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  • Claudia

About... Buttons

Aktualisiert: 15. Juni 2020

Today's clothing is deeply steeped in the tradition of previous times that nowadays we can only guess at. And so, some of the reasoning from those times seems quite hilarious to us now. During my time in the textile business, we've often talked about... buttons, among many other things, of course.

Yes, those little things that do this amazing task of holding two pieces of cloth together and in whose performance we absolutely trust. Nobody thinks twice about them because, well, they do their job with absolute precision until... they fall off. And that is the ingenious thing about them that we do not even have to think about them. But why did we spent so much time talking about buttons? Well, one of the reasons was one of hilarity because a factory had to redo a complete series of clothing because they put the buttons on the wrong side of the shirt. So obviously someone in the group came up with the question "Why are the buttons for ladies' clothing attached on the left side of the shirt/pants, while the buttons for gents are on the right?".

I have heard several reasons for this strangeness and some of those reasons seem equally, well, reasonable and I honestly do not think that there is anyone out there today that knows exactly what caused there to be a difference in the first place.


Anyways, here goes. We need to understand that buttons have really only been around since the 13th century (I got that from Wikipedia, so please do not quote me on that) and have in the beginning been mostly used by the upper-class. One story holds that, initially, all clothing was buttoned like ladies' clothing is nowadays and that, since knights carry their swords on the left side (to draw with their strong hand) they got entangled in the overlapping clothes and were not so fast to defend themselves. So men started to change that. This story I heard the first time when I was in design school many years ago. So maybe this is why I am still kind of attached to that unromantic and funny picture of the hero of the story trying to defend the princess only to get his sword entangled in his waistcoat (ha-ha).

Another story suggests that ladies clothing has been changed because of breast-feeding... The idea is that, since we carry the little one with the right, it was easier to unbutton our shirt with our left. While sitting here writing, I actually grabbed one of hubbies shirts to test this (minus the baby), and... I agree it is easier, but not by much.

One more story goes that, since ladies during those times used to ride sidesaddle, the buttons started getting attached to the left, so that the draft did not blow so much into our tops. I am not going to test this idea. For one, I don't have a horse sitting around, but I also think that this explanation is kind of ridiculous as I do not remember our tops to be so spacious during those times.

The next story deals with Napoleon. We all saw pictures of "the little General" with his hand hidden inside his waistcoat and it seems that the ladies at that time went mocking him and acted the same way. Supposedly he took offence, being the insecure person that he is often represented as, and declared that all women's clothing from that point on should be buttoned the other way around. I don't hold much with that story as I seem to remember that clothing was buttoned the other way around long before that time. And I also cannot imagine him being that resentful. But before having to hit the books, I do not want to comment further.

Lastly, I heard that, and this one actually makes some sense again, since mostly the upper-class was using buttons, ladies didn't have to button their shirts by themselves. Those lucky few. So in order for the maids to have an easier task, the buttons were attached the other way around and basically this just stuck which means that we are now stuck with an "inferior" way of buttoning our shirts (men would complain).

Maybe we just kept it that way onward so that men didn't make the accidental mistake of buying women's clothing for themselves. As I know my husband to have on occasion wandered around lost in the women's section.

I honestly don't know which story is right. But I am also not really interested in the truth. I think that this is one of those environments that, even after all these years, maintains the magic of clothing for me and makes me dream and continue to want to explore this absolutely beautiful world that I love so much.

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