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Here’s why men’s and women’s clothes button on different sides

Ian Harvey

Thank obsolete fashion statements and swordfights for the unusual switch

Are the buttons on your shirt located on the right or left side? On women’s clothes, the buttons are located on the left, yet, on men’s , the buttons are located on the right side. This would seem reasonable if all men were right-handed, and as well all women left-handed. But this is not the case. So why would they make that the norm for clothing?

Like several old traditions, not everyone is quite sure why the button switch began to dominate in fashion design. It is believed that it may have to do with how middle and upper-class women in Europe used to dress.

Button Source:By Marco Bernardini - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,
Button Source:By Marco Bernardini – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Throughout the Victorian Era and the Renaissance, women’s articles of clothing were often times more complicated and detailed. Women would wear bustles, corsets, and petticoats. Rich men would often dress themselves; the female family members usually had servants assist them while putting on their clothes, both for necessity and luxury. To make it simpler for the servants to button up the dresses correctly, seamstresses might have started sewing buttons on the opposite side. Sooner or later, as clothing become mass produced, women’s clothes continued being created with the buttons located on the left side, and it became standard.

That is one explanation for why women’s articles of clothing were located on the left, but then why would buttons on men’s clothing at all times be on the right? That specific tradition may have been rooted in how men dressed for the war. Just as wealthy women required servants to assist them in getting dressed, men’s articles of clothing may have taken cues from their military uniforms.

According to the authors of “The Art of Chivalry: European Arms and Armor from the Metropolitan Museum of Art”:

To insure that an enemy’s lance point would not slip between the plates, they overlapped from left to right, since it was the 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.

Because male soldiers also often drew their weapons with their right hand, making their clothes with the buttons located on the right side would have made it simpler to unbutton or adjust with their available left hand.

plastic buttons Source:By Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) 2007. ==Licensing== - File:Buttons 2.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,
plastic buttons Source:By Richard Wheeler (Zephyris) 2007. ==Licensing== – File:Buttons 2.jpg, CC BY-SA 3.0,

There are several theories that try to find the answer as to why the buttons are placed were they are. Others conclude that many women breastfeed while holding their baby within their left arm. Maybe Napoleon produced clothing that was deliberately challenging for women to put on. Historians might not ever know why women’s button ended up being placed on the left side, but regardless of where it started it will now always be another custom.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News