Have you ever looked at shirt or jacket and noticed that the zipper or the buttons are on the opposite side? Perhaps you’ve bought a new shirt or jacket and have been disoriented by the positioning of these fasteners. An estimated 70 to 95 percent of people in the world are believed to be right-handed1* and this is the popular theory behind why it is believed a majority zippers and buttons are made on the right side of the garment. But if you look at women’s clothing and men’s clothing you might find yourself asking why is that women’s buttons are more often on the left while men’s buttons are on the right? The answer is believed to lie in the past.
One theory is related to the fashion worn by middle- and upper-class men and women in the Victorian and Renaissance eras. Women were often dressed by their servants, who were most likely right-handed, hence the button placement on the left made it easier for a servant to dress the lady.2* This can also be attributed to sumptuary laws which designated what clothing was allowed to be worn in order to limit extravagance and luxury. Thus, only the wealthy women were permitted to wear buttons, which most likely popularized women’s clothing to have the button placement on the left.3*
There are also theories that button placement on the right made it easier for men to draw weapons from their coats, or that button placement on the left made it easier for women to breastfeed and hold their baby.4* Though the exact source is still unknown, this button placement may have trickled down and the arbitrary custom eventually found itself applied to zippers as well. Interestingly, this zipper/button placement regarding gender is largely an American phenomenon and the preconceived notion that a garment is gendered based on what side the zipper is on doesn’t transfer world-wide. Other countries simply have a preference of which side they like the zipper to be on. In Asia and Europe, the right side is favored, while in South America the left is preferred.5*
Gideon Sundback, the inventor of the modern metal zipper, started a zipper company in Ontario, Canada called Lighting Fastener in 1937. He was still working with Universal Fastener/Talon at the time, so as to not compete, he reversed his designs for the separating zipper. So the USA market was left hand and Canadian market (and the rest of the world) was right handed.
Which one should you choose for your application?
The placement of the zipper or buttons is a choice that is ultimately left up to the designer with the only widely accepted, unspoken rule being that if there are both zippers and buttons on a garment they should be on the same side, the rest is simply left up to the preference of the garment maker.6* When garment making, it is important to consider whether you intend to have separating on non-separating zippers; in addition to being mindful of which side the insertion pin are on based on the inclinations of which market you intend to sell your product to. YKK offers open end zippers for both left inserts and right inserts, so you may choose whichever side you feel fits your preferences best.