The Amazing Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure!

You may have wondered why we list the placement and, where possible, the brand of zipper on our pieces. The fact is, sometimes the zipper on a dress is the fastest and easiest way to identify the era that dress was produced in (though it is always possible the zipper has been replaced so it should always be used in conjunction with other methods when aging a garment).

Way back in 1851 a patent was given to Elias Howe for the Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure. Resembling an elaborate draw-string more than the zippers we know today, Elias never seriously tried to market it and the idea halted before it could really begin. Then, at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Whitcomb Judson of the Universal Fastener Company, presented a ‘Clasp Locker’, essentially a complicated hook-and-eye fastener. In 1913, Gideon Sundback, the head designer of the company (now known as Talon, Inc) designed the modern zipper. The first modern zippers were all metal with individual teeth and used most frequently had military applications.

Fast forward to the 1920s and zippers could be found in men’s and children’s clothing as they made dressing a simpler process. However, for the very same reason, they were generally not used in women’s clothing. A real lady should not be that easy to undress!

The late 1930s saw the zipper being added to designer dresses, however, due to the prevailing vulgar reputation of zippers, they were concealed behind panels. If a zipper was used in a women’s garment it could be found near the nape of the neck (short zip) and in side seams. Zippers were often used in conjunction with snap buttons. In stark contrast, when it came to men’s fashion in the 30’s the zipper was king! Esquire declared the zipper the “Newest Tailoring Idea for Men” and among the zippered fly’s many virtues was that it would exclude "The Possibility of Unintentional and Embarrassing Disarray.”

Throughout the forties the zipper became more acceptable on women’s clothing and exposed zippers became fashionable. Long centre back zippers with or without snap buttons were common. The first plastic zippers hit the market in the late forties due to metal shortages caused by the war but were prone to breakages. The media suggested the use of the plastic zippers into the 50s to combat the metal shortages but the metal zipper remained the zipper of choice. Because of the campaign it is possible to find an occasional 40s or 50s piece with a plastic zipper made with individual teeth. Long centre back zippers and side seam zippers were still popular on 1950s garments but snap fastenings were becoming rarer.

Metal zippers were commonly used right up to the mid-1960s when the nylon zipper took over. Side seam zippers were used occasionally, but more often than not, full back centre zippers were preferred.

The perfected nylon coil zipper was released in 1971 and remains basically unchanged as of today. The zipper promoted self-reliance in young children by making it possible for them to dress themselves, it improved the fit of men’s trousers and paved the way for the smooth lines of the wiggle dress. It can also be found in luggage, leather goods and shoes just to name a few.

I have to say, I’m pretty impressed by the humble old zipper. Don’t know what we’d do without it.

Happy styling,

Lauren x

Sources: Wikipedia, Vintage Visage, Sewing Mantra

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