Why the Button Fly?

As I was putting on a fairly new pair of pants today, I wondered why the clothing company had decided to use a button fly instead of a zipper fly. Three of my four newest pairs of pants have button flies on them, and while I like the pants for other reasons, I can’t stand having to button them up. What exactly do people find so compelling about button flies, anyway?

The way I see it, zippers have several advantages:

  • They are easier to use: Grab the tab and pull vs. find the slot, hold the button just right, insert the button through the slot, repeat.
  • They are quicker: They take less than a second to use, compared to five or more fumbling seconds with the button fly.
  • They are less visible: One simple flap easily covers the zipper, as opposed to a second flap that bulks up the fly area and can be seen from the right side.

Now, I suppose some may view the third bullet point as an advantage for the button fly, but I’m guessing most are with me on that one.

So why would anyone prefer button flies? Do they last longer? Are they less likely to come undone? Are they part of a larger trend toward 19th-century style?

Can somebody enlighten me on this one? If anyone out there prefers the button fly, please post a comment explaining your rationale.

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69 Responses to Why the Button Fly?

  1. Dad says:

    You poor, naive person! In your innocence, you believe that there should be a reasonable, logical explanation for your buttons. I can tell you with some conviction that you now have buttons for the same reason that all the young women are forced to wear pants and jeans that are designed in such a way that their bellies and spare tires hang out for all to see, no matter how unattractive they may be. The fashion industry decides what we wear, not us, and they don’t give a hoot if buttons are a pain in the ___. They only care that they will no longer be fashionable in a year or two.

  2. Nicole says:

    One burns more calories when forced to button rather than zip one’s fly–an obvious advantage you have overlooked.
    (Hey, throw me a bone here, Swedberg…old habits die hard!)
    Miss you…

  3. Diane Reckless says:

    karl, you are really on top of things. just last week the Wall Street Journal had an article about a recent trend in business and religion. few people have been paying attention as the amish have slowly been aquiring clothing manufacturing contracts. there have even been some not-so-friendly takeovers of major retailers by amish-owned companies. the amish aren’t promoting their involvement, because they are wary of the consumer making cheap fun of their culture, and some of their rather ironically named towns in eastern PA (Intercourse Jeans? Bird-in-Hand Pants Company?) And of course you know, the Amish resist modernization at many levels, including zippers on their clothes. thus, buttons.
    or wait, are they against buttons too?

  4. Red says:

    See, man, some guys like, uh, they like to wear less clothes, dig? We’d rather put chrome exhaust tips on the bike than send all our dead presidents to Hanes, if ya take my meaning. The only bummer about that is havin’ an accident with your zipper. I mean, nothin’ wrecks your buzz faster than that! So we choose the button fly as an expression of our, uh, freedom.
    Hang loose!

  5. Ozymandis says:

    And yet you button your shirts, day after day, without complaint. And tie your shoelaces, instead of using the ever-so-practical velcro.
    Remember, Karl, the unexamined clothes are not worth wearing…

  6. Karl says:

    Diane, very astute observation.
    Nicole, how sad.
    Red, right on, dude.
    Ozymandis, I understand where you’re coming from, but I must confess that I gravitate toward pull-over shirts and slip-on sandals for the same reason. Still, I think one could make a distinction between the button-fly pants and button-down shirts / lace-up shoes: The buttons on shirts and the laces on shoes are *visible*, and as such contribute to a style, which we all know overrides matters of convenience for most people most of the time (witness the quintessential example of this principle, the high-heel shoe). In what way, since the buttons on pants are not visible, could the button fly be considered a fashion statement?

  7. Cynthia DeBoer says:

    “In what way, since the buttons on pants are not visible, could the button fly be considered a fashion statement?”
    None. It’s more like an understatement. Which, in itself, IS fashionable, come to think of it…
    What was your question?

