Gingerbread dates back to the 15th century, and biscuit figures appeared in the 16th century. The first documented instance of figure-shaped gingerbread-biscuits appearing was in the court of Elizabeth I of England. She had the gingerbread figures made and presented in the likeness of some of her important guests.
Most gingerbread men share the same roughly humanoid shape, with stubby feet and no fingers. Many gingerbread men have a face, though whether the features are indentations within the face itself or other candies stuck on with icing or chocolate varies from recipe to recipe. Other decorations are common; hair, shirt cuffs, and shoes are sometimes applied, but by far the most popular decoration are shirt buttons, which are traditionally represented by gum drops, icing, or raisins.