The Romance of Perfume Buttons

01/30/20

Few 19th century buttons convey the aura of romance as do perfume buttons. Victorian women rarely dabbed perfume on their skin (some saw this practice as mildly scandalous), and instead would apply their oil-based scents to handkerchiefs, gloves, and at times the buttons that fastened and decorated their high-necked gowns.

Made from the 1860s through 1900, these complex little buttons were composed of a metal back, absorbent paper middle, a bit of velvet fabric topped with an ornate brass overlay. Victorian perfume was oil-based (unlike our modern colognes) and would stain lighter fabrics; however, the dark velvet of perfume buttons was not especially harmed.

The three larger perfume buttons displayed in our Button Museum show the popular and romantic Victorian motifs of birds and flowers. The middle button is unusual in that the metal overlaying the velvet is pewter rather than brass.

We always feature perfume buttons around Valentine’s Day, mainly because of this bit of button lore: Victorian women were said send their husbands or beaus off to war with one of their perfume buttons sewn under his uniform collar. Far from home, in terrifying and dangerous circumstances, he could always feel her presence through the familiar fragrance of her perfume, a reminder of the love waiting for him back home. We are drawn to this romantic story, and think that it is the most wonderful example of how something as small and innocuous as a button can figure in our love and family life.