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Old 20 July 2010, 08:42 PM
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Icon220 Why men's and women's buttons are different

Comment: A trivia question on Braingle claims men's and women's buttons
are on opposite sides of their clothes because when buttons first began to
be used, only wealthy people could afford them, and so the buttons on
women's clothes were situated on the left side so that servants (who were
mostly right handed) could more easily dress them. Whereas men's buttons
were situated on the right side so men (mostly right handed again) could
dress themselves. Any idea if this is true?
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  #2  
Old 20 July 2010, 08:48 PM
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To add to this, I had heard that the buttons were opposite for men so that they could draw their sword with their right hand while unbuttoning their coat (for freedom of movement) with their left.


I think that both are bogus. Only wealth women would have had servants and wealthy men were quite often dressed by servants. Especially military men.
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Old 20 July 2010, 08:52 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
I think that both are bogus. Only wealth women would have had servants and wealthy men were quite often dressed by servants. Especially military men.
I would imagine that button were only available to the weathly at first.
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Old 20 July 2010, 09:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
I had heard that the buttons were opposite for men so that they could draw their sword with their right hand while unbuttoning their coat (for freedom of movement) with their left.
Buttoned garments being worn exclusively by men who carried swords with them everywhere and needed to be able to draw at a moment's notice ...
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  #5  
Old 20 July 2010, 09:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
I would imagine that button were only available to the weathly at first.
Forgive me, but you imagine incorrectly. Buttons have been around a very long time (as decorative objects 2000 years or so; as fasteners about 800 years).

The truth is, they don't know why women's clothes button differently. It may be connected with the biblical prohibition on wearing clothes of the opposite sex.

Seaboe [I can get cites is people need them]
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  #6  
Old 20 July 2010, 10:07 PM
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I can live with the buttons, but can a lefty get some pants with the little change pouch on the left side in here?
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  #7  
Old 20 July 2010, 10:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
To add to this, I had heard that the buttons were opposite for men so that they could draw their sword with their right hand while unbuttoning their coat (for freedom of movement) with their left.
A man can more easily undo his own buttons with his right hand, though.

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I think that both are bogus.
That we can agree on.
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  #8  
Old 21 July 2010, 12:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
Forgive me, but you imagine incorrectly. Buttons have been around a very long time (as decorative objects 2000 years or so; as fasteners about 800 years).
And surely they could be made of cheap materials, and reused for multiple garments, if necessary. I do think it's interesting that the fastener aspect developed so long after the decorative aspect.
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  #9  
Old 21 July 2010, 12:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Buttoned garments being worn exclusively by men who carried swords with them everywhere and needed to be able to draw at a moment's notice ...
Well, coats at least.

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Originally Posted by stalker View Post
A man can more easily undo his own buttons with his right hand, though.
.
Not if he's holding a sword in his right hand. And in truth, if someone were attacking me with a sword, I would want my dominant hand using my weapon while my free hand removes any hindering garments. I have no Idea how one would get his hand out of his sleeve without letting go of the sword.

Again, I do not think the claim is true, I'm simply playing devil's advocate with the legend. Besides, I'm left-handed. I'd use my right hand for unbuttoning anyway. And besides, if someone is trying to kill me with a sword, unbottoning is the least of my worries. just tear it open. You can fix the coat later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
I can live with the buttons, but can a lefty get some pants with the little change pouch on the left side in here?
Sing it, my sinister brother! And while we're doing that, can we make them large enough so that I can get my change out after it's in there? Seriously, some of those thing have got to be no more than a decoration!
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Old 21 July 2010, 02:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
And in truth, if someone were attacking me with a sword, I would want my dominant hand using my weapon while my free hand removes any hindering garments. I have no Idea how one would get his hand out of his sleeve without letting go of the sword.
"But I know something you don't know!...I am not left handed!" (flips sword to other hand)
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  #11  
Old 21 July 2010, 02:16 PM
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I'm not right handed either!

In western Europe buttons began to be used more as fasteners in the 14th century. Clothing had become much more fitted. (You don't need many buttons on something that can be pulled over your head.) However artwork from that time doesn't show any difference for male and female buttons. Must have happened later.
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Old 21 July 2010, 02:40 PM
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The sword drawing myth is not very satisfactory anyway at least on it's own, since if we accept that buttons on the right side make it easier for a man to swordfight, we have no explanation as to why women's buttons aren't also on the right.

There is an addition I've heard to the sword myth which is that buttons on the left make it easier for a woman to nurse a baby. I don't remember the rationale going much beyond that statement being as I gave it no plausibility, but at least it is a fuller explanation for there being a difference.

