The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women's Lives, women's literature writing, Clarice Cliff

The Button Box: The story of women in the 20th century, told through the clothes they wore

The Button Box: Lifting the Lid on Women's Lives book cover.  Author Lynn Knight ‘I used to love the rattle and whoosh of my grandma’s buttons as they scattered from their Quality Street tin’

An inlaid wooden box holds the buttons of three generations of Lynn Knight’s family: a scarlet ladybird from her own childhood, chunky turquoise buttons that fastened her mother’s 60s-era suit, a sky-blue buckle from a dress her grandmother wore. Every button tells a story.

‘They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us’, said Virginia Woolf of clothes. The Button Box explores their role as emblems of security, identity and independence. From the jet button of Victorian mourning, to the short skirts of the 1960s, taking in suffragettes, bachelor girls, little dressmakers and Madam shops, Biba and the hankering for vintage, The Button Box explores women’s lives with elegance and wit.


Praise for The Button Box:

­"A new, enchanting and appropriate optic o­n the history of women’s intimate lives, their domestic duties, families, work and fashion… Lynn Knight’s book gives a new meaning to micro-history" – Juliet Gardiner

"An ingenious tour of domestic and social history… There is a particular sort of enjoyment in having someone trigger material memories so deftly" – Claire Harman, Guardian Read full review here

"Buttons are peripheral things… and yet they often outlast the garments they once adorned. Knight's brilliant notion is to use the button box she inherited from her grandmother as a way of delving into the fabric, literal and metaphorical, of the women who wore them" – Daisy Goodwin, The Sunday Times

"An unusual and irresistibly delightful account of more than a century's worth of women's lives… [a] delicious gem of a book" – Juliet Nicholson, Spectator

"Fascinating social history" – Jane Shilling, Daily Mail Book of the Week

"Knight explores her own family's history and, in parallel, the intimate history of women in the 20th century. It's a lovely device and it leads her down all sorts of fascinating diversions… This is far more than a family memoir… In Knight's hands, buttons – the humblest of everyday objects – become portals into the past" – Lucy Moore, Literary Review

From the dovegreyreader: ‘My mum’s button box was an old Coronation year sweet tin with a picture of the young queen wearing a diamond brooch… Her Majesty still wears that brooch… Whenever I see it I think of my mum and sewing and buttons and the tin… If you have wonderful memories of the button box too, or an interest in women’s lives then you will love this book, so keep an eye out… I’ve had a job keeping my nose out of it I can tell you.’

The Button Box is published in hardback by Chatto & Windus and in paperback by Vintage

A selection of pearl buttons from my button box A selection of pearl buttons from my grandmother's button box

Diamante, glass and lucite buttons Some of the diamante, glass and lucite buttons from my grandmother's button box, together with a crystal-clasp frame for an evening bag she intended to make.

1930s' gauntlet gloves, clutch and deco scarf My great-aunt's buttoned gauntlets and her leather clutch purse from the mid-1930s. I found the art deco scarf in a vintage shop.

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