  8. skrati says:

    For lounging, there’s no reason for button fly. When working or otherwise being active, sometimes the zipper can work it’s way downward (due to the same ease of use in bullet #1) leading to a flyus wideopenum condition. Of course, as the zipper gets broken in, this condition can appear even when being inactive or engaged in routine casual and social behaviours. Due to the perceived ruggedness and safety of the button fly and its ability to resist unwanted venting, the button fly has prospered despite its more cumbersome open and close operations.

  9. Karl says:

    Well, skrati, you have come about as close as anybody can to defending the button fly, and for that I salute you. However, one word in your comment, perceived, betrays some doubt about, or at least less than a wholehearted endorsement of, the button fly. Maybe I’m not active or rugged enough, but I can’t remember having had problems with my pants zippers before. Hmmm.

  10. Randy says:

    Red, see above, is exactly correct. There is nothing like being in a hurry and getting your member caught in a zipper. With or without underwear, button fly jeans are the way to go!

  11. Brian says:

    I am old enough to remember the transition from buttons to zips. There was a lot of resistance to the introduction of zip flies. Early zips were not that reliable, so that is understandable; and we all feared getting caught in those nasty steel teeth – nylon came later.
    By the 60s the zips were good enough and trousers became ball crunchingly tight – fashion! By the 80s boxers and pleated fronts were back, but the zip was there to stay.
    I’m not sure when the retro look with buttons crept back in – was it a Levi marketing ploy? But I was too old to notice the fashion!
    I guess a button fly with its extra bulk has the advantage of increasing your profile, if that is an issue; but the extra bulk offers some little extra protection from frontal knocks (for a tall man like me squeezing past parked cars is always a challenge – the wing mirror is just at the wrong height). And I suppose the extra structural firmness at the front will help hide a man’s tendency to pitch a tent at an inappropriate moment.

  12. Karl says:

    Brian, what a hilarious and well written comment! Thanks for adding to the discussion. It made me laugh out loud.

  13. MrZoom says:

    I agree with skrati about the tendency of zips to find their way down without assistance. This can be quite embarassing, especially if one was in the process of pitching a tent, as Brian wrote. I have several pairs of pants that do this.
    As far as ease of operation, once a pair of jeans with a button fly has achieved a certain state of wear, undoing the fly is as quick as twisting the wrist. Pop, pop, pop, all the buttons are undone in a flash. Pardon the pun.
    For these reasons, I want to see more jeans with the option of a button fly, Also, I just think a button fly is cool.

  14. Brian says:

    I was raised in the 1950s and remember the primary school shorts – heavy grey serge with button fly. But us boys never bothered with the fly – just hoik up a leg of the shorts, pull it out and get on with it. The urinal was just a a section of half drain pipe in a walled off corner of the playground.
    We were, of course wearing old fashioned underpants – cut a little fuller than modern boxers. And a vest, grey shirt and heavy woollen jumper!
    Simpler days.

  15. Stephen Howes says:

    I really enjoyed reading the comments concerning button-fly pants. I was always very big about reading tags on the backs of Levis jeans and was first inspired to wear Levis 501 jeans after noticing that women who wear them were more interesting. I remember when Sailor Pants were popular, thinking how hot women looked wearing those especially. Believe me, it takes a very lean figure to wear Sailor Pants! I just was never a fan of zippered pants, I think of them as too ordinary. I also very much enjoy wearing camouflage button-fly BDU pants!
    Kindly, Stephen

