The history of gendered clothing

Did you know that men and women button their shirts from different sides? Here are three clothing items you wouldn't guess are gendered.

Three sexist details on clothes

Pockets, buttons, heels: most of the gender differentiations in fashion have a very precise historical origin


The buttons are placed on the left side of women's shirts and on the right side of men's shirts. For some, this is due to the fact that men's clothing was used to hide weapons. Most men indeed hold swords with their right hand, which makes unbuttoning coats, vests and shirts easier with the left hand. Hence the famous pose of the hand in the waistcoat of the 19th century, a subtle symbol of leadership. Fashion was often dictated by the wealthy at the time. One theory asserts that wealthy women were often dressed by right-handed servants, for whom it was easier to button on the right.

The high heels

Originally, high-heeled shoes were made exclusively for men. Used as military riding shoes in the 15th century in Persia, they were finally imported into Europe, where male aristocrats wore them to appear taller and to brag about their status. If you look at what is happening in Persia when the heel is adopted by men in Europe, there was this very important leader, Abbas I the Great. What he could bring to his European counterparts was the largest cavalry in the world. They were all wearing heels, says Elizabeth Semmelhack, creative director at the Bata Shoe Museum. Wearing heels is very fashionable first for men. King Louis XIV put on heeled shoes with red soles and forced aristocrats to do the same at Versailles. French luxury shoe designer Christian Louboutin will copy this style in the 1990s. During the 17th century, the shape and manufacture of heels began to change. They're made with layers of leather, like on cowboy boots, and we're starting to associate them with masculinity and outdoor activities. Finally, the idea that men should distance themselves from all that is irrational, and fashion makes men of the 18th century completely abandon very high heels.


On women's clothing, often, either the pockets are fake, or they are there to decorate, either very small or nonexistent. And for good reason: they have a sexist past. I have had the same experience as many women: you buy pants, or a skirt and you see that there is a pocket. Then you slip your hand into it and you realize it's either a fake pocket or a very small pocket, says Eva Everett, co-founder of the clothing brand Svaha. The pockets are created to carry tools and instruments. In the 18th century, women had large pockets in which they put food, office supplies, diaries or sewing materials. Unlike the men's pockets, which hide inside the garment, the women's pockets are separated and tied with a string. After the French Revolution, women began to wear reticles, tiny pouches worn around the arm that could barely contain coins. It was only in the middle of the 19th century that they had sewn pockets, but they remained smaller than those of men. It was during the suffragette movement. Women's clothes, like bloomers, had pockets on the inside, and it was very controversial, says Eva Everett. Then women's fashion evolves, and the pockets are replaced by handbags. On the men's side, the pockets are increasing.