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Example of a Schiaparelli zip (Victoria and Albert Museum) T.393-1974

Example of a Schiaparelli zip (Victoria and Albert Museum) T.393-1974

Advantage in Vintage: I think one of the biggest misconceptions out there with relation to vintage clothing is that plastic zips didn’t exist before the late Fifties. WRONG. Today I will show you some different zips and ways of spotting particularly early ones, as this is always greatly useful in dating vintage clothing.

The zip as we know it today was actually first patented in 1913, although it wasn’t not really used for fashionable clothing until the Thirties. Zips before the Thirties were metal, although in the early Thirties a number of companies began to experiment with using celluloid (plastic) to make zips.

Schiaparelli was a pioneer in the early usage of zips. She used both metal and plastic zips although they were primarily plastic. One of the key reasons for her use of plastic zips was a lucrative deal in 1933 with Harry Houghton of the Lightening faster company to use plastic zips in her clothing. Schiaparelli used them not just as a fastening device but a decorative component.

When I visited the exhibition of her work at the Met museum last year I was surprised to notice quite how heavy duty the zips on her light and feminine evening dresses were. It is interested to note that the zips she used varied according to the country the garment was to be sold in. In London she used lightning zips (as shown in the advertisements on the right), although in Paris she used zips by the brand Éclair.

 Advertisement for Schiaparelli lightning zip 14 April 1937


Advertisement for Schiaparelli lightning zip 14 April 1937

1930s plastic zip

1930s plastic zip

1940s advertisement for a plastic lightning zip (note: a lot of early zips did not have a zip pull on them like we see today)

1940s advertisement for a plastic lightning zip (note: a lot of early zips did not have a zip pull on them like we see today)

1950s metal zip

1950s metal zip

Mid 70s maxi dress with a metal zip- see also the care label which denotes it as a 70s item

Mid 70s maxi dress with a metal zip- see also the care label which denotes it as a 70s item

1980s skirt in a 50s style with nylon zip. It’s unsual to see a zip like this that is this late- this type of zip was mostly used in the 50s and 60s, but this skirt can be dated by its characteristic 1980s C&A label!

1980s skirt in a 50s style with nylon zip. It’s unsual to see a zip like this that is this late- this type of zip was mostly used in the 50s and 60s, but this skirt can be dated by its characteristic 1980s C&A label!

As a general rule though the majority of zips found in clothing between the Thirties and mid to late Fifties were metal, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Some companies were still widely using metal zips well into the Seventies.

Nylon zips too are an interesting one. It is rare to see a Fifties dress with an original nylon zip, but from time to time you do find them, particularly on lighter weight dresses where a metal zip would have probably looked incongruous. Today, garments tend to have what we call a nylon coil zip; this is particularly uncommon before the late Fifties as nylon wasn’t actually invented until 1935.

The reason why the nylon zips took a long time to catch on is partly due to their un-reliability. Therefore, whilst it is common to see advertisements for nylon zips from the mid Fifties onwards, it is not often you find dresses with them. I tend to find that there were a few specific companies that were producing their garments with nylon zips relatively early on. One good example is Rhona Roy. I have had five or six dresses by the brand, all with nylon zips and all dating from the late Fifties.

A good way to work out whether the zip in your garment is original or not is to assess the stitching around it. Does it match the rest of the dress?

I hope this trip into zips has been useful and informative, and if you are interested in helping to ascertain whether your zip is original or not, please do feel free to contact me!

If you want to know any more information about dating vintage clothing I highly recommend this highly useful section on the Rainbow Valley Vintage website.

Advantage in Vintage Advantage In Vintage is Liz Tregenza, a vintage collector and fashion historian.
Not only does Liz love vintage but also the social history connected to the clothes.

Liz primarily collects garments from the Forties and Fifties and has a passion for novelty print textile

6 Responses

  1. Catherine

    Great article Liz. Dispels a lot of zip myths. I think it’s fair to say there are very few garments that can be definitively dated by one clue. One has to put together a picture based on all sorts of details: I look at printed and woven labels a lot – fonts & colour often give me the steer I need.

    Reply
  2. Helga

    Excellent article! I learnt quite a bit.
    I am purple with envy over Liz’ Horrockses frock.

    Reply
  3. Carol

    Lovely site so glad jaycotts sent me the link. also envious of the Horrockses Frock

    Reply

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