  16. Stephen says:

    Hi, It was very interesting to have found this message board and to read feedback from women! As a somewhat perpetuated single male who never met any single or unattached women, I feel alienated from women’s perspectives. I also actually never met any women who seem to partake in the button-fly phenomenon. For example, when I do my errands, I can’t help noticing these totally radical babes and voluptuous blonde haired women (Nina Hartley and Nicole Kidman included) who seem to make it noticable that they are wearing 501 jeans. They wear them high on their waist and so tight along with displaying the 501 tag on the rear, that I can’t help but to feel fascinated by it. Even beautiful models and actresses like to pose with their hands on their waists, showing the viewer that they are wearing button-fly jeans. Okay, I got the message, it does in fact look incredibly sexy, certainly more than the ordinarily boring zipper! But that is only my personal point of view in relation to how these women want to be perceived, at least from a fashion standpoint. I always thought button-fly trousers were a predominantly male item of clothing, and it really intrigues me that a critical mass of women that I never even met, seem to have taken such a significant stronghold over this particular fashion. Enough writing for now. I look forward to receiving feedback from women! PS – I happen to be very sensitive and curious, so please don’t think of me as a moron!

  17. Bruce says:

    I am a gay male, personaly I love the buttonfly levi’s 501s. They look very attractive on most men, especially if they are pitching a tent.

  18. NoNeYoBuiz says:

    You obviously have never zipped up while Mr.Peeps was out for some air.
    I had a pair once, I loved them so i could unbutton all 3 buttons in 1 swift motion ( even faster than unzipping ) My Girlfriend found it rather impressive.

  19. Anne says:

    Ray Bradbury wrote in “Fahrenheit 451”:
    If you replace buttons with a zipper, a man has that much less time to think while dressing at dawn.

    ‘Nuff said.

  20. Bon says:

    Hehe..randomly came across this site while online looking for button fly jeans.
    I am a woman who has worn button fly jeans for a few decades.(when I could find them). Coming up in the late 60’s-70’s it initially was just really sexy and a turn on to slowly unbutton one another’s jeans untill, well, you know. Now days, they are just a part of my style. (when I can find them).

  21. yobo says:

    Zip fly’s always come un-done for me, leaving me in a humiliating position with my pants and shape of my nob visible.
    Doesnt happen with button fly jeans as they never come un done.
    Thats why they are so popular.

  22. Lala says:

    Button-flys are easier to undo—period.
    A swift tugging motion @ 45

  23. Karl says:

    “Button-flys are easier to undo—period.”
    Hmm. Not so for me. One quick pull down and the zipper is undone. Besides, button-flies are much harder to close than zippers are.

  24. Stephen says:

    Has anyone seen “Singles?”
    Imagine my surprise when at least three minutes into the film, we see Kyra Sedgwick about to sit down with the man on a bench.
    For any of you who have watched this movie, I could swear I very clearly saw that Kyra’s button-fly was open.
    As a former film student, I have learned that everything in a shot is directed to supposedly mean something.
    Therefore I can safely imagine that the character portrayed by Kyra was very likely to have been directed to wear her 501 Levis in that manner.
    If you were a shy gentleman like myself, how would you go about politely saving this damsel from the possibility of getting embarrassed?

  25. Stephen says:

    Ever get your wanker caught in a zipper? I will never wear zippered pants if I can help it. Fuggedaboutit … For me, button fly Lucky Jeans are the only way to go … Made in USA

  26. kenny says:

    first of all. This is from the perspective of a straight mid-twenties male. I’ve always found it annoying when you pull a pair of jeans out of the wash and the tab to the zipper is caught in that little spot at the bottom of the crotch. You need a pair of tweezers to zip up a pair of pants. being a big fan of 60’s 70’s rock I tried going for a pair of jeans that is more like a led zep slightly androgenous style. a slight manufactured sepia tone. low rise boot cut with button fly. Best jeans I’ve ever had. Besides having a stream lined design that leads down to what counts when attracting a certain someone. I find it easier to fasten and un-fasten. If you’ve heard or seen the common prob of not having the fly fastened. Its not as easy to forget if you have four brass (or copper or whatever) buttons knocking against the side of your pelvic area (which is one of the more sensitive parts of the body).

  27. Glen says:

    Can anyone let me know the origin of the name “Fly” as in button or zip fly, why is it called a fly?

