In the world of clothing, fashion trends are constantly changing like the tide in the oceans. There is one feature, however, that has remained constant in men’s and women’s clothing since the invention of the button and buttonhole: men’s shirt buttons are on the right while women’s shirt buttons are on the left.
Why this has no clear answer. Much of it has to do because we live in a right-handed world. Sorry all of you lefties, but you only account for about 10 percent of the population. Here are some of history’s answers as to why men’s shirt buttons are on the right of the garment and women’s are on the left side.
One theory evolves from the 14th and 15th centuries. In the olden days before guns, the sword was the weapon of choice men carried to defend themselves with. Most men were right-handed and held swords in their right hand. When an attack loomed, they needed quick access to their weapon. Because swords were carried under their waistcoats, men had to unbutton the coat quickly to retrieve their weapon. It’s much easier and faster to unbutton the coat with the left hand while the right reaches for the sword. The placement of shirt buttons on the right side of the garment made this possible.
Another theory relates to the fact that as fashion evolved and clothing became more flamboyant and heavier, women of wealth required help in dressing. Ladies-in-waiting and servants were called upon to help dress the lady of the house. Because buttons were expensive and a sign of wealth, fancy dresses and coats were often loaded with the fasteners. Tailors observed that since many women required others to help dress them, and since the assistants were mostly right-handed, buttons placed on the left side of the garment were easier to maneuver.
Another theory, though not easily proven, is that Puritan modesty had a hand in orientating the placement of buttons. In many churches in England and early America, church congregations were separated by the $exes: men sat on the right side of the aisle facing the altar, woman sat separately on the left.
Revealing too much flesh in public, especially of the chest area, was considered a sin. By having a man’s shirt edge overlap from left to right, any view of his skin was shielded from the women sitting across the aisle. The same held true with the women.
Let’s face it, for 90 percent of the population who are right handed, buttoning and unbuttoning a shirt buttons with the buttons attached to the right side is physically easier and less cumbersome.
Men in Edwardian England knew this. But men in those days were totally $exist. To maintain some superiority in the area of clothing, the custom of displaying male dominance by making it harder for women to
button and unbutton became a standard garment design.
Just like the old question of which came first, the chick or the egg, there is no one provable explanation of why men’s and women’s button placements are different.
Today no one really questions why. In fact, if some quirky fashion designer decided to change the pattern and place buttons on the same side for both men and women, there would probably be a backlash of protest. In other words, if it ain’t broke, why change it?