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What You Are Wearing: Flappers’ Freedom and Ancient Egypt

What does Coco Chanel, battle prep, and ancient Egyptians all have in common?


The classic and ever versatile: button-up blouse.

The button-up blouse has been documented throughout not just decades but centuries! See a brief evolution of the button-up here: History Of The Shirt :: Shirt Guide. One of the earliest textile artifacts is a linen shirt preserved from 3000BC Egypt.


Have you ever noticed where the buttons are placed on a woman’s blouse versus a men’s shirt? Women’s clothing items are noted for their buttons (no matter the garment) to fastened from the left side to right versus a men’s garment which has the buttons lining the right side (discussing sides as wearing the garment, not looking at the garment). Believe it or not, the placement of buttons began for the sake of practicality. Buttons were expensive, which means they were often intricately and intensely fastened to the garment itself. Between the 18th-19th century, “Wealthy women…[had] clothing doubling as luxury items, the conventions about them were decided by the wealthy. Servants were often required to help rich ladies get into and out of their elaborately buttoned dresses—and servants, like everyone else, were most commonly right-handed” (The Curious Case of Men and Women's Buttons).


But it is not just about wealthy women and their societal requirements, “As Katherine Lester puts it in Accessories of Dress, “A man's role as hunter [and warrior] required that he pull a weapon from left to right. Fastening a garment from right to left would impede the movement of our ancestors” (The Curious Case of Men and Women's Buttons).


The button-up shirt began as staple undergarment and eventually evolved into a statement all on its own. Its fame started to spread in the 1920’s when Coco Chanel and others swapping skirts for trousers and corsets for men’s shirts (The history of the white shirt). Initially worn as a demand for equality and revolution for women’s rights, it became associated with glamor and style icons as actresses of the 1940’s styled this shirt with elegance (The history of the white shirt).

The popularity of the button-up blouse only increased with each decade as women experimented with its versatility (read more on our post, 5 Ways to Wear a Blouse for Your Season). From silk and wool designs to cotton and linen, the varying kinds of button-up shirts are crafted in a way to be experimented with. There is no standard way of wearing this piece (part of the reason why many have adopted it into their wardrobe).


The overall design of the button-up blouse easily elevates any outfit; Emma Willis (designer of button-up shirts) mentions, “A well-cut shirt is flattering, it frames the face, sharpens the shoulders and is therefore a look that so many iconic men and women have embraced and imprinted on our perception of style over the last 150 years” (The history of the white shirt).


The button-up can be styled into nearly any “type” of outfit from the romantic floral skirt to the dark leather pant or even mixed in with an athleisure sweat set. The button-up is not tied down to one “type” or body, style, material, or environment. There is freedom to be had with this piece; perhaps, that is what the ladies of the 1920’s noticed about it and made their own.


How do you make this iconic fashion staple your own? Any preferred ways to style it? Consider challenging yourself and being a part of this history—wear a button-up blouse in a way you never have before!


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