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!