Garment Thoughts

On Buttons

Do you think about your buttons often? There’s a good chance I think about buttons too much. Historically, men’s and women’s garments have buttons on opposite sides - men’s on the right, women’s on the left. There a number of stories why this is the case, but that’s not really important. It’s 2017, and it just IS. 

When I designed and sampled my first track jacket, it was a gift for my sister on her wedding day. Although the sample wasn’t quite correct (that’s why we make samples!), as I experimented with smaller sizing, the factory had automatically made my jacket a “Women’s” jacket, with buttons on the wearer’s left, opposite of my original pattern.

At this point, I hadn’t thought much about buttons. But why would a smaller garment automatically be switched in this way? If there was a functional reason for having buttons on a certain side, shouldn’t every garment be constructed that way? Why would we automatically gender a garment just because it’s smaller, with something as insignificant as a button side switch? I always just wanted to make garments for anyone and everybody, so which side do the buttons go on? Can it truly be a Universal garment if it’s not the same for everyone, regardless of size?

The initial reaction was to default to the “men’s” button side - this was the advice I got from most of my other designer friends. Women won’t care, but men might, they said. But why default to appease the norms of a group that are already empowered? Are we that insecure that something as small as button side would affect your opinion on an otherwise amazing garment?

My heart said put the buttons on the left. Rather than appease the customer, maybe our role as designers is to challenge them. I wanted my male customer to ask if the button is on “the wrong side,” and if that even matters. It’s such a small thing, this button side decision, but what other small things are there in this world that divide us that we don’t even consider? 

My jackets are different, on purpose. Every time you put it on I want people, especially men, to feel the difference, a slight change in dexterity that is different than default. A small reminder of how the world is made of small concessions, and we all default to certain norms, and that we should remember to challenge them when we can.

Do I think about buttons too much? Most likely. We all have our buttons - go find yours and change the world.