  28. Stephen says:

    Hi Bon, from question 20:
    That was some very high quality erotic writing!
    You seem like the type who is quite a bit shocked by the high price of jeans! The only jeans I will ever wear are rinsed indigo Levis 501s. It was the front cover of Madonna’s Like a Prayer, showing her waist with those 501 jeans un-buttoned half down. I thought that really looked incredibly sexy!
    I have to confess that I never actually met or dated a woman who wears these! I used to wear zip-fly jeans, and I thought they were just too ordinary and lacking in sex-appeal. I can understand that most people would feel more ealisly convenienced by a simple zipper, than attempting a little manuel dexterity buttoning one’s fly in front of the full-view mirror!
    I am presently working on a profile for a dating site titling myself Loves501s.
    Because I very much hope someday to ‘slowly unbutton one another’s jeans until, well, you know’ would you consider it a pre-requisit? Do you have any advice on how to make mention of this on a profile without sounding a bit too fetishy?

  29. JoePringle says:

    Im a gay male and positively adore jeans with button-flies, specifically exposed buttons on the flies. They are hard to find tho so usualy I take a pair of scissors to my 501s and cutaway the front panel to expose the buttons. I often bump into other guys in the street or at clubs who are into the same thing as me and it’s always a thrill to meet them. I know this is slightly off topic, but they were popular in the early to mid seventies and I wish they would be popular again.

  30. Kurt says:

    The military uses a button fly on there work uniforms because they are repairable and the buttons can be replace if they fall off or break. If a zipper breaks the pants are junk and thrown away. Also buttons do not make noise if you are in the field to give your position away.

  31. dom says:

    the whole point of a button fyl is when you are about to do IT they are more fun to take off trust my im a teen and i kno

  32. Diane – The Amish are opposed to buttons. They think buttons are military. :-|

  33. cmsix says:

    What do you do when your cheap zipper front jeans break a zipper? You’re hosed is what. If you loose a button you have plenty of extra, but if you loose one little cog in a zipper it’s the trash for the jeans. Poor people like me have kept button fly jeans in business for decades, and now you “monkey see monkey do” lot are catching on without knowing the reason. Now you know.


  34. Gaz says:

    Zip, as the name suggests means that you have easy and fast access to your “goodies” whether for urination., sexual or clothing removal reasons. The use of the word “fly” is for the same reason and refers to the speed with which you can gain access. Whilst a zip fly would almost certainly give faster access and greater convenience they almost always come undone by themselves leaving everything open to the elements and with people remarking about low flying aircraft or the phrase “you’re flying low”! Also if you are “hanging out” of your zip fly for any length of time (for whatever reason :-) then this can become uncomfortable and the chances of catching yourself on the zip increase. I much prefer buttons, whilst these can often be fiddley especially when new, they soon “wear in” with use. As for doing up that often elusive bottom button, why bother, just leave it undone. Most men, myself included, leave the bottom two buttons undone anyway as it just makes life easier, everything is still covered and it looks sexier and leaves you ready for action ha :-). Just hate those very low waisted jeans where the fly is like about 5cms long and you cant even get your hand inside let alone get anything out! 501’s are the best, plenty of room for hands and men with big feet :-)

  35. Karl says:

    While I appreciate that it’s really a matter of personal preference, I don’t buy the argument that zippers break more often than buttons do. While almost all of my pants in the last 30 years have had a zipper fly, I haven’t had a single one break on me. I’ve had three or four with button flies, though, and all of them had at least one button pop off.

  36. Gaz says:

    Hey Karl, maybe you had too much “strain” on the buttons, but at least you are ready for action now! :-)

  37. Dan says:

    Poor naive simpletons – has noone seen ‘theres something about mary’?
    Zippers can be extremely dangerous when freeballing (going commando). I myself have felt the pain of getting my cock skin caught in a sharp zipper, renderering me unable to bone and with pussy cock scabs for some time…..
    Of course, there is no risk with the button fly of cock damage.
    I hope this has enlightened you all.

