This is an interesting thing I’ve never noticed before!
Did you ever realize that men’s shirts have the buttons on the right but women’s shirts have buttons on the left? I didn’t! But then again I seldom look at men’s dressy shirts. And on these few occasions I put on my boyfriend’s shirt I had other things on my mind! So why is that, I wondered and started to research it for myself. Apparently, no one knows for sure, but there are multiple theories!
During the Victorian era, women who could afford fancy dressy shirts were dressed up by servants – who were right-handed, while men dressed themselves. In fact, buttons were usually small, well-made and very expensive. So, if you wore a buttoned shirt, you were probably a lady – and only later machine industry allowed the lady to wear some nice, ready-made wholesale shirts. But this theory has one flaw – men also had servants. Sure, they didn’t wear petticoats, but they also had servants to help them button up.
Interestingly, there is also another theory – men used to sword-fight with their right hands, and it was convenient for them to unbutton with a left hand. While women held babies in their left hand, and could use their right arm to unbutton their tops, to allow their baby to suckle.
Some other people think that this is derived from the fact that women rode side-saddle. This means that unlike men, they didn’t face the direction to which the horse ran – this created a breeze and for people of that age looked unsightly. That’s why women put the buttons on the left. Men, however, could reach for their swords so they zipped on the right.
The mass production is probably the blame. Before the invention of machines like spinning jenny clothes were made by hand; only during the Victorian era, people realized that female and male clothes need to be distinguished. In fact, during and after WWII in poorer countries there were no such distinctions, the producers sold wholesale shirts that had to fit everyone. But the fashion choices still tend to be adapted from the elite to the commoners.