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.
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.
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.
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.