In Europe, pins had long since given way to the broche (brooch) as a fastener to hold clothing together. The brooch, used first much like the modern safety pin, had been turned into a fashion statement, and artisans created them with an ever increasing attention to intricate designs. However, they proved too heavy to be reliable, because of their metal base and the variety of objects added to their surfaces for style, and they proved basically unreliable as fasteners, frequently breaking and coming undone.
Dissatisfied with the bulky, and to them gaudy, brooches, Athenian women, denied their cherished pins, began improving the brooch, designing ever smaller and more delicate fasteners. By the time Rome absorbed Athens into its expanding empire, the exquisite Athenian brooches were coveted by the European upper classes.
Brooches remained the primary sewing clothing fastener well into the 13th century. Commoners in England, with its windswept, cold, and inhospitable climate, rejected the clothing of their own upper classes, and even more so, the light, drafty un-sewn garments of the Greeks and Romans. Accustomed to hard work and a physical lifestyle, commoners demanded heavy, tight-fitting clothes to ward off England's notoriously foul weather. Pins were useless to them, and brooches came unhinged and punctured their bodies with the rusty metal used for clasps. Placing function ahead of style, the English commoner developed eyelets, which they sewed into their pants and shirts. Into these eyelets, they laced their sewn garments tightly together with string or thin cord.
The British eyelets gradually spread to every country in Europe, and then to most of the civilised world, later to be used in sewing corsets. During this period an enterprising goldsmith in 17th century Germany hit upon the idea of filling the British eyelet with something other than string or cord. He invented the button. He catered exclusively to the upper classes and cranked out lavishly covered buttons made with precious metals and inlaid with expensive gems. The more practical commoners took to the convenience of buttons but expected them to do nothing more than hold their clothing together. Using the materials at hand, they covered their buttons surfaces mostly with fabric, or they made them entirely out of natural elements, including shells, polished rocks, and fine-grained woods.