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Q&A: A look at men's and women's clothing and button placement

The gender button question

Maybe you can answer this question: The other evening we were discussing why men's buttons are on the right side and women's on the left. Why is that?

This is one of those questions that has a lot of possible answers, none of them definitive.

The most common explanation is that the tradition dates from the 17th century. In those days, buttons were mostly on the clothes of wealthy people. The custom was that rich men dressed themselves, and because most people are right-handed, the buttons were on the right side because they were easier to hook.

But rich women were dressed by servants, who would stand in front to fasten all of the buttons for their employers. Putting the buttons on the left side for women's clothes made it handier for the servants, assuming they also were right-handed, to do their jobs.

And since wealthy women influenced fashion, other women copied them. So buttons on the left for women became the norm.

Other theories:

• Men's buttons were placed on the right so that they could draw a sword from the left hip and not snag in the process.

• Women's buttons were placed on the left to allow easier access to the left breast for nursing, since it's closer to the heart.

• Women didn't want to be seen as wearing men's clothes, so they changed the button placement.

Whatever the reason, that tradition continues today.

Fight on flight sparked concern

A trans-Atlantic United Airlines flight recently returned to the United States because of two unruly passengers. This plane was in contact with controllers, and the problem was known. Why did the U.S. Air Force scramble jet fighters to escort the plane to its landing?

Here's what we know: On May 29, a United Airlines flight took off from Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., at about 10:44 p.m. bound for Ghana with 144 passengers.

Shortly after takeoff, a passenger reclined his seat, and the man behind him took offense and smacked him in the head. A flight attendant and another passenger intervened, the pilot was notified and he decided to turn back and land at Dulles. Meanwhile, two F-16 fighter jets from nearby Andrews Air Force Base were sent up to shadow the flight until it landed. No one was charged, even though the plane dumped about $50,000 worth of fuel and the flight was delayed for a day.

Homeland Security and airline officials aren't commenting on the incident. But there are indications that the pilot was concerned about terrorism, and disturbances on planes, especially in the Washington area, are bound to get a quick and forceful reaction even nine-plus years after Sept. 11, 2001.

Q&A: A look at men's and women's clothing and button placement 06/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 1, 2011 5:27pm]
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