Can you please tell me why men’s buttons are on the right and women’s buttons are on the left?
This drawing of a Turkish man by Gentile Bellini in the 1400s marks the first recorded appearance of the button.
Another early depiction of the button can be seen in this 1441 painting of Cardinal Albergati wearing a gently rolled collar buttoned at the throat.
Not to be confused with this depiction of Alan Arkin whose own collar button goes unfastened.
In all of these early examples of men’s attire, the buttons are on the right-hand side. The female presence of buttons during this era is virtually non-existent. And by virtually non-existent Bossy is referring to the fact that she spent twenty fecking minutes searching the internet for a 1470 Hugo van der Goes drawing of a fairy with buttons but came up empty. Because whenever Bossy googled Fairy Buttons she got this:
Throughout the 1500s and 1600s women fastened their clothes with ribbons, clasps, brooches, loops, bows, hooks, and eyes. During this same period military uniforms became the first standardized, mass-produced clothing – and those uniforms featured oodles of buttons.
And because the sword was the weapon of choice, the right-button garments allowed the right-handed wearer to swiftly reach for the weapon across the left-hand side of the body without snagging on an opening. The left-handed wearers weren’t so lucky.
The button first began to appear on women’s apparel by way of the riding costume. Women of the upper class didn’t ride horses until Queen Victoria popularized this pastime in the 1800s.
Of course Queen Victoria also married her first cousin.
In this extremely gender-conscious era, the only thing that differentiated the women’s riding costume from the men’s were the orientation of the buttons. Well that and a little thing Bossy likes to call their ginormous skirts.
And although the looser garments of the early 1800s could be fastened with sashes and bows, the tight tailored dresses of the mid 1800s required buttons. Lucky for seamstresses, the late 1800s marked the appearance of sewing machines, which led to mass production of women’s clothing and the proliferation of goofy customs – such as left-handed buttons.
Then in the 1890s bloomers became all the rage – in part to accommodate for the cycling rage.
This new era of emancipation activity and the blurring of gender lines was advanced by the flappers, and by popular cross-dresser Marlena Dietrich.
In an age when women were beginning to dress like men, the button’s orientation was the only thing that clearly denoted a uniquely female garment, a trend that continues today.
And that’s why men’s buttons are on the right and women’s buttons are on the left.
Either that or there’s that whole theory of how upper class women were dressed by their maids and therefore the buttons were sewn into the opposite side of the clothes.
Ruth Dynamite saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 8:29 am
Buttons are so yesterday. I only wear velcro.
Cindy Z saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 8:56 am
I must go get more sleep! At first I though the question read, “Can you please tell me why men’s butts are on the right and women’s butts are on the left?” You see my problem now!
Moi saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 9:24 am
*Snort* at the fairy buttons!
Howard saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 9:33 am
Those piles on the scales look like poo. Hmmm, I wonder if that was done on purpose…
You can call me, 'Sir' saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 9:46 am
That picture with the people standing and the midget (sorry….vertically challenged individual) is going to haunt me for awhile.
You’re like a nightmare factory, Bossy.
Jason saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 10:11 am
How do you think up these things? lol.
You’re a mad, mad woman. Love ya!!
Miss Britt saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 10:30 am
I’m so glad I am alive during the sit on your ass in front of the computer/tv age instead of that damned “cycling rage”.
schmutzie saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 10:42 am
I gave you an award!
Mrs. G. saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 10:43 am
Despite her, no doubt, exhaustive research, Bossy failed to mention one other reason men’s buttons are on the left: so that dry cleaners can identify a woman’s shirt and charge her twice as much!
madmad saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 11:21 am
I love these history lessons! So that’s Alan Arkin, huh? I get him and Alan Alda mixed up. Ah well. Learn a new thing every day, I do. Usually here, come to think of it…
Noelle saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 11:28 am
I have one pair of jeans (I got them in the women’s section) that button the other way. It drives me crazy, but they make my bum look great.
Teryn saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 11:29 am
Bossy, I wouldn’t know anything without you.
Sparx saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 11:33 am
Will there be a test on this and other Bossy Facts (such as ‘Cabbage Loopers’ which are still haunting me and perhaps ‘Uses of Arrugula Past and Present’)? Is there a Diploma to be had from the Bossy School of Random Facts?
joeinvegas saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 11:41 am
Didn’t Lady Godiva make horse riding for women popular before the queen did? I don’t think she had on any buttons though, not even ribbons.
AdorableGirlfriend saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 12:09 pm
I actually knew the history of the buttons. Don’t get me wrong — it still annoys me!!!
Just standardize peeps.
mamatulip saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 12:34 pm
Dude, I remember when I first realized that buttons were on different sides for men. I was shocked, yo. SHOCKED. This post has been nothing short of an educational experience for me.
I love the Fairy button. Reminds me of the time my husband and I were arguing over what the pancake flipper’s proper, God-given name is. He said spatula, I said flipper. I googled ‘spatula’ and got pictures of flippers. I googled ‘flipper’ and got pictures of fucking dolphins.
Mrs. Chicky saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 1:59 pm
Fer chrissake, I always learn so much when I come here.
