Sunday 1 October 2017

Ways to fasten a dress

As I mentioned in last week's post, my latest 1940s dress has a period-accurate side placket closure with press studs/snaps. Well, almost period-accurate.

Last week I went down to London for a couple of days; and one of the reasons for my trip was to go to the viewing for the latest antique and vintage fashion and textiles auction at Kerry Taylor Auctions. There were a number of lots of 1920s-1940s clothing, and I was in my element looking at the construction details.

Two 1930s dress, image © Kerry Taylor Auctions

Most of the dresses had side closures with snaps, but two things stuck me. Firstly, there wasn't a separate placket piece; the snaps were simply sewn onto the seam allowance. Second, the snaps were tiny - far smaller than I had used on my dress.

I can't get anything like that locally, so when I was looking round the antiques stalls in Portobello Road the next day and found a basket of haberdashery odds and ends I had a hunt through it, and was thrilled to find a full card of small snap fasteners. Then I found some modern ones in MacCulloch & Wallis which were even smaller!

I'm now well supplied with appropriately sized snaps

If snaps used to be smaller, zips were quite the opposite. Judging from the label design and colours, I think that this 'skirt kit' which I found at a vintage fair is from the 1970s. As well as the length of tweed (ominously labelled "fibre composition unspecified") it contains a length of beige lining fabric, and what looks now like a very chunky metal zip.

A sample of the fabric is stuck to the outside of the packet

Zips have been available to home dressmakers since the 1930s; this 1937 Butterick pattern states on the envelope that it includes "instructions for sewing in Slide Fastener", plus an illustration of a 'slide fastener' in case you didn't know what one was.

Note the zip illustration above the 'B'

They were forbidden from all civilian clothing during World War II, but by autumn 1950 were advertised in the Vogue Pattern Book again.(They may well have been advertised before then, but not in any of the few 1940s Vogue Pattern Books that I own.)

'Lightning' fasteners available to the home dressmaker again

Judging from the 1950s clothing I've seen, and from the later skirt kit above, zips do seem to have remained chunky for a long time. The first attempt to make something which would blend with the garment a bit more came with the "permanently coloured teeth" of some metal zips, but it was only with the advent of nylon zips that they became smaller, and completely coloured.

Different styles of vintage zip

The three zips above are part of a large collection I acquired when I successfully bid for a collection of 'vintage patterns and assorted sewing goods' at a local auction. I'm not sure if my quest for period accuracy would ever take me so far as to use one of the plain metal ones in a garment, instead of a modern one!


  1. Oooooh! What fun! You get to go to the Kerry Taylor Auction place!!! I am so jealous! Great blog post! Isn't it crazy how small the snaps were back then? I have some baby clothing that has the smallest snaps I have ever seen. I don't think my fat finger tips would be able to sew them on!!

    1. The Kerry Taylor viewings are amazing - I can never quite believe that I can get to spend hours picking over the details of fabulous vintage clothing at close quarters!

  2. I always use vintage poppers/press studs/snap fasteners (whatever you choose to call them) as I find modern ones just aren't as strong. The majority of the vintage ones I have are really small but I do have some much larger ones that I wonder what they were used for.

    I try to always use poppers on dresses and always follow instructions in one of my 1940s patterns as it specifies it being the standard restriction closure. That does have plackets, although they're very narrow, about 1cm wide. xx

    1. Thanks Cate. Ever since I hurt my shoulder last year I've found back zips a bit of a struggle - side fastens are definitely the way to go! xx

  3. I loved this post and was slow in responding. I much prefer plackets and poppers to zips. There is something much more gentle about the closing.

    1. Thanks Kate. One of the great joys of making your own clothes is being able to change things like fastens based on personal preference - that and the chance to add pockets to almost everything.