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Why Do Men’s and Women’s Shirts Button on Different Sides?

If you’ve ever accidentally tried on a shirt intended for the opposite gender, you no doubt figured it out as soon as you tried to button the buttons. Why do clothiers put the buttons for men and women on the opposite side of the shirt?

 

Everybody has that moment when they realize they don’t know about something that they should probably know about. Whether it’s history, language, science, or cultural phenomena, you’ve felt the stinging personal embarrassment of a moment wherein you realize there’s some common knowledge that isn’t so common. Don’t feel bad; nobody knows everything. Nobody, that is, except me and my sidekick, The Internet!

Somewhere in the world, a confused soul begs the question…

Why Do Men’s and Women’s Shirts Button on Different Sides?

If you’ve ever had to fold the laundry of men and women (or if you’ve ever accidentally put on a piece of women’s clothing in the dressing room at TJ Maxx without realizing it), you’ve invariably noticed that while men’s shirts have their buttons on the right side, women’s shirts have their buttons on the left side. Why is this?

Though there’s no historical record or museum with an exhibit devoted to buttons (and/or factual logic as to why a person’s sex would have anything to do with said buttons’ orientation), most sources seem to cite the same simple rationale that dates back over a century.

Mens’ buttons are on the right side because men have always tended to dress themselves and most men (and women, for that matter) are right-handed.

Womens’ buttons are on the left side because years ago (say, during the Victorian Era), the women that could afford fancy clothing with a bunch of buttons would rely on maids to help dress them. So, if a servant (most of whom, naturally, would be right-handed) is going to routinely buttoning up a shirt/dress for someone else, that servant is going to prefer to have the buttons on their right side (which would be the left side of the garment).

Now you know.

About

Justin Brown is a writer and artist living in Virginia. He channels most of his mind's molten river of creativity into his blog Esteban Was Eaten!. For even more information about him, check out his website.

 
  • Russell

    The rational that I heard was that when a couple are driving (the man in the left seat and the women in the right seat) the shirts are set up so each could look down each others shirts. I though this was a funny idea. It is true if you have pretty girl in your car, her shirt is set up so you can look down her blouse.

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  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    Haha Russell, that’s a funny idea. I’m glad shirt makers have our best interest at heart :)

  • Kurt

    Armour was fashioned so the left fastened over the right to prevent the strike of a right-handed blade from entering the front seam of armour.

  • http://www.primermagazine.com Andrew

    @Kurt, that’s interesting. Why make shirts different for women, though?
    .-= Andrew´s last blog ..The Boat Shoe: Primer Approved =-.

  • Barrett

    Also, men’s jackets button on the right so that when drawing a sword (worn on the left hip) the hilt wouldn’t snag on the seam.

    I still don’t know why women’s shirs are different, though.

  • Ricky

    Wow! I have never realized that, I had to go make sure though, by checking my girlfriends button up shirts, but that is weird that they aren’t the same,

  • Trey

    Kurt and Barrett have great insight..

    Even walking on the street side of a woman goes back to historical days when people would empty their chamber pots out the window.. The woman walks closer to the buildings, so she’s shielded by the eaves of the roofs..

  • criolle johnny

    Kurt is right, also a man could unbutton his coat and draw his sword at the same time. Women did not carry swords.

    • eon

      in some cultures they did

  • Scott

    As far as I can tell, use of multiple button to close a neckline of a garment didn’t become common in European dress until sometime after 1200. When they were introduced widely, they were not only decorative and costly, but some countries had laws limiting them only to the upper classes. In many European painting I have looked at over the period rom the 1300s till about 1900, I see very few examples where women wore shirt like garments that buttoned up the front. Most show women wearing open necked blouse like tops without a front opening, or high necked blouses that fastened in the back. Especially with the advent of the corset, women’s clothing seems to have generally fastened in the back. Whether the fronts were kept clear of buttons for practical reasons having to do with child care or other domestic pursuits, or for purely esthetic reasons I can’t say. But it is probably true that if your clothing fastens in the back, you will need to rely on someone else to help you dress, and in that case the argument that men’s and women’ buttons differed to make each easiest for a right handed dresser (self in the case of men, other in the case of women) makes sense. Since women’s tops that button up the front seem to be relatively recent, the traditions of button placement may have already been standardized from when they were in the back, and never changed.

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  • Awesome

    NO, you t tt ttt tools! It’s so we can tell who’s gay like Ellen: she has the buttons on the wrong side so she buys men’s shirts.

  • Vikas

    I think its a strategy by garment companies to ensure that they can differentiate their customers by gender and charge them accordingly :)

  • kyra

    I always heard it was so dry cleaners had an easy way to determine whether to charge a fair price (mens shirts) or double it for women’s shirts.

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  • Rich

    I was told that it was this way so that a man’s right hand would be free to draw his sword (or draw his gun), i.e. he can unbutton his shirt using his left hand!

  • Cdm99

    It also makes it easier for the men to undress the women!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1350225867 Neil Stowe

       finally the fucking answer. just what i was thinking. a Victorian thing for sure

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  • kenrubenstein

    Nonsense, they did it to torment cross-dressers.

  • eon3000

    so what if a home made shirt had been made with buttons to the left and given to a guy?

  • Bellar

    Dang, this article needs an editor. The question of the piece is asked no less than four or five times before we get to anything resembling an answer.

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