposes, but are just installed for decorative reasons only.

Classification According to Manufacturing Material
Buttons can also be classified according to the kind of material that they are made out of.

•Horn: Horns sourced from animals used to be a traditional button material. However, synthethic horn made out of plastic is now seeing more widespread use in buttons.

•Metal: Metal buttons are frequently seen on leather and denim garments like jeans and jackets.

•Fabric: Fabric is an essential material for Mandarin buttons (or “frogs” as they are commonly called). These kind of buttons are usually seen on the traditional Chinese outfit called Qi Pao or cheongsam.

•Plastic: Plastic is cheap and easy to manufacture. As such, they are the most common button material in the world (e.g. polyamide, polyacrylonitrile, polyester). You can find plastic buttons everywhere, and they are used for both functional and decorative purposes.

•Wood: Wood is cheap, but have a short lifespan. Wooden buttons are rarely used for fastening. These kind of buttons are commonly used for decoration only.
Though the ones mentioned above are the most common, other materials that are also manufactured into buttons include seashells, coconut shells, pearls, glass, leather, ceramic, and vegetable ivory.

Classification According to Attachment
There are also special kinds of buttons that are classified according to the way that they are attached to the garment.

For example, the flat or sew through button (also called as a hole button because it can come in two- or four-hole kinds), is attached to a garment by passing thread through the holes in the button.

A shank button has a protruding connector piece at the back where thread is attached.

Studs and snap buttons, commonly found on denim and leather clothing, have a different method of attachment. Studs (rivets) are used for decorative purposes. They come in two parts: one part is pierced through the garment while the second part keeps the other in place. Once attached, the stud is kept permanently closed. Snap buttons, on the other hand, are directly attached to the cloth. They can then be attached and reattached together by pressing together or pulling the two parts apart.

Classification According to Manufacturing Technique
Different kinds of buttons undergo different manufacturing processes, such as electroplating, spray painting, screen printing, etc.

For example, some buttons are electroplated to give them a metallic look and feel. Horn buttons are designed with a burnt effect for ornamental purposes. Nylon buttons are malleable and have strong plasticity, and as such, can be often manufactured according to a client’s specifications and needed customization.

Classification According to End Use
Another classification system is by classifying buttons according to end use. For example, coat buttons are very different from buttons you would normally find on a shirt, etcetera. Other buttons of this type include cardigan buttons, cufflinks, coat buttons, jacket buttons, jeans buttons, suit buttons, shirt buttons, and others.