There are several theories as to why men and women’s clothes are buttoned on opposite sides. I subscribe to the theory that mens’ buttons are on the wearer’s right side because men have tended to dress themselves over the centuries whereas women had help in getting dressed by a maid, mother, husband, or sister, and so the buttons are placed to make it easier for someone else to use. In fact, buttons on women’s outfits were rare until the 1870s, hooks and eyes were more commonly used, and before that, straight pins.
Last weekend I acquired a women’s Royal Canadian Air Force jacket from 1942 for the collection. I don’t normally acquire partial uniforms without provenance, but this piece intrigued me. Founded in July 1941 as the Canadian Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (CWAAF) their name was changed to the Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division in February 1942. Women in this branch were commonly referred to as WDs. They were disbanded in December 1946.
What I thought was interesting about this jacket was that it buttoned like a man’s, and the pockets are fake. I am by no means a Canadian military uniform historian, but I thought those features made the jacket worthy of acquiring for the collection. In researching this combination of men’s buttoning and fake pockets I came across this image that showed several versions for women’s uniforms, including real and fake pockets, and left and right hand buttoning. All of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC) uniforms in the collection have the traditional left hand side buttoning for women, so I don’t know if this is an air force thing or what the explanation is – anybody know?