But that picture of what I presume to be circus geeks scares me. Jaysus Christ, I’ll have nightmares tonight, fer chrissake.
Manic Mommy saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 2:22 pm
Sparx is right, there should be a quiz. We could all receive our BED (Bossy Education Diploma).
Yeah, the ‘cousins’ image creeped me out a little too.
The Domestic Goddess saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 2:33 pm
This makes perfect sense.
Hope you had safe search on when you googled that fairy button. You’d be amazed what you can find.
Les~ saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 2:43 pm
The picture Bossy has on her post is from the Tod Browing’s 1932 cult classic horror flick cum Greek tragedy “Freaks”. It is notorious for its cast of authentic physically deformed “sideshow freaks,” fueling both the cult appeal and controversy historically attached to the film. In fact, when Freaks premiered, it was downright scandalous — not only for the candid look into transient culture, but for the dark subject matter that accompanied it. As a result, the film was heavily edited (clocking in at a mere 62 minutes) and was still initially banned in several countries. Given the context of the loyal and generally good natured “freaks,” as opposed to some of their “normal” counterparts, Freaks seems decidedly less demeaning than say, The Wizard of Oz.
I saw this movie recently on Ted Turner’s movie channel (TMC?)– This movie is scary because the people are really scary (looking).
Anyway – nice button lesson Bossy! Thanks!
daddyo saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 3:02 pm
This was really a brilliant,fun piece.
You are great!!
K saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 3:10 pm
Do you drink a lot of coffee, or is it the absinthe?
OMSH saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 3:25 pm
I am, of course, more interested in whether a man dresses right or left. Who the heck cares about the buttons! WHICH WAY DOES HE “DRESS”?!
I’m sorry – getting a little out of hand there. *burp*
kim saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 3:28 pm
Were you bored today?
A from TX saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 4:00 pm
Does this have anything to do with the fact that dry cleaners charge more for women’s clothing than mens?
Cece saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 5:37 pm
When I saw the bloomer’s comment I swear this was going to lead into the invention of the Thong & G-String. Thankfully it didn’t. But it’d be an interesting topic alright! lol
Criquette saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 7:59 pm
I can’t help but wonder what precipitated Bossy’s interest in button history? Also, this enquiring mind is wondering if zipper flaps follow the same conventions?
diamondfistwerny (Steve) saysSeptember 18, 2007 at 10:59 pm
Because it’s easier to unbutton a woman’s blouse with them being on the right. That’s my guess, but I’ve never unbuttoned anything on a woman, so what do I know. But I do know that it’s hard to unbutton a man’s shirt cuz their on the left. So there you go 😛
Alice saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 12:30 am
i’m with mamatulip, i was just blooowwwwn away the first time i found out buttons were different for men and women. and even with this very educational history lesson, i’ve got to say i’m STILL not sure wtf happened to keep ’em different. so weird.
biddy saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 1:04 am
hmmm most of my buttons are on the right…does this make me a man!?
oh, and i like my pop tart edges RAW…i hope this doesn’t disappoint bossy…
Desiree saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 1:08 am
i found this blog interesting! at least you’re spending your time doing something constructive! the history of buttons! wahooey! :o)
sassy saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 1:48 am
Bossy, since you are so good at explaining things to us, would you lind writing a post on why men have nipples?
davido saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 10:27 am
OK, I’ve got it figgered out now. It’s not so much the reaching for the sword as the draw. I have my buttons on the right, but reaching across to draw my imaginary sword right now (be afraid), I can easily snag my thumb in my shirt opening. That’s bad, but since I’m pretty familiar with my body parts, I usually don’t have this problem. However, my imaginary sword is kinda heavy and has this hilt sticking out. It is very easy to imagine getting your sword caught on your shirt opening when drawing it, which is of course when your enemy is also drawing his (hers too, in the interest of equality). Timing is everything of course, so if you catch the hilt on your shirt, well, thanks for playing…
And to be completely sexist for a moment, because after all this was “back then”, buttons on the left would be more easily undone by your right handed partner. Now, being left handed myself, I guess that explains a lot…
ali saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 12:29 pm
thanks! now can you tell me why it’s called soccer in north america and not football???
WendyB saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 12:35 pm
sage saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 1:22 pm
Great post–I am now informed on the development of the button. you better copywrite this before Mark Kurlansky gets a hold of it and, like he did with salt and cod and the Basque, write a history of the world and how it all changed because of a button…
Lori saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 1:47 pm
I love that fairy button! And as the ironer in the house I find the whole button thing a PITA!
Kelly saysSeptember 19, 2007 at 10:42 pm
Well there you go.. that’s something I’ve been wondering about for years!
Orangeblossoms saysSeptember 21, 2007 at 5:25 pm
I’m afraid to say, Bossy, that you have too much time on your hands….. but I’m so glad you use it entertaining me…..
Alex Elliot saysSeptember 21, 2007 at 11:56 pm
That fairy button is a lot more interesting than the buttons on my shirts.
Christen saysSeptember 26, 2007 at 7:07 pm
Or…is it possible the opposing buttons made it possible for men and women to easily undress one another? Hmmmm…
Christine saysOctober 1, 2007 at 5:38 pm
I have ALWAYS wondered. Glad you did all the research!