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Boy buttons, girl buttons

January 14, 2009

I recently bought my first men’s polo shirt. It’s kinda huge –most stores don’t carry XS–, but  I love it. Yesterday, however, it caused me some trouble.

I went to my grandmother’s house wearing my lovely polo shirt. As usual, she started scrutinizing me. She noticed the buttons on my chest and her face darkened ominously: “That’s a boy’s shirt.” “Noo, it isn’t,” I lied. She showed me her own shirt: the holes were on the left and the buttons on the right. “These are girl buttons –she said–. You have to look for shirts like this.”

This is the most ridiculous gender rule I’ve heard in a while, right up there with gendered colors and toys. I’d forgotten all about it: when I was six, my mother explained that rich women used to be dressed by servants; buttons were placed in such a way to make the servant’s job easier. Men’s clothes buttoned the other way because they dressed themselves. (Supposedly, it’s easier to button one way than the other, at least if you’re right handed.)

While we’re at it, why did only men dress themselves? Was it because women were considered weak, or was it suspicious to have a man touch another –naked– man? Sexism or homophobia? Two women touching wasn’t suspect, of course, because everyone knew that lesbians didn’t exist. And what about women who didn’t have servants: were their buttons placed for their own comfort, or did their clothes button up like the rich women’s?

This rule should be obsolete by now. I didn’t imagine that clothes makers would keep on making shirts that are harder to button up by yourself.

But watch out: someone might still be policing your buttons.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Renee permalink
    January 14, 2009 6:28 pm

    You might be on to something there, with the whole “inappropriate touching” thing. Then again, I want to say that was less of a problem in the “good ol’ days”…particularly among the aristocracy.

    More than anything, I think the reason probably stems from the fact that women’s clothing was so complicated. Not that men’s wasn’t – I’m sure it was measurably more difficult to deal with than a modern polo – but corsetry literally could not be put on (properly anyway) without at least one assistant.

  2. January 15, 2009 12:57 am

    I heard that it was because women had to unbutton their blouses with one hand to breastfeed… that could be wrong, though…

  3. January 15, 2009 11:26 am

    I don’t know why it’s still around, but it’s a silly thing, isn’t it? Good thing most people don’t really care about it anymore, and won’t hassle ya.

  4. January 17, 2009 4:39 pm

    Should be obsolete, indeed – but then, markers of gender and class rarely go out of style. *wry grin*

    Enjoying your blog, by the way. Thanks for sharing!

  5. thelonelytransguy permalink
    April 5, 2011 1:09 pm

    Yeah, I wear boy polo shirts to school, but my parents will literally dig through my laundry and carefully inspect each shirt to check that I’m using the “right gender” shirts.

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