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Why Are Shirt Buttons On Different Sides For Men and Women?

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The seemingly arbitrary gendering of buttons on men’s and women’s clothing probably isn’t something you’ve considered unless, like me, you’ve taken the perfect gingham shirt into the dressing room at a thrift store, only to be completely confused upon trying to button up.

The history behind this peculiarity is somewhat shrouded in mystery, but it’s generally considered to be a relic from the days when clothing was a lot more complicated. In the Renaissance and through the Victorian era, women—particularly wealthy women—wore elaborate items and often enjoyed the luxury of being dressed by a servant. In that case, it was easier for the assistant to have the buttons on the right side (when facing the woman being dressed) with the assumption that the servant was right-handed, as most people were believed to be. Men usually dressed themselves, hence the buttons on the other side.

Of course there’s some question about whether this makes sense as a lasting convention if such a limited number of people could afford maids to dress them, but the nobility were the tastemakers when it came to fashion and it’s reasonable to think that those traditions trickled down and have stood the test of time only because no one bothered to change them.

Other possible explanations also cite the fashions of hundreds of years ago when men’s clothing often included weaponry. A right-handed man could pull his weapon out with his primary hand and unbutton with the secondary. The hand-in-waistcoat portraiture of the time somewhat supports this idea, with the right hand tucked into the open flap.

Another weapon-related theory: standard fighting position meant facing the enemy with your left side with the shield. A shirt with an overlap from left to right meant that a foe couldn’t aim a sword in you through an open slit.

On the flip side, maybe babies are the reason? Women usually hold a child on their left side to free up a dominant hand and a shirt that opens on the right makes breastfeeding easier.

Several other theories exist, including ones about horseback riding, Napoleon's Napoleon complex, church etiquette, and what might be the most unsettling of all—that the distinction was made during the standardization and early days of mass-produced clothing and was meant to reinforce sexist attitudes by forcing women to button with their "inferior" hand.

Most likely though, it’s because Marie Antoinette and the like needed help securing their bodices.

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Big Questions
Why Do Baseball Managers Wear Uniforms?
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Basketball and hockey coaches wear business suits on the sidelines. Football coaches wear team-branded shirts and jackets and often ill-fitting pleated khakis. Why are baseball managers the only guys who wear the same outfit as their players?

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball since 2011, it goes back to the earliest days of the game. Back then, the person known as the manager was the business manager: the guy who kept the books in order and the road trips on schedule. Meanwhile, the guy we call the manager today, the one who arranges the roster and decides when to pull a pitcher, was known as the captain. In addition to managing the team on the field, he was usually also on the team as a player. For many years, the “manager” wore a player’s uniform simply because he was a player. There were also a few captains who didn’t play for the team and stuck to making decisions in the dugout, and they usually wore suits.

With the passing of time, it became less common for the captain to play, and on most teams they took on strictly managerial roles. Instead of suits proliferating throughout America’s dugouts, though, non-playing captains largely hung on to the tradition of wearing a player's uniform. By the early to mid 20th century, wearing the uniform was the norm for managers, with a few notable exceptions. The Philadelphia Athletics’s Connie Mack and the Brooklyn Dodgers’s Burt Shotton continued to wear suits and ties to games long after it fell out of favor (though Shotton sometimes liked to layer a team jacket on top of his street clothes). Once those two retired, it’s been uniforms as far as the eye can see.

The adherence to the uniform among managers in the second half of the 20th century leads some people to think that MLB mandates it, but a look through the official major league rules [PDF] doesn’t turn up much on a manager’s dress. Rule 1.11(a) (1) says that “All players on a team shall wear uniforms identical in color, trim and style, and all players’ uniforms shall include minimal six-inch numbers on their backs" and rule 2.00 states that a coach is a "team member in uniform appointed by the manager to perform such duties as the manager may designate, such as but not limited to acting as base coach."

While Rule 2.00 gives a rundown of the manager’s role and some rules that apply to them, it doesn’t specify that they’re uniformed. Further down, Rule 3.15 says that "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Again, nothing about the managers being uniformed.

All that said, Rule 2.00 defines the bench or dugout as “the seating facilities reserved for players, substitutes and other team members in uniform when they are not actively engaged on the playing field," and makes no exceptions for managers or anyone else. While the managers’ duds are never addressed anywhere else, this definition does seem to necessitate, in a roundabout way, that managers wear a uniform—at least if they want to have access to the dugout. And, really, where else would they sit?

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
How Long Could a Person Survive With an Unlimited Supply of Water, But No Food at All?
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How long could a person survive if he had unlimited supply of water, but no food at all?

Richard Lee Fulgham:

I happen to know the answer because I have studied starvation, its course, and its utility in committing a painless suicide. (No, I’m not suicidal.)

A healthy human being can live approximately 45 to 65 days without food of any kind, so long as he or she keeps hydrated.

You could survive without any severe symptoms [for] about 30 to 35 days, but after that you would probably experience skin rashes, diarrhea, and of course substantial weight loss.

The body—as you must know—begins eating itself, beginning with adipose tissue (i.e. fat) and next the muscle tissue.

Google Mahatma Gandhi, who starved himself almost to death during 14 voluntary hunger strikes to bring attention to India’s independence movement.

Strangely, there is much evidence that starvation is a painless way to die. In fact, you experience a wonderful euphoria when the body realizes it is about to die. Whether this is a divine gift or merely secretions of the brain is not known.

Of course, the picture is not so pretty for all reports. Some victims of starvation have experienced extreme irritability, unbearably itchy skin rashes, unceasing diarrhea, painful swallowing, and edema.

In most cases, death comes when the organs begin to shut down after six to nine weeks. Usually the heart simply stops.

(Here is a detailed medical report of the longest known fast: 382 days.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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