Why Are Men's and Women's Shirt Buttons On Different Sides?

October 14, 2015

Why Are Men's and Women's Shirt Buttons On Different Sides?

Over the last few weeks we have been perfecting the fit of our first shirt pattern. We are making our pattern and samples at the Pratt Institute BF+DA in Brooklyn with Production Coordinator and Study NY Creative Director, Tara St. James and Patternmaker, Maya Blevins. They are both extremely talented and totally get our concept, so it has been a very productive and fruitful collaboration.

The pattern is made out of muslin, a raw cotton fabric used to test the fit of a garment. We have decided to use ourselves as fit models, as I am a size 10 and Kelly is a size 4, providing us with a good range of sizes to grade from (grading is the process of adjusting a pattern up or down to create additional sizes). Because we didn't know what a fit model was a few months ago, I figured a quick overview might help.  And no, they are not extremely athletic models working out at the gym day and night! Fit models are people who are paid to test the fit of a garment. It is a lucrative job, as they provide valuable and constructive advice on how to improve the fit of a clothing item.  In our case, we decided not to use professional fit models, since the fit we are looking for is not a traditional woman's fit. So, we felt we were better "testers" per se than a professional fit model who we thought might steer the shirts towards a more feminine fit. After a few rounds of pattern changes, the final shirt pattern is finished and we are very satisfied with the fit. This pattern will lead to production of shirts with the straight cut of a men's shirt, buttons on the right side, no darts and additional buttons to help reduce the "boob gape."

Maya and Tara making adjustments to the sleeve length and shoulder width

Maya and Tara making adjustments to the sleeve length and shoulder width

You may not have noticed, but typically women's shirts have the buttons on the left side and men's shirts have the buttons on the right side. Have you ever wondered why it costs more to dry clean a woman's shirt compared to a men's? Well part of the reason has to do with this strange left-right button differential, since dry cleaning machines are set up for men's shirts with right-sided buttons. Super annoying for all us women who own shirts that require dry cleaning! As an aside, we are proponents of cold water washing as it has been shown to reduce household carbon dioxide emissions by 350 pounds a year, but that is an entire other blog post!

Men's button on the right placket . Women's buttons on the left. Images sourced from J.Crew

Men's button on the right placket . Women's buttons on the left. Images sourced from J.Crew

Okay back to buttons! There are many theories as to why this strange convention exists, but it is generally believed to be a relic from times past when people wore far more elaborate clothes. In the Renaissance and through the Victorian era, many women, in particular wealthy women, were often dressed by a servant. In this case the servant would stand facing the woman and therefore it was easier to button the clothes if they were on the right side, assuming the servant was right handed. And for those women who couldn't afford a servant, it is assumed they aspired to copy the styles of the rich and famous.  Although, it may just have been as simple as making breastfeeding easier, as indicated by an article in Mental Floss"women usually hold a child on their left side to free up a dominant hand and a shirt that opens on the right makes breastfeeding easier."  But what about the case for men? A recent article in the Atlantic suggests that "the most common explanation comes from the fact that clothing, for wealthy men, often included weaponry. Since most men held swords in their right hands, it was more convenient and quicker for men to use their left hand for unbuttoning."  Okay, that is all fine and good for Napoleon and the characters of Downton Abbey, but why have we continued to perpetuate such an antiquated practice? At Kirrin Finch, we believe in gender equality (and fair priced dry cleaning!) and that is why we are making all our shirts with right-sided buttons.

Kelly thinking about the sleeve length

 

Kelly thinking about the sleeve length

Now that the history lesson on buttons is over, you might be wondering when you will see these right-sided button shirts. Good question! Well the next step is to develop sample shirts with the cotton fabrics we have chosen for our first collection. We plan to test our first production samples with a range of women and gender nonconforming individuals at a fitting event towards the end of the year. That way we can be sure to make shirts that fit a range of body types. And we plan to release our button-up shirts in sizes 2-16, so we can make it easier for our customers to find shirts that fit their body. Anyone interested in attending our fitting event or being a model for a future photo shoot, please send an e-mail to yourfriends@kirrinfinch.com or shoot us a note in our website contact form. We look forward to hearing from you.




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