When did they originate? Why did they originate? And most
important… why do men button from right to left and women from left
to right? Intriguing questions… eh wot?
So… let’s start with origins. How does 2000 B.C. in Southern Asia
sound? At that time they were not used to close shirts. Rather …
they were ornamental. Pins and belts were enough to keep one’s shirt
on. Early Greeks and Romans used them to decorate their tunics and
togas and capes. They were elaborate pieces of jewelry. Carved ivory.
Gold studded with jewels.
And then more expensive fabrics entered the picture. And pins began
to ruin the material. And so buttonholes were invented in order to
accommodate the buttons which now began to hold the clothing in
place. And the rage began. Fashion and pragmatism united to form
excess. Buttons down the front. Buttons along the sleeve. Buttons
down the legs. King Francis I of France ordered 13,400 buttons of
gold which were to be sewn into one velvet garment. 13,400 buttons?
Ye gads. You want to talk status symbols. Francis could have taught
all of us a thing or two.
But the great conundrum was yet to be solved. Modern scholars
pondered… as well as many everyday man and woman. Why oh why do men
button from right to left and women button from left to right? Is
there a simple answer for this? If you have one, dear Benjamin,
share your knowledge with us… won’t you?
Of course I will. Here’s the story. The practice dates back to the
fifteenth century. Men… wherever they were… on the battlefield
… in court… quickly casting on their clothes after a quickie with
the scullery maid… they pretty much dressed themselves. And since
they were… for the most part… right-handed… they buttoned from
right to left. Women on the other hand… lived a life more filled
with leisure and pampering. Those that could afford buttons… did
not dress themselves. Nay nay. They had servants dress them. And as
these servants… also for the most part right- handed… facing the
ladies while dressing them… also buttoned from right to left.
However… right to left was a mirror image… and the lady being
dressed ended up with her buttons going from left to right. And the
practice stuck… and the tailors of the day complied with what had
become tradition. And now you know… and will surely sleep better
this evening for the knowledge.
Of course… there are intrinsic dangers that come with the wearing
of buttons. Should you accidentally put a button into a hole it was
not intended for… misfortune will occur that very day. Find a
button… you’ll find a new friend. And of course… most important
if you want to avoid disaster in life… only button an odd number of
buttons. You have a two button shirt… only button one button. A
three button… do all three. And so on. So… should you be
attending a function one day… and you see this slovenly dressed
person with a button unbuttoned where it should be buttoned…
rethink you opinion of this person. He or she may well be extremely
astute… and is simply leaving one button open in order to avoid
disaster. This… as opposed to the nattily dressed, throw-caution-
to-the-winds individuals who care more about fashion than personal
security. We all know those types.
For those of you who are new to this thing called Tidbits…may I
direct you to my home page at www.tyler-adam.com where you will
scroll down the left side menu till you get to the area that says
Current Tidbits… and then click on it in order to view an image of
multi-colored buttons of diamonds and rubies and gold… dating in
style back to the 17th century. This set of 15 is worth around
And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks.
Catch you all next week.