Zips and Vintage Clothing: A Quick and Dirty Guide

by - 08:00

One element of vintage clothing which is often used to help establish a date for the item is the zip.
Zips became common on women's clothing around the 1930s and have remained common to the present day. If you're in doubt as to the age of an item of clothing, the zip can often give you an indication of when the item was produced, although as with other methods for dating vintage clothing, exceptions to rules can always occur. Online sellers of vintage clothing will sometimes list the type of zip which is present in an item, but if this information is not supplied and I am unsure whether the item I'm looking at is actually from the decade that is stated in the listing, I will ask.

Here are a few things to look out for when using zips to help date vintage clothing:

 1940s


Dresses from the 1940s most often have a metal zip which is placed at the side of the dress. This is typical of the 1940s dresses in my collection.


You can see that both the zip pull and the teeth of the zip are made of metal. This is important because I once asked an online vintage seller whether an item had a metal zip and was told that it did have - but when the item arrived, it had a much more modern plastic zip with a metal zip pull. 

In fact, plastic (nylon coil) zips had been invented in the 1940s although they didn't come into common usage until much later. Additionally, it's always possible that the zip might have been replaced so it's best to look at other features (such as shape, fabric, labels) as well.

1950s


In the 1950s metal zips were still the most common, but placement of the zip had largely moved from the side of the garment to the back. 



Again with this dress, both the zipper teeth and the zip pull are made of metal.

1960s


This hand-sewn 1960s dress has a a nylon coil zip placed in the centre back. 


While the zip pull here is made of metal, the teeth of the zip are made of nylon. An important point to note especially if selling vintage is that despite the metal zip pull, this is not considered a metal zip. I have in the past been sold an item with a "metal zip" which, when it arrived, turned out to be a nylon zip with a metal zip pull. Upon inspection, I do believe that the zip is original and not a replacement - thereby marking the item out as being much more modern than the item I thought I was buying*. If in doubt, ask the seller for a photograph of the zip so you can see for yourself. 

Here is a larger photo of a nylon coil zip - you can clearly see how different it is from a zip with metal teeth like those above:

Plastic (left) and nylon (right) zippers by Rabensteiner/Bearbeitet von Rainer Z on Wikipedia


1980s


Like the 1960s dress, this 80s-does-50s dress has a nylon zip down the centre back. Also like the 1960s dress, the zip teeth are nylon while the zip pull is made of metal. 


It's the same basic principle, just a slightly different shape. 

For other help dating vintage clothing I recommend a quick Google as there are many helpful guides available on the internet. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert in dating vintage clothing though I'm certainly a lot better at it now than I was when I started off wearing vintage - I like looking at zips to get a really quick indication of how old an item is. 

* It didn't matter in the end because I still love the item and it was a really good price - but something to bear in mind if you're buying or selling online. 

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3 comments

  1. Wonderful zip/zipper primer, dear gal! I think that in much the same way many vintage lovers can be seen sniffing plastic jewelry at thrift stores in the hopes of finding Bakelite for a song, so too can we frequently be seen "feeling up" garments in the hopes of unearthing one with a metal zipper and hitting the mid-century jackpot (that's me every time I'm at a thrift store! :)).

    ♥ Jessica

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  2. Yep, I just walked the aisles of a thrift store yesterday and found a pencil skirt with a metal zip. It didn't fit me, but I still felt like it was a win to find it!

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  3. This is so helpful! Thank you x

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