Tag Archives: zipper

Ad Campaign – Talon Zippers, 1972

We put as much care into the things we make as you put into the things you make.

By 1972, the metal zipper was considered to be terribly old fashioned, though the zipper makers continued to produce them for the many old fashioned seamstresses who did not trust the flimsy nylon ones.  (It did not help that the very earliest models on the market were prone to failure, and that it took a while before people realized that nylon zippers and hot irons do not mix.)  My grandmother was one such home sewer who distrusted nylon zippers, though she didn’t have to worry about it much because she had been forced to retire her sewing machine due to arthritis.

But in 1972 I was a thriving sewer, like the young woman in the ad.  If people think that DIY is a new phenomena, then they do not know the 70s.  By the time I started sewing in the mid to late 1960s, all the bugs had been worked out of the nylon coil, and I had no trust issues.

One of the big items of debate is recent years has been the question of the start of the nylon coil zipper.  Thanks to Robert Friedel’s book, Zipper, I can now say with certainty that the Talon Zephyr was introduced to the US market in March, 1960.  That means that any garment with the original Talon nylon zipper cannot have been made before that date.

The story is different in Europe.  The German zipper company, Opti-Werk, began manufacturing nylon coil zippers in 1955.

So it all depends on the little name embossed on the zipper pull as to whether an item with a nylon coil zipper could have been made in the 1950s.


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Currently Reading: Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty

As so often happens, after I post about a topic, information just magically turns up.  Okay, so it wasn’t magic, it was due to a book recommendation by a new friend, Nadine Stewart whom I met in Atlanta at the CSA symposium this past May.  After posting about a zipper mystery, she pointed me toward Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty, by Robert Friedel.

Well researched and documented, Zipper is not just the history of the object, but is also a look into how new technology becomes integrated into our lives.  The zipper is an object that we don’t really need, as for many years its job was adequately covered by buttons and snaps and pins.  The book tells not only how the zipper was invented, but how it became so much a part of our lives.

Robert Friedel is a professor of technological history at the University of Maryland.  The book is well researched and documented, Friedel having access to the archives of Talon International, the company that was instrumental in the development of the zipper.  And while it might sound like a pretty dry subject, Friedel manages to write an entertaining book.

I’m not going to give the full account of how the zipper was invented, and how it came to be so commonly used.  For that you have to read the book.  But I am going to point out some of the most interesting aspects of zipper development as it pertains to fashion and clothing.

The concept of the zipper was dreamed up by machinery salesman turned inventor, Whitcomb Judson, in 1891.  His idea was actually to take a standard closure – the hook and eye – and automate it.  The resulting patent showed a series of hooks and eyes that were connected by way of a slider.  Unfortunately, this invention was unsuccessful, mainly because the hooks were too easily bent.

This zipper was put into production in 1905 as the C-Curity.  Ads for it show it in a skirt placket, and it was actually used in some garments.  But it was just too unreliable, and worst of all, the device was not rust-proof, and so had to be removed before washing.  The next year, a Swedish immigrant and engineer, Gideon Sundback, was brought into the company to try and solve the problems with the fastener.  The result was an improved version called the Plako.

However, the new fastener still had problems, and so Sundback decided to try a new approach.  The hooks were discarded, and instead he took the idea of little indentions being connected to a matching rounded wire.  He kept the slide, and in 1913, had a working prototype of the modern zipper.  By 1915, the newly renamed company, the Hookless Fastener Company, was actively trying to market the “Hookless” to garment manufacturers.

Even though the Hookless worked well, it was a very hard sell.  Many of the garment makers had  had bad experiences with the C-Curity and the Plako, and wanted nothing to do with the new version.  The insertion of the device would mean a change in sewing procedures.  But the biggest problem was the price.  The Hookless was relatively expensive, and manufacturers could not justify using it when buttons and snaps were adequate.

Still, according to company records, almost thirty makers of women’s skirts had used the device in their 1916 lines.   The Hookless seems to have been of special interest to sportswear makers, and was used in riding skirts and pants for football and baseball.  But most garment makers were simply not interested in the device.

