fashion

The fascinating reason why the buttons on women's and men's clothes are on opposite sides.

Every single day millions of people are walking the earth totally unaware that they’re wearing little symbols of gender inequality on their chest.

No… not boobs… buttons.

You see, the buttons on men and women’s shirts sit on opposite sides. To the person wearing them, men’s shirts or jackets have the buttons on the right side, while women’s shirts have them on the left.

This isn’t just a weird little coincidence, it’s a tradition that’s been passed down for generations – for a few different reasons.

For men, the reason buttons were historically on the right side had to do with weaponry. Wealthy men traditionally carried weapons, like swords, in their right hand so it was easier for them to unbutton their shirts with their left hand.

We’re not quite sure why they would be unbuttoning their shirt while still carrying a sword… but OK.

As this Quora forum explains “it was more convenient and quicker to use their left hand for unbuttoning”.

You can even trace this tradition further back in history.

“To ensure that an enemy’s lance point would not slip between the plates,” curators write in The Art of Chivalry: European Arms and Armor from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “they overlapped from left to right, since it was standard fighting practice that the left side, protected by the shield, was turned toward the enemy. Thus, men’s jackets button left to right even to the present day.”

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For women it mostly has to do with who was dressing them.

LISTEN: Turns out your bum bag is feminist. Post continues after audio…

When clothing conventions were being standardised a lot of wealthy women weren’t actually dressing themselves. Yep, they had servants and having the buttons on the left side made it easier for someone else to button them up.

This isn’t the only theory though. Some believe the buttons are on the left side to make it easier for women to breastfeed.

Most (right-handed) women tend to hold their babies in their left arm. That means having the buttons on the left side, which you can open with your right hand, makes it easier for women when they’re breastfeeding.

There’s also horses. Women tended to ride sidesaddle to the right, so placing the buttons on the left side meant it would be a little less breezy for the ladies. Which is great because no one wants windburn on their boobs.

And spite. As the early days of industralisation also coincided with the women’s movement, some believe clothing manufacturers used the little differences in clothing design to highlight the bigger differences between the genders.

So yeah, we could be walking around with our buttons on the wrong side just because some old white man was a bit a peed off at those uppity feminists.

To read more from Keryn Donnelly, follow her on Facebook

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