Evening ensemble by Schiaparelli featuring "Chinaman" buttons, late 30s
Evening jacket by Schiaparelli with vegetable embroidery and mismatched vegetable buttons
The development and rise of plastics in the early 20th century made novelty buttons cheap to manufacture, and they enjoyed a heyday in the 1930s and 40s. All the examples below are from the Sears & Roebuck catalogue archive. This is a rather picture-heavy post, there just were so many adorable examples I couldn't bear not to share them!
It was common for novelty buttons to be produced in co-ordinated rather than matching sets, such as the Roman numeral buttons on this 1936 dress.
1937: Loving the nautical stars. I also like how those cute clothespin buttons are a bit more subtle than some novelty buttons - they'd just look like ordinary toggle-style buttons until you took a closer look.
Beautifully ornate carved Catalin (Bakelite) button and buckle sets from 1937. They're all three lovely, but Bakelite bird buttons and matching buckle? Be still my beating heart!
Novelty zoological buttons (including another Catalin bird design - I have one of these, but I'd so like to have a set and make a sweet shirtwaist), again from 1937
1938 designs included Disney characters (how much would those early Disney collectables be worth now?!), flowerpots and carved fruit shapes, as well as an unusual 'stitchable' design.
Disney's Snow White was released nationally in 1938, becoming the highest grossing sound film at that time and inspiring these Seven Dwarf buttons. The "Swing Band" set also reflects popular culture of the era.
1939 - I have a set of these "Lovebirds" buttons waiting for the perfect project, and I'm constantly on the lookout for a set of the "Ensemble" buttons - they're always way pricey on ebay and etsy.
Check out the novelty plastic cherry shaped hook-and-eye closures (R) - 1939
1939: I've counted five Scottie dog designs so far - testament to the 1930s love for Scotties.
Colourful designs from 1940
Button, buckle and matching thread sets from 1942
Oversize statement buttons for 1945 - as fabric rationing had taken its toll on garment design and manufacture, buttons were one of the few remaining ways to add flare to clothes.