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People are only just realising why women's buttons are on the left hand side

Jess Hardiman

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People are only just realising why women's buttons are on the left hand side

Featured Image Credit: Westend61 GmbH/ronstik/Alamy Stock Photo

People are only just realising why women’s buttons are on the left hand side when men’s are on the right, joking: “Haven’t they suffered enough?!”

You may have noticed that buttons on women’s clothing tend to be on the left hand side, and the holes on the right, while it’s the other way round for men.

But this isn’t just a random sartorial feature, as it’s actually rooted in tradition – something that some people have only just realised.

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Tweeting about the topic, one person tweeted at the end of last month: “I *just* found out that shirt buttons are on the left for women & right for men. Wtf!!!!”

Another Twitter user also recently wrote: “I was today years old when I learned that women's shirts have the buttons on the left side! Haven't they suffered enough?! #enoughisenough.”

Someone else – a man – then asked earlier this week: “Why do women's shirts/blouses button on the wrong side?”

Many historians and fashion experts believe it all comes down to habits from the past, when wealthier women – who were able to afford new fashions like buttons – would be dressed by someone else.

As someone else would button and button up the woman’s garments, dressmakers would sew buttons on the left hand side of clothes.

People are only just realising why women's buttons are on the left, not the right. Credit: Anton Brehov/Alamy Stock Photo
People are only just realising why women's buttons are on the left, not the right. Credit: Anton Brehov/Alamy Stock Photo

The only thing is, no one ended up changing them back, meaning the right-handed women of the world have been struggling ever since - unless you're one of the fortunate left-handed folk, of course.

Melanie M. Moore, founder of women’s blouse brand Elizabeth & Clarke, told Today: “When buttons were invented in the 13th century they were, like most new technology, very expensive.

“Wealthy women back then did not dress themselves - their lady’s maid did.

"Since most people were right-handed, this made it easier for someone standing across from you to button your dress.”

Live Science writer Benjamin Radford also said of the matter: “Depending on the era, men might wear waistcoats, pantaloons, gaiters and wool jackets.

"But women's clothing was far more elaborate, and could consist of a dozen or more garments including petticoats, bloomers, gowns, corsets and bustles.

“Thus, especially in middle- and upper-class society, men generally dressed themselves, whereas women did not. Instead, maids and servants might spend an hour or more dressing the lady of the house.

Credit: Marco Huerta/Alamy Stock Photo
Credit: Marco Huerta/Alamy Stock Photo

"Clothiers soon realised that reversing the buttons on women's clothes made the job faster and easier for all involved. Because men were not dressed by servants, there was no need to reverse the buttons on their garments, and thus a custom was born.”

There are a number of other theories, but many of these only relate to why men’s buttons sit on the right without accounting for women’s buttons being on the other side.

Chloe Chapin, fashion historian and Harvard University Ph.D. candidate in American studies, told Today: “I think it’s important to question which time period we're talking about, since shirt and jacket buttons are a relatively new phenomenon.

“But as a general rule, many elements of men’s fashion can be traced back to the military."

Paul Keers, author of A Gentleman's Wardrobe, seems to agree, having also explained to The Guardian: "A gentleman's sword was always worn on the left side, so that it could be drawn with the right hand.

"If a jacket buttoned right over left, the handle of the sword would be likely to catch in the jacket opening when drawn, so any serious swordsman would demand a tunic which buttoned left over right.

"As an indication of a masculine lifestyle, this tradition was then extended to other items of menswear.”

Fashion... but make it sexist!

Topics: Fashion

Jess Hardiman
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