  38. Brian says:

    Never found it a problem myself and I go commando often. Recently, however, I have been feeling the need for full support. It’s to do with advancing age and the effects of gravity ladies complain of. I have taken to Aussiebum Wonderjocks – they have an extra flap that comes up behind your balls so you are held high and forward without being crushed. Wonderfully comfortable, but you have to be careful when negotiating the zip round your package.

  39. Me says:

    My button flys wear out a lot faster than zippers and they come open a lot more. The button hole becomes stretched out and become worthless. Plus they are a pain to close. They are very easy to open though.

  40. Al says:

    Never been cuaght in a button fly, but zippers can be painful

  41. Unni Lindell says:

    Haha. You purchased a girl jeans. FAIL

  42. Unni Lindell says:

    I’m just kidding. ;) Buttons rock because you can pee through the holes.. weee

  43. Ginger kid says:

    In defence of buttons everywhere…….
    Zipper jeans have a button at the top anyways! What does that say about buttons?! That they’re ABOVE AND BEYOND zippers, exactly!
    So, obviously, someone realized…hey, zippers are great and all, except, buttons are already there, and they stay together firmer, so…why not throw on few more buttons?!
    Hence cargo pants.
    Oh, and then they made the button fly, due to its obvious arodynamic advantages.

  44. IvyMeep says:

    I absolutely love button flys. I would only wear them if I could. I recently went to pick up a new pair of Levi’s 501s and found them suddenly to be too tight in the thighs. Apparently there are different fits now. But as I am currently trying to repair my last pair that I only bought about 4 months ago. I went online to see what other jeans I could find in button flys, and I stumbled across this page.
    I think they are sexy on a man or woman.
    They do have a nice ease of access if you are familiar with them. I find it amusing when a guy will unbutton ALL the buttons to get me out of them.
    As mentioned above, they do not have a habit of working their way open at in-opportune moments.
    And maybe I just love them because they aren’t common and every day.
    Thank you to everyone for the perspective that more pants/shorts/etc used to be button flys. Also to the ppl who mentioned female actresses and singers who have worn button flys, I was not aware!

  45. Tom says:

    Button flies rule. It really doesn’t take that much longer to fasten once you’re used to doing it all the time.
    Also, you NEVER forget to zip up with a button fly. Consider that.

  46. Karl says:

    In case anyone is wondering why the comments here are so lopsided in favor of button-fly jeans, it’s because somehow this blog entry is the number-one result on Google when you search for “button fly”:
    Nearly every person commenting after September 2004 has come here via google.com. Of course, if they’re searching for “button fly,” they’re likely to be in favor of them.
    Just saying.

  47. wadowado says:

    Yup, just looking for some jeans on google and found this.

    My points to why I still seek the button fly – some have been mentioned and some not:
    -No chance of getting skin caught!
    -More comfortable going ‘commando’
    -Never have ‘fly down’ accidents
    -Less likely to break
    -And this one is why I like them on my girl … I like to open them with my teeth.

  48. A.D. says:

    Ha ha… Yep, I got here looking for button fly pants.
    I don’t think I can explain why in objective terms. Subjectively, I think they look better (especially the way the fly folds when sitting.) Also, I can manage button repair better than zipper replacement. It does seem easier to me to manage the button fly. And, oh yeah, they’re more fun for the husband to undo!

  49. JerseyGuy says:

    Buttonfly. What am I doing Here? I read through all these comments. Levi’s? Didn’t Bugle Boy cause the button-fly revival? I thought Bugle Boy INVENTED the button fly.
    Are you people British? You talk funny.

  50. Herman says:

    Zip fly and button fly may seem indifferent to women, but not for men
    1. why would someone get their cock skin caught in the zipper? if you do, try wearing underwear
    2. pulling up/down a zipper is no doubt much quicker than button/unbutton
    3. the fly is concealed anyway, why would button fly look better than zip fly?
    4. Zipper rarely breaks, button often goes off (true for jacket as well)