26 April 2012

A post full of zips: From 50's dresses to funky bags

Firstly, I'd like to apologise for the lack of blogging recently. I've been really busy with a needle and thread and decorating my fingers with food colouring, but I will reveal more in later posts. Plus the Asos sale was a tad of a distraction too.

The 24th (Tuesday) would have been the 132nd birthday of Gideon (what a name) Sundback. Don't know who he is? Well we have him to thank for every time we do our jeans, dresses, skirts etc up. We also have him to thank for when we break a nail on a zip that has decided to go on strike, oh and those endless hours trying to fit one into a garment, don't remind me.

 The zip was invented way back in the Victorian era as early as 1891 by W.Litcomb Judson, but it took many decades for it to be properly accepted as a useful item. His idea called 'The Clasp Locker' was different to what we know today and was a complicated hook and eye fastener with a lot less teeth ,four per inch. In 1913 Gideon designed the modern zipper and it had ten or eleven teeth per inch. It was first seen on a new type of rubber boots made by B.F. Goodrich Company and this is when the design became known as the zipper. Boots and tobacco pouches were then made with zippered closures, but it took twenty years to even start to be seen on clothes. Ladies had to fiddle with buttons for a little while longer.

It wasn't properly seen until in the 1930's on children's clothing and they were promoted to help children dress themselves. No more running around the house after your child trying to do their buttons up on their cardigan, any one that has children or babysat understands this dilemma.

It first became seen as a use on adult clothes when the John Galliano of her day, French designer Elsa Schiaparelli began to use plastic coloured zips in her designs, that were both decorative and functional. They were also seen in 1937 on men's trousers and were thought of as the newest tailoring idea for men. It was described as the solution to 'The possibility of Unintentional and Embarrassing Disarray' that's if you're not drunk and don't forget to do your flies up.
So having the pleasure of seeing the overweight 60 year old slimy man's flies undone on the train, is all down to him, thanks Gideon.
It wasn't until the 50's when improvements in zip manufacture were taken seriously and then thought of as a good idea to put into all clothing.

Now I'm going to give you some tips on how to help you find out whether an item is vintage or well horse poop, lets just hope it doesn't smell of it.
Before the 1950's zips were put in the side seams of dresses, skirts and trousers. In those days especially with the 'make do and mend' trend, people made their own clothes using sewing patterns. In these patterns the fasteners were finished with press studs (poppers) hook & eye fastenings or buttons.
Later zips were used in the centre back of dresses and skirts and centre fronts for trousers. Finally, someone realised that it is much easier to insert a zip in the back of a dress in the early stage of design, then on the side of a garment that is almost completed, believe me doing this can make you want to run to Sarah Burton for help.

Zips became popular in the back due to the 1960's garments being very fitted, you can blame Twiggy for this. Hiding all that cake you've eaten under a big skirt was no more.
They often had waist seams, so during construction bodices were almost completed and then the zip could easily be applied at the back. During the Utility Era (1940's) there were vast improvements in production, so it was faster to put a zip in the back of a garment. Well you're bound to find quicker ways, what with Clark Gable on the tv.

So when you go into a charity shop again next, remember these things:
-For true vintage pre late 70's you are looking for metal zippers with cotton twill tape.
- Pre 1960's: Look for zips in the side seam, it is very rare to find an authentic pre 60's dress with a centre zip.

There are also some other main clues to find a real vintage item, such as labels and fabric. But finding the correct zip and the correct positioning of it, you are well on your way to finding a real gem. Beat that Miss Marple.

Nowadays zips are seen on everything and not just in practical ways. From jewellery to shoes and clothes with zip accessories they are everywhere. Just think, what on earth would we do without zip-up sleeping bags, Gideon we salute you.

Second Hand Rose


  1. I had no clue about Gideon Sundback till I opened the Google homepage. They had a great doodle. Great post SHR, and a salute to Mr. Sundback. What would have happened to bags,both sleeping and otherwise, without zips?!


  2. What an interesting post! I guess big thanks are due to Mr. Sundback...I sure hate button flies on jeans and without the zipper I sure wouldn't be wearing any!
    I've heard many times about Elsa Schiaparelli's zipper dresses. I sure would love to see a pic of one somewhere, or better yet, in person! I'll bet they were interesting as all her designs were.
    Just a side note: Whenever I see vintage zippers (in their original packages) at estate sales or thrift stores I buy 'em all up. Then, when I find a vintage item that has a broken zip, I can replace it with one of the same age, or close to it.
    Thanks for a fun post, as usual!

  3. Wow- I had no idea that one man had had such an impact on the history of fashion and the clothes we wear today. Really interesting info about how to tell if something is vintage too- I had absolutely no idea! Xxxxx

  4. This is amazing, I never thought about the zip concept before .. Great blog post as per usual babe ! <3 xxxxx


  5. Every single time I come to your blog, I learn something new! This is such a brilliant post, and has made me take a moment out of my hysterically strange existence to appreciate the zip in all its glory. Without it, my love handles would spill out of gorgeous lace dress, and menfolk would be endlessly alarmed by the flash of my knickers through my jeans. This man is an ultimate babe. Thank you for sharing him, and the zip story with me.

    You are magnificent. Xx

  6. it's hard to imagine life without zippers, haha! ;)

    p.s. i love that blue dress!

    <3, Mimi

  7. love ur post!
    u won an award on my blog:) x

  8. Your posts are always so informative! I love reading them! thanks for your lovely comment!

  9. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, dear!

  10. I'm loving zipper earrings atm! Those are the cutest I've seen by far :D awesome x

  11. What a good post, I always learn so much from you!

    Love, Elizabeth xx



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