The Reason Buttons On Men's And Women's Shirts Are On Different Sides

If you've ever tried on a shirt in the dressing room and thought, "Why are these buttons on the wrong side?" then you might have tried on a men's shirt. If you think that it doesn't make sense — well, join the club. As it turns out, though, there might actually be a legitimate reason why the buttons on men's and women's shirts are on different sides. Basically, the reason just dates back to ye olden times, according to Insider

Insider notes that the most common theory for why the buttons for men's and women's shirts are on different sides is because, for men, clothing used to hold weaponry, so having the buttons on the right-hand side allowed smoother access to their swords or guns. For women, they usually had a maid dress them, so the buttons were reversed. So how did we figure this out?

Historians theorize that the button practice traces back to the military

Fashion historian Chloe Chapin told Today that, in general, most of the elements of men's fashion can be traced back to the military, so we can assume that it was vital to have easy access to a weapon, according to Chapin. And since a majority of people are right-handed, it makes sense that reaching a weapon with your dominant side would be a lot easier (via BBC). 

Buttons were also fairly expensive at the time they were introduced, so the wealthy women who had them also weren't dressing themselves, says Melanie M. Moore, founder of women's blouse brand Elizabeth & Clarke. "Their lady's maid did," she noted. "Since most people were right-handed, this made it easier for someone standing across from you to button your dress."

Where did buttons come from?

Buttons didn't always have this kind of gendered history. In fact, according to An Encyclopedia of the History of Technology, the earlier buttons were used more as ornaments than as something to fasten clothes together (via Slate). Early buttons tended to fit into a loop, rather than the reinforced buttonholes we're used to seeing today (those didn't come around until the 13th century). 

Buttons became a luxury item in the 13th century, and they were so valuable that they were even used as currency (via Vice). In the 18th century, buttons were featured on clothing for "almost entirely cosmetic" reasons, says Franco Jacassi, fashion consultant (and the man with the largest private collection of buttons). They were so valuable that travelers who ran out of money could pluck a button off of their jacket and use it to pay for things — how convenient!