Personally I think it's so when you try to sneakily try to borrow your wifes fitted blouse which can otherwise pass for a man's shirt because yours are all in the wash, you have to spend longer fumbling with the buttons and there's more chance of her busting you.
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Old 21 July 2010, 02:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eddylizard View Post
there's more chance of her busting you.
IRC, wearing one of Mrs jw's shirts and bust the chest buttons.

ETA: Regarding the OP, when I worked in the ragtrade it was always said that buttons were on opposite sides because centuries earlier many clothes for either sex were so similar, that this was the main way to differentiate.
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Old 21 July 2010, 02:53 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Eddylizard View Post
The sword drawing myth is not very satisfactory anyway at least on it's own, since if we accept that buttons on the right side make it easier for a man to swordfight, we have no explanation as to why women's buttons aren't also on the right.
according to how I've heard the myth presented, all garments had them on the left. Then the buttons were moved on male garments to better allows the swinging of sharp, pointy bits of metal.
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  #15  
Old 21 July 2010, 07:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
Not if he's holding a sword in his right hand.
What I mean is that the button being on the right makes it easier to remove with the right hand. If they wanted the button easier to remove with the left hand, whilst the right hand was otherwise engaged, they would have moved the button to the left.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
according to how I've heard the myth presented, all garments had them on the left. Then the buttons were moved on male garments to better allows the swinging of sharp, pointy bits of metal.
So, the opposite of this.

(and, yep, I know you weren't arguing for it. I'm just saying that the premise itself seems flawed, not just the truth behind it.)
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  #16  
Old 21 July 2010, 07:38 PM
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If it only dates back to the 1300s, I should point out that a. fashion trickled down to the masses from the nobility for the most part, and b. this was not a really big time for function over form. There is a very extreme (and very silly) fashion in particular that came about during that century.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poulaine

These shoes could get so long that people would have to add whalebones to the frame of the shoe to keep them sticking out and walk up stairs sideways. The earlier part of the century was a bit more functional, and of course fashions vary throughout the world, but this is the High Middle Ages we're talking about here.
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Old 22 July 2010, 07:46 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
Forgive me, but you imagine incorrectly. Buttons have been around a very long time (as decorative objects 2000 years or so; as fasteners about 800 years).
True, but the clothes of the wealthy has usually dictated fashion.
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  #18  
Old 22 July 2010, 02:36 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Johnny Slick View Post
If it only dates back to the 1300s, I should point out that a. fashion trickled down to the masses from the nobility for the most part, and b. this was not a really big time for function over form.
That may have been true for the nobility, but function over form was a big deal for others.

You'll get a much better (and more accurate) idea of what people really wore by looking at paintings (such as the illustrations in the Duc de Barry's Book of Hours) than you will looking at what's survived.

Believe me, the masses had no time, money or interest in high fashion.

Seaboe
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  #19  
Old 22 July 2010, 03:33 PM
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Originally Posted by DemonWolf View Post
according to how I've heard the myth presented, all garments had them on the left. Then the buttons were moved on male garments to better allows the swinging of sharp, pointy bits of metal.
That's clearly nonsense though (and I know you've said you don't agree with it). The whole idea that you'd be trying to carefully unbutton some restrictive garment with one hand, while swordfighting with the other hand, is surely a total non-starter in the first place, that simply must have been come up with much later by people who had no idea what they were talking about. (Or, depending how recent this notion is, were deliberately making crap up to see who would believe it.)

Things just don't work that way. It's a non-evolutionary "hand of God" type explanation. The people who came up with it don't even understand how explanations work, let alone buttons.

If there was ever a time in which it was critical for people to draw their swords at short notice to fight whilst wearing their best clothes, then the people who had to do that wouldn't have been wearing restrictive garments in the first place. They'd have done so once at most, if that.

There's no way that it would have got as far as having elaborate series of tight buttons on one side, which were worn widely enough to be a problem, before people realised that the few milliseconds extra that would be gained by the buttons being on the other side made any significant difference. A complete redesign of the clothing would be a far more likely result even if the initial situation had managed to arise.

The most likely explanation to me, so far, is the idea that the different buttons were specifically to distinguish between male and female clothes for religious reasons.

All of this is my own personal thinking and I have no historical research to back it up.
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  #20  
Old 22 July 2010, 04:16 PM
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What I can imagine is someone putting in a mass order for military uniforms and having to decide what side to put the buttons on. They articulated a reason for a preference at that time, it got reported somewhere, and then treated as gospel. Of course, it would help to have that report.

I'm doubtful about button sides being used to distinguish men and women. I just can't think of an era since buttons became popular when men and women's clothing was that simiar. My costuming knowledge drops off sharply at about 1500 but at least length would be more useful for distinguishing. Wouldn't it?
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