The Pearlies

Part of the Pearls exhibition.

A unique sort of royalty emerged in London in the 1880s, when costermongers--street vendors selling fruits and vegetables--began decorating their trousers and jackets with rows of mother-of-pearl buttons. Henry Croft, a street sweeper, became the first real Pearly, completely covering his clothing with buttons, including hat and bow tie. Soon London had 300 Pearly kings and queens "ruling" its various districts. As street peddling has declined, the Pearlies continue to appear in full regalia at events to raise money for hospitals and orphanages.