A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Why do men's and women's shirts button on different sides?

June 16, 1989

Dear Cecil:

Why do men's and women's shirts button on different sides?

Cecil replies:

I thought everybody knew this, but then again you're from Baltimore, the city from another dimension. Buttoning left over right — the man's way — is supposedly easiest for right-handed people. According to legend, women button right over left because in medieval times they were dressed by their right-handed maids. Don't buy it? Can't say as I blame you, but the alternative explanation is no improvement: men had to keep their right hand tucked into their coats so as to be ready for cold-weather swordplay, whereas women always breastfed with the left breast (hey, that's what it says here) and protected their babies by covering them with the right side of the dress or coat.

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