During the last days of World War I, the military actually bought Hookless fasteners and experimented with them, putting them in sleeping bags and flightsuits.  But for some reason the flightsuit prototypes were never put into production.

Though the Hookless company saw their fastener as being perfect for garments, it was another product that finally made the device profitable.  In 1918 a company started putting the Hookless in their tobacco pouches.  It was a clever use for a product that needed a better and more easily used closure than buttons or snaps.

The big breakthrough for the Hookless came when the B.F. Goodrich Rubber Company approached the Hookless people about using the device in rubber galoshes.  In 1922, Goodrich began using the Hookless in a new boot they called the Zipper.  It was a smash success.

At the same time, the Hookless Fastener Company continued to court clothing manufacturers.  In the early 1920s the company did implement a policy of giving exclusive rights to makers.  This may be how Louise Barnes Gallagher was able to make the claim that she introduced the zipper into women’s dresses in 1922, though Gallagher was not mentioned in the Zipper book.  And even though she had the rights to use the Hookless, that does not mean she used it much, and it certainly did not lead to the zipper being adapted as a commonly used fastener in clothing.

On the contrary, the use of the zipper in fashion continued to be pretty much limited to galoshes, and to the use of them in handbags.  By the end of the 1920s, galoshes were falling in favor, and in 1931, for the first time since Goodyear first started using the zipper, there were more zippers sold to handbag makers than to Goodyear.

It was in children’s clothing that the zipper finally caught on in garments.  In the late 1920s and early 1930s there was a movement toward children being taught at an earlier age to be more independent.  The use of zippers in clothing allowed the little guys to dress themselves, and there was a huge campaign to convince the makers’ of kids’ clothing to start using the zipper.

The next application of the zipper was in the fly of men’s pants.  The main problem was that the sewing application of the zipper was very different than that of buttons and buttonholes, but the Hookless people went to work developing an easy way to insert the zippers.  Then again, they targeted the young, with advertising of the zippered fly being aimed at boys and young men.  It worked, and by 1940s the button fly was the domain of the elderly.

As for the women, it is true that in 1935 Elsa Schiaparelli began using the newly developed colored plastic zippers in her designs.  She featured the zippers not so much as closures, but rather, as design elements.  Still, it was another two years before the zipper as closure really caught on in women’s clothing, especially in dresses.  In this same year, the Hookless Fastener Company renamed itself as Talon, Inc.  After that point, the zipper was not so much a novelty as it was an accepted part of how we got dressed.

And there’s more to the story.  Next week I’ll put some definite dates to the first use of the nylon coil zipper.  Stay tuned!


Filed under Currently Reading

Zippers, Part II

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.

Continue reading


Filed under Curiosities, Vintage Clothing

The First Use of a Zipper in Fashion?

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?


Filed under Curiosities

Two Birds with One Stone – Zippers and Tweed

It’s nice knowing that people are thinking about me when they go in search of vintage treasures.  Recently Beth at Retro Roadmap was out thrift shopping when a lovely vintage dress caught her eye.  It was tweed, made in Ireland, but sold through a shop in Vermont.  Then she noticed a detail about the construction – the dress had both a metal zipper in the back and two nylon zippers in the sleeves.

She immediately thought of my recent post on the advent of the nylon zipper, and because she can’t leave a great dress hanging  unloved in a thrift, she took it home with her.  Then, being the generous person that she is, she arranged to send the dress to me.  The dress arrived today, and I’ve been consumed with figuring out the story behind it.

Thanks to a site called iPutney.com I was able to learn the story of Carol Brown.  Born Lucy Caroline Brown in 1889, she became interested in Irish woolens during a bicycle tour of Ireland in 1926.  She became friends of the Wynne sisters of the Avoca Handweavers in County Wicklow, Ireland.  Carol began importing the woolen yardage which she sold through a shop in Boston.  In 1937 she moved to Putney, Vermont and opened the shop in her home.

