I was so intrigued by the comments left by Lynne on my post about the early use of zippers that I spent a part of today looking through my collection of vintage magazines and catalogs to see when zippers began to be shown in products. I was especially interested in the 1925 source that stated:
The zipper fastening which started out on tobacco pouches and passed to golf and traveling bags, galoshes, and dresses, now have been utilized on gloves. The newest of the fairly long, loose cuffed band coverings are fastened with the zipper clasp, which makes it unnecessary to fumble with buttons or refractory clasps.
It’s very well documented that some of the earliest uses of the zipper included tobacco pouches and galoshes. Reading that they were also used on golf bags and travel bags is not surprising. But it was very interesting that it specifically mentioned dresses as having zippers, as Louise Barnes Gallagher claimed that she was putting them into dresses in 1922.
What makes Gallagher’s claim especially hard to validate is that she did not form her own label until 1924. Before that date she worked for one of the dozens of suit and coat makers in New York City, a maker for which I’ve not been able to find a name. Another problem with researching this question, especially online, is that the term zipper was not universally used to describe the fastener. My hat is off to Lynne for being able to sift through the various terms, turning up some concrete information.
Before the zipper came along, people used a variety of ways to keep their clothing closed. There were buttons, of course, and in women’s dresses they would often use a variety of closures, including the hook and eye tapes shown above (1922 Montgomery Ward catalog) and tapes that held snap closures. In 1922, dresses were becoming quite tubular, but many still required an opening in order to get the dress over the body. Most of the dresses from this era that I’ve seen have a series of snaps and hooks that fasten the dress at the waist and at the shoulder. I can see how a concealed zipper might possibly be used to fasten the skirt part of the dress.
I started my search in 1921, and included in it were mail order catalogs, Vogue magazines, and other women’s magazines such as Woman’s Home Companion. My findings are not exactly scientific, as there are gaps in what I had available to look through. I do, however, have a nice selection of Vogue from 1921 through 1926.
The first item I found that contained a zipper was in the January 1, 1924 Vogue. It was in the interior of a clutch handbag: Of coloured leather is the new purse-bag from Doucet, lined in black patent kid. It has a compartment cleverly provided with a safety device. As you can see, the safety device is clearly a zipper.
And here are the zippered gloves mentioned in the 1925 source. These are indeed from 1925, again, pictured in Vogue. Note the description: ...closed with the convenient slide fastening that is used everywhere possible this season. In the same issue of Vogue, and also from Hermes were various other zippered travel accessories, including a dog carrier, a muff, and what looks a lot like Hermes’ Bolide bag.
Four above images, copyright Conde Nast
I was not able to find an ad for B.F. Goodrich Zippers, or galoshes, but here is a link to one from 1925. Of course other companies also began putting zippers into galoshes and overshoes. The one below is from a 1927 Charles Williams catalog.
It was not until I looked through a 1931 Sears catalog that I found a zipper being used in a garment. In this case, it was used on the interior pocket of a man’s hunting jacket. In the same catalog, the zipper was seen in numerous handbags and accessories.
Images copyrighted Sears Brands, LLC
The first reference I found of a zipper being used in a dress was in a 1932 Vogue. It was in reference to a Vogue pattern design and stated that a Talon fastener may be used at the neck. So that shows that Talon was selling individual zippers to home sewers by 1932.
Beginning in 1932, there were lots of ads for items using zippers in everything from corsets to handbags to luggage. To see more ads, click “Continue Reading” below.
I’d love to hear from any of you who have catalogs and magazines from the 1920s and early 1930s. From what I’ve found, zippers were being used in products in the mid 1920s, and their use became much more common around 1932. By 1937 they were no longer a novelty item, as evidenced by their common presence in mass market catalogs like Montgomery Wards.
One more note: My friend Nadine was doing research on WWI uniforms when she learned that the US Navy experimented with putting zippers in leather flight suits during that war. The suits did not work, and the idea was dropped, but it makes it the earliest use of a zipper in a garment. She also put me onto a book by Robert Friedel, Zipper: an Exploration in Novelty. I’ve ordered it and will report on it later.
I’ve only seen this Koh-i-noor covered zippers in 1940s clothing, but this ad is from 1932. Note the diagonal zipper in the jacket on the right! And there was no attempt to hide the zipper on the skirt either.
This Talon ad is also from 1932.. Again, the zipper is part of the design of the clutch bag.
And one more from 1932.
This ad from 1935 does not actually say where the zipper was used, but it hints that the dress contains it.
The 1937 Montgomery Wards catalog was full of zippers, both for individual sale and in clothing and accessories.
The drawing above is from a 1938 sewing manual. It also contains instructions for inserting a fully visible zipper – like the ones Schiaparelli had done a few years prior. I also checked a 1927 sewing manual, but there was no mention of zippers in it.