Most of you know by now that I approach fashion as an historian, rather than, say as a designer or a marketer. My BA is in American history, and the study of it has been a life-long passion. My recreational reading is mainly books on history, or biographies or primary source material. One thing I learned many years ago at the university was to always, always question the sources.
I’ve been reading M D C Crawford’s, Ways of Fashion, which was published in 1941. This book is just the sort of thing I love; it’s full of information about and interviews with the designers of the day. I was just finishing it up with a chapter called “The American Way.” In that chapter, Crawford quotes Louise Barnes Gallagher at length. Ms. Gallagher makes a very startling statement:
I am credited with the first ensembles, and I introduced the zipper in 1922. For two years the Talon Company confined it to me for women’s clothes.
I’m going to ignore the ensembles statement, but the part about the zipper is pretty stunning news to me. There is a bit of controversy concerning the invention of the zipper, but you can see by the patent I’ve shown above that Gideon Sundback submitted his design for a zipper in 1914, and it was approved in 1917. His design is considered by many to be the first modern zipper. He was working for the Hookless Fastener Company, the company that later became Talon Zippers.
In the early days of the zipper, or the slide fastener as it was often called, the main use for it was on rubber galoshes. You pretty much do not see any mention of the use of zippers in fashion until Elsa Schiaparelli used them in her 1935 winter collection. The plastic zippers were not concealed in any way, becoming a design element in the garment, and they were widely discussed as being quite avant garde.
They didn’t stay that way, of course. Here’s my 1937ish tennis dress with a non-concealed zipper, a la Schiaparelli.
So what about Ms. Gallagher’s claim to be using zippers in her clothing in 1922? Whenever someone says they have a 1920s dress and then they say it has a zipper, one immediately knows that the dress is not 1920s at all – that it is probably a 1960s dress. The possibility of a 1922 woman’s garment containing a zipper is just not in the realm of possibilities, but yet, there is Ms. Gallagher’s statement.
It is possible that this is a writing and editing mistake, but even if she meant 1932, that year is also early to see a zipper in a woman’s garment. And if it was a mistake, it went uncorrected in the 1948 edition of the book. Perhaps Gallagher’s memory is faulty, but remember, this was written in 1941 when she was in her 40s. It was not the memory of an old woman.
So, what’s the earliest you have seen zippers in women’s clothing? Do you think it is possible that Gallagher was putting zippers in clothing in 1922?