There she sold a variety of woolen goods – Irish tweed yard goods, woolen blankets and lap rugs, and handknit scarves, caps and sweaters.  Her interest in natural fibers led her to expand into other fabrics from around the world, such as fine Swiss cottons and Thai silks.  The shop was mentioned in a 1971 newsletter from the Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Women, in which the lap rugs were highly recommended!

Brown became a community leader and a patron of the arts in her adopted town.  She died in 1990, just shy of her 101th birthday.

The dress dates from the late 1960s or early 70s.  By then the nylon zipper had been around for around ten years, but as you can see, it was not universally used.  It’s possible that the sewer opted for a metal zipper because of the heavy weight of the tweed.  At any rate, it shows nicely how the use of the two types of zippers overlapped.

And what about that tweed?  Isn’t it stunning?


Filed under Curiosities, Sewing

Ad Campaign – Talon Zephyr, 1960

This September 1960 ad for Talon nylon zippers is the earliest one I’ve got in my collection.  One of the long-standing debates in clothing history is when was the nylon coil zipper introduced.  There are dozens of zipper histories on the web, but most don’t even mention the nylon zipper.  I’ve read statements from people who claimed they used nylon zippers in the late 1950s, and I’ve also read claims that nylon zippers were not available until the mid 60s.

Our ad clearly shows that nylon zippers were in use by manufacturers in 1960, and the ad says they are “new,” so one can assume that they were not used much earlier than that date.  Also, this ad was to introduce clothing buyers to the new zipper, and to reassure them that the zipper was “safe” to use.

I’m not sure if the new zippers became available to home sewers at this time, but my feeling is that it was not until a bit later.  When I took my first formal sewing class in 1967, our sewing teacher advised us not to use a nylon zipper as they were not as reliable as the metal ones.  So even by that late date, the nylon zipper had not been completely accepted.

And that is what makes using the zipper type a bit tricky when it comes to dating a garment.  Throughout the 60s garments were being made using either.  Even in the 1970s many home sewers were using metal zippers.

If anyone has any concrete evidence – an ad, or an article in print – that pre-dates September 1960s, please post about it.  And I’d love to have a copy for my files.  Also, anyone with early 1960s home sewing magazines, I love to hear about what they show about the use of nylon zippers.


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Zipped Up

Remember this lovely dress and the nightmare of a zipper job? Well, it’s all fixed now and ready to go to a new home.  I replaced the turquoise nylon zipper with an off-white vintage metal one.  I also removed the velveteen band and bow because the dress was dirty.  It washed beautifully, and now, with bow reattached, it looks as good as new.

I normally would not put so much time into a dress, but this one was just too special not to rescue.  It will be on etsy later this week, probably even tomorrow.  Here’s a view of the “new” zipper:


Posted by The Red Velvet Shoe:

Oh, much better! It’s gorgeous!!

Thursday, June 11th 2009 @ 8:19 PM

Posted by Shayla:

Oh that dress is darling, I am so happy you saved it.
I would buy it for sure to wear to my birthday! But I dont even have a spending budget right now.. so its for out of my price range. lol. 

Good work! 🙂

Thursday, June 11th 2009 @ 8:29 PM

Posted by Lizzie:


Thursday, June 11th 2009 @ 10:27 PM

Posted by Mary Catherine (APrizeEveryTime):

Oh, it looks ever sweeter than I’d imagined. I knew you’d work wonders. Totally adorable dress, and GREAT save.

Friday, June 12th 2009 @ 2:05 PM

Posted by jessica:

Stunningly pretty dress. I love the whimsy and elegance of the bow down near the hem.

Wishing you a beautiful weekend,
♥ Jessica

Friday, June 12th 2009 @ 3:50 PM

Posted by amanda:

I was wondering where I could find it on Etsy. I LOVE It!!:)

Monday, June 15th 2009 @ 8:58 AM

Posted by Lucitebox:

Fabulous job! The world needs more rescuers as talented as you are.

Monday, June 15th 2009 @ 6:22 PM

Posted by Lauren:

It’s sooo pretty! Definitely worth all the affort I think!

Thursday, June 18th 2009 @ 3:56 AM

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