Women button on the left, men on the right: The reason why finally explained

If you've wondered why women button on the left and men on the right, look no further. We have the answer for you!

Women's shirt buttons are different to men's
© Asteroid City / Universal Pictures
Women's shirt buttons are different to men's

In the past, gender differences used to determine our fashion choices. Luckily, not as much anymore. But there is still one thing that bears the heritage of the divide.

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Buttons appear on different sides of a shirt or jacket depending on who it was designed for. It seems particularly absurd given the relative similarity of the garments. Why?

All because of wealthy women of the past

Chambermaid, lady and provincial bourgeoise lady, 1640 (1882-1884) Photo by The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

There are a few theories about why men and women have to button on different sides, and here is one of them.

Back in the day, buttons were only for those who could afford them. Everyone else simply tied their clothes with strips of cloth or fastened them with wooden toggles. As well as having clothes that buttoned, middle- and upper-class women also usually had maids to help them get into and out of their elaborate outfits. It’s difficult to get into corsets, bustles, hoop skirts, and several layers of petticoats by yourself.

Knowing that someone else would be doing the buttoning, dressmakers sewed the buttons onto the left side of women’s garments to make it easier for the maid to do them up right-handed.

Once clothes started being mass-produced, the custom became standardized, and no one has thought to change it to this day.

Another possible explanation

Women's shirt buttons are different to men's Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

As most women are right-handed, they tend to carry children with their left arms on their left hips. This frees up their right hand for answering the phone, putting the kettle on, and unbuttoning their shirt if still breastfeeding. Could this be the origin of the difference?

Buttons on the right were for fighting men

Women's shirt buttons are different to men's Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

While men could perfectly dress on their own, they also could have contributed to their right-buttoned garments.

Some suggest that the answer goes back to the days of knights, jousting, and chivalry.

Men’s shirts button with the left flap over the right, which mimics one of the oldest conventions of battle: shield on the left arm, sword in the right one. As your enemy’s lance would have been in his right hand, armour plates overlapped from left to right to keep that shield side doubly protected.

Even as times changed and weaponry evolved, men’s clothing retained echoes of military uniforms and was often designed to include accommodations for swords and pistols. As these were mostly held in the right hand, it was advantageous to be able to unbutton them with the left.

Clothes created for women who can’t dress themselves or have to breastfeed, and outfits created for fighting men may be way in the past but the traces of the divide are still with us. Zippers seem a lot more accommodating in terms of equality.

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Sources used:

- The Atlantic: ‘The Curious Case of Men and Women’s Buttons’

- New York Post: People are just learning men’s and women’s shirt buttons on different sides

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