This section is from the "A Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods" book, by George S. Cole. Also available from Amazon: A complete dictionary of dry goods and history of silk, cotton, linen, wool and other fibrous substances,: Including a full explanation of the modern processes ... together with various useful tables.
Buckle. A metal appliance for fastening together different articles and portions of dress. The origin of the buckle is clouded in a great deal of uncertainty, but it is known to antedate as an ornamental device for shoes all other contrivances. Of exactly what material they were first manufactured history does not enlighten us. In England and France, and even in our own country, in the year 1781, all gentlemen of tone sported on their shoes a large, square buckle, plated with silver, and as ladies soon adopted the reigning taste, "it was difficult to discover their feet, covered with an enormous shield of buckle, and men wondered to see the active motion under the massive load."
Buckles and buttons at this time were worn of such immense size as to occasion the issue of a caricature entitled "buckles and buttons, or I'm the Thing, Damme!" but in 1791 the massive loads became unsupportable, and suddenly went out of fashion, strings for shoes being adopted. In consequence of this a large class of ingenious artisans in the manufacturing districts of England were thrown out of employment. In 1792 a deputation of these buckle-makers presented a petition to the Prince of Wales (afterward George IV) setting forth the distressed condition of the thousands who had been engaged in the department of buckle making. The Prince promised not only to wear buckles on his own shoes, but to order the members of his household to do the same. But the commands of royalty were powerless when opposed to the mandates of fashion.