18th Century Shirt Buckles

Shirt buckles are a sort of brooch that men wore to close the long slit at the front of a shirt. In many cases, these are worn on top of a ruffle; in other cases, they close a fairly plain slit on the shirt or are pinned to a neckcloth. The waistcoat is unbuttoned far enough down the chest to display the shirt buckle.

This page includes several illustrations of men wearing shirt buckles, as well as some extant examples of period jewelry that could be identified as a shirt buckle. I've also included some places where you can buy a shirt buckle, if you're looking for a reproduction to wear.

Men wearing shirt buckles

There are also a few examples of women wearing heart-shaped brooches similar to these shirt buckles, but holding a handkerchief closed – see for example Mrs. George Turner (c. 1767) and Eunice Huntington Devotion (c. 1770).

Possible period shirt buckles

Museums seldom identify this type of jewelry as a shirt buckle, and it's difficult to know whether all of these brooches would have been worn in this way (other than Met 2010.106, which was actually worn as a shirt buckle in a 1773 portrait).

The heart-shaped style does relate to a traditional Scottish jewelry shape, the luckenbooth (so-named for the lockable booths/stalls/workshops where such brooches were made and sold in Edinburgh). The design also was used in trade silver to the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodlands.

The pinchy heart shape has also come to be known as a “witch’s heart” – though I find no evidence that it had any such connotation in the 18th century, many of these pieces are marketed as such by modern purveyors and antique dealers, perhaps to add a sense of mysticism.

So – I’ve included a lot of pieces here that look like they could have been shirt buckles, but for the most part, I don’t know for sure that they were. (I’ve also set up a page of shirt buckles on eBay.)

Where to buy a reproduction shirt buckle