Why are shirt buttons on the side they're on?

June 25, 2005

Lately, I've lost sleep over wondering why shirt buttons are on the right side for men and on the left side for women.

Who decided this and how did all the clothes makers agree on this? Companies never agree on anything. Did they used to be on the same side before some guy got laughed at for wearing female clothing? Is there some ergonomic reasoning behind it- like only one gender was dressed by helpers while the other gender was left to dress themselves? Was there a time in history where the only way you could tell the difference between a man and a woman was the side their buttons were on?

I need answers.


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Comment August 9, 2005 by Eustace Lee
I have also been asking this very same question for years now and still cannot get a sensible answer. Have you had any response so far?
Comment August 18, 2005 by Willie Morris
The reason for this is found in our country's ripe history, when slavery was legal. Women would have a hand maid (either a slave or a less prominent women)that would dress them. It is easier to put on shirts if the buttons are on the right side since most people are right handed and so for someone else to put on your shirt then it is easier if the buttons are on thier right side, your left. Having buttons on the left therefore was a sign of affluence and soon all womens' shirts had buttons on the left. Men did not have someone to dress them therefore there buttons remained on the right while the womens' migrated.
Comment May 18, 2007 by tony
It is interesting to me to note that buttons and zippers on men's shirts and Jackets made in former British colonies Canada and Cyprus are reversed from the American order. I wonder, does that mean that most people in those countries were left handed? Maybe the English sent all the left handers to those colonies and all right handers to what was to become the USA. What about the buttons on shirts in, Say, Turkey, or China? Maybe the USA is the only place that it is done for men on the right and women on the left.
Comment December 2, 2007 by Munk
Do you know when the left side/right side button fashion began? I didn't think that many people had clothing with buttons until the 1800's. Do any pictures(art) show R/L side buttons in the 1700's?
Comment December 30, 2007 by anonymous
I have always been told that it dated back to when men usually carried swords. Since most people are right handed (and therefore hold their sword with their right hand), the sheath would be fastened to the left hip. When shirts were made for men, the buttons were attached to the right side so that when the sword was drawn, it wouldn't catch on the overlap between the button and hole sides of the shirt. Women didn't carry swords, so their shirts didn't need it.
Comment May 24, 2009 by anonymous
A while ago I pondered this same question, and decided that the buttons must be on the opposite side for men and women in order to make it easier for them to UNdress each other.
Comment June 16, 2009 by malscott
ha ha i like the answer about buttons being on the opposite sides to make it easier to undress each other.
Comment December 26, 2009 by anonymous
I have also heard that in France Napoleon ordered that all women's shirts be buttoned on the opposite side because women use to stick their hands in their shirts to mock him. With the buttons on the opposite side, women could no longer mock him.
Comment February 8, 2011 by anonymous
To put further fuel to this question,why is it that button holes are vertical until the last one that sometimes is horizontal/
Comment March 19, 2011 by D B
It is my unqualified opinion that since not everyone is the same (some are thin while others are portly with the rest of us somewhere in the middle) shirts are of differing sizes, thus differing lengths, thus the number of buttons down the front varies. The bottom-most button hole being turned 90 degrees would allow someone who was rather portly and could not "see" the end of their shirt or a thinner man dressing in low light such as before dawn could use the tactile cue of the sideways button hole to be sure he had all of his buttons buttoned and be presentable without having to actually see them and worry he appeared slovenly. This may have been borrowed from military uniform manufacturing (or vice-versa) as a soldier could be severely reprimanded for "being out of uniform" for missing his last button. They often had to dress at a moments notice and had to be certain they were in compliance or face disciplinary action. None of this is based on any facts i have found, simply how i think it probably evolved.
Comment January 11, 2012 by G. E. Trengcle
They're designed that way, because when standing/walking side by side, the rule of thumb for a man and a woman is the man should be standing on the right side of the woman. In order to uphold the dignity of each other, the buttons are placed that way so that none could peek the other's bossom/chest in case a button fails or there's an opening due to certain body position.
Comment March 9, 2012 by Hannabaal
It's simple enough. Most men are right handed, ergo the buttons as they are for men. A woman, when standing in front of a man, assuming she has a blouse with buttons on, is the man's mirror image as far as the buttoning goes. So it turns out that women's buttons are where they are so men can unbutton them more easily. That being said, I have no idea why most bras hook in the back, but I can guess...
Comment July 18, 2014 by WmDE
How about this. Women tend to wear clothing that buttons up the back. A woman would have an easier time buttoning herself in to her clothes if the buttons are reversed. Carrying this over to front buttoning clothing was probably just force of habit among dressmakers. The bottom most buttonhole is horizontal due to it being under greater possible stress. All buttonholes should be horizontal, but fashion prefers vertical. Buttonholes on heavy coats are horizontal due to stress. They are also buttonhole shaped: -----O WmDE