If you’ve ever compared a woman’s button-up shirt to a man’s, you’ve probably noticed that the buttons are on the opposite side. But have you ever wondered why?
An age-old theory is that it all has to do with the well-known fact that women can’t dress themselves. I’m kidding, of course (I dress myself nearly every day!), but many moons ago, it was a lot harder for females to get dressed. As LiveScience puts it: “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.”
So, it’s long been thought that women’s buttons were placed on the opposite side to cater to the servants dressing them.
But as Elle recently pointed out, buttons on women’s shirts weren’t introduced until 1860 — hundreds of years after servants were first used in the dressing room.
So is there another reason? Possibly!
According to Cosmopolitan UK, there are several theories that women’s buttons are on the left to make breastfeeding easier.
Or, there’s another plausible (and depressing) theory that might resonate with you.
“In Man and Woman: A Study of Secondary and Tertiary Sexual Characters, 1894, Havelock Ellis writes that the right-to-left buttoning of women’s tops was adopted to make a point that women ‘seem inferior to men’ in ‘strength and in rapidity and precision of movement,’” writes Jess Edwards for Cosmopolitan U.K. “As women began to borrow more of what were originally considered clothes for men, e.g., trousers, shirts, the buttons were placed on a different side to signify a difference between the two.”
Sigh. We prefer the breastfeeding explanation.