Pin-Back Buttons

Fashion has a way of reducing everything to appearances. My Globe Style Advisor column from October 2015 explored allegiance to aesthetics, which in the current climate seems refreshing.

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Pin-back buttons, usually a metal disk with a printed face, were patented in 1896. As a bit of printed ephemera, they are wonderfully varied and collectible, if not exactly considered chic. Pin-back buttons originated for political campaigns – George Washington gets the credit for that innovation – and as such, pins in America have always been more driven by politics than aesthetics. In recent memory, fracas over flag pins during the 2008 Presidential election and the uniform adoption of lapel pins by Nixon’s “silent majority” demonstrate how fraught this apparently simple signifier can be when it comes to power in America.

Of course pins have a lighter side as well. In the 1950s kids would put their pop culture pin collections on beanies (think Jughead!) and the band pin covered jacket is emblematic of metal and punk youth subcultures. But rarely has fashion embraced the pin-back button, until the Fall 2015 menswear collections. Whether they’re floral pins on baseball caps at Dior or solid metal or patterned pins on lapels at Hermes and MGSM, these pins are remarkable for their lack of message.

What these anti-slogan pins evoke is the form of conviction without any content. Worn on the left lapel, traditionally a place consecrated by oaths, they’re particularly postmodern. It’s about allegiance to aesthetics, and not much else.

As an accessory trend it’s a wonderfully accessible idea. If you’re thinking of pinning some on, try to choose something close to your heart, even if it is just about looking cool. The spirit of the pin-back button is wearing what you believe in.

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