Why are Men and Women’s Shirt Buttons on Opposite Sides?

When you think about old traditions, the buttons on your shirt probably aren’t something that comes to mind, but sure enough, the reason men and women’s buttons are on opposite sides comes down to tradition. 

The most common reason for men’s buttons being on the right is because of weaponry. Clothing used to hold weaponry and most men were dominant on the right hand. Therefore, the buttons being on the right side allowed for smoother access to their weapons. It also made it easier to adjust and unbutton clothing while still holding a weapon.

Another common reason is that unlike women, men dressed themselves, having the buttons on the right was easier for them. Wealthy women had servants that would help dress them in their multiple layers of complicated clothing, so having the buttons on the left side made it easier for the servants to dress them.

Breastfeeding and horseback riding are also additional theories. Women typically hold infants in their left arm while breastfeeding. Having the buttons on the left makes it easier to open or close their shirts with the free right hand. When it came to horseback riding, women would normally ride sidesaddle, and having the buttons on the left side reduced the breeze from flowing into their shirts while riding.

The final common theory is because of Napoleon. Napoleon’s portraits often showed him placing his hand in his vest or shirt, which resulted in women mocking him. To prevent the women from continuing to mock him, he ordered all the buttons on mass produced clothing to be placed on the opposite side.

Ultimately, the reason buttons are still on the opposite sides today comes down to continuing to follow tradition. Some clothing manufacturers have started designing women’s clothing with the buttons on the right, but overall clothing designers seem to stick with tradition, as it is an easy way to tell if a shirt was created for a man or a woman.