Zip right up

by Erin on September 24, 2007

Advance 7712

This dress (from the eBay store The Lyoness's Den) has got a center front zipper closing, which is a feature I always enjoy on purchased vintage dresses, but not something I've ever sewn myself.

I love looking at the design trajectory of center zippers: it seems to me (and I haven't done any real research on this, so be sure to read the comments where it is entirely likely I will be contradicted by someone who has Real Knowledge of this subject) that early on in the days of 'zip fasteners' they were exotic, interesting, expensive … and thus they were featured prominently in designs — front and center as it were. (I have a late 1930s-early 1940s black crepe dress which would have been very expensive, new, that has a center front zipper.) As zippers became more widespread and ordinary, even quotidian, they moved from the front to the side and then the back — out of sight, out of mind — and visible zippers, front-closure zippers, became a sportif or even déclassé thing. Front zippers were for play clothes, coveralls, and housedresses, like this one.

(It's almost like what happened to Velcro: if you are as old as I am, you probably remember when Velcro sneakers had that early-adopter cool, before becoming at first dorky and then unremarkable. I am afraid I've always hated Velcro, though, because I can't stand that horrible noise it makes!)

Anyway, this dress, with its center front zipper, is $9.95 Buy-It-Now and a bust 38. It's advertised as a housedress that's pretty enough to wear out of the house (to the grocery store or whatnot). If I were going to make it, I'd make it in a gray-and-red geometric-print quilting cotton with a bright red, large-toothed, plastic zipper up the front. Fun!

{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Rebecca September 24, 2007 at 9:04 am

I have a similar pattern. I had thought of making it my first experiment with an invisible zipper. I’ve heard that these are easier to put in than the regular ol’ kind. Anybody know if that’s true? It requires a special foot, doesn’t it?


Tracy September 24, 2007 at 9:37 am

Oh yeah, I’m with you on that geometric fabric with the large toothed zip!!!! Gotta lose the caplet-like thing around the shoulders though. I’ve always hated velcro too, I wonder if it is cuz the sound is reminiscent of ripping fabric….egads.


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 9:43 am

Yes, zippers at that time were very expensive, metal, and thanks to designer Elsa Schiaparreli, (sp?) a decorative detail that was meant to be seen and not hidden. One collection was described by the fashion press of the time as “dripping with zippers!” Thanks to her, center front zippers were a status symbol, that eras equivilent of the staus handbag. And I’m sure everyone has noticed older patterns call for “slide fasteners.” That’s because Zipper was a copyrighted registered trademark at the time. Now zipper is a generic term that’s in public domain. Old zippers were also unpredictable, they could rust and ruin a dress, they could loose teeth, The zipper tapes shrunk at a different rate than the dress fabrics, and they could look heavy on delicate fabrics. I have a couple vintage dresses with invisible zippers in metal(!!!) I’d hate to think of what would happen to my sewing machine if the sipper tape wiggled just a bit and metal ended up under the needle by mistake.


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 9:50 am

According to the Claire McCardall book, zippers were scarce during the war which is why many of her designs had side button closures, hooks or snaps.


zimmersarmy September 24, 2007 at 10:09 am

In the early days, zippers were also considered quite risque.The wearer of a zippered garment could get out of his or her clothing much quicker. This, I guess, led to improper actions that could have been avoided had the tempted had that extra bit of time buttons entailed.Zippers have always been sexier than Velcro. -Janet


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 10:25 am

I have that exact pattern and have taken it to the fabric store at least 3 times to find fabric. It is still unsewn and awaiting daylight. Perhaps I will have to make it up now and send you a picture.Patricia


Susan Marie September 24, 2007 at 10:42 am

Wow! I definitely did not think about all that the last time I fastened a zipper!


Amy B. September 24, 2007 at 10:49 am

Rebecca, I like the idea of invisible zippers but I’ve always had a harder time putting them in properly. I don’t have the special foot for my machine though, so if you are going to try one get the foot!


julia September 24, 2007 at 11:00 am

Rebecca, I’ve had good but limited experience with invisible zippers. There’s a great article in Threads (search the index for which one) that details how to insert one without need of a special foot. Worked like a charm for me!


yarnmaven September 24, 2007 at 11:11 am

Invisible zippers do require a special foot – the generic ones are sold cheaply and made of plastic. My 30 year old Bernina requires a special one. It cost me 30 bucks, so now I gotta justify it. I love this pattern. AND it’s my size. Thanks so much, I just bought it. I don’t have fabric yet. I will have to think about whether I want to use invisible or not for this dress.Zippers in general are becoming problematic for me. You can never find the color or length you need at the fabric or craft store and I often have to go looking in both. I have found a good source for zippers for my hand knit sweaters online – but they aren’t cheap. But you can get almost exactly what you need in weight, zip material, color and whether it’s a two-way or one-way.


Becky O. September 24, 2007 at 11:14 am

Yes zippers are way sexier than velcro, but for all you trivia fans…I am proud to be from the city velcro was born, Manchester, NH!And more diversion, velcro has saved me hours of time not tying sneakers for my three sons.Never for garments….. those velcro pants that rip off are hideous, especially if you are an exotic dancer : )


Dusty Penguin September 24, 2007 at 11:23 am

Yes, I wondered what’s up with fabric stores not carrying basic normal length zippers in the most basic of colors! You’d think the zipper was a dinosaur.


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 11:31 am

i read somewhere that when zippers first came out in this country, they were condemned from the pulpit as leading to sin. my husband’s family practices a plainclothes religion (like amish) and they do not use zippers. the men wear pants called broadfalls that fasten with six buttons. i guess they would take longer to remove- time to reconsider?


MadeByAmanda September 24, 2007 at 11:58 am

And it looks like the pockets are nice and big, too!


Kate September 24, 2007 at 12:28 pm

Isn’t it amazing that people used to dress up like this to do HOUSEWORK? Now look how far we’ve sunk as a culture. Sweats or jeans even at the opera. Yuck!On zippers, I have been doing all of mine by hand ever since reading Susan Khalje’s Bridal Couture book. Sooooooo much easier than wrestling with various zipper feet and they look wonderful! Her technique was also featured in Threads Magazine for those of you who get that.K Q:-)


Bella Bliss September 24, 2007 at 12:29 pm

i hate velcro too–it never lines up right in a quick change.and i prefer invisible zippers too.


Cel Petro September 24, 2007 at 12:43 pm

And don’t I see a rick rack opportunity here?


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 12:50 pm

Like Kate, I am amazed that someone went to lots of trouble to make a dress like this (and doesn’t it just call out for rick rack?) to do housework. I am ashamed to say I wear a bagged out pair of knit pants and old t shirts to do housework and sometimes they just linger on into the afternoon. I have answered the door in this outfit! Oh for the days when women were appropriately attired even at home.Mary Fran


Rebecca September 24, 2007 at 1:32 pm

A note in defense of vintage zippers….my mom inherited a box of old, metal teeth zippers. She gave me all of the side-zip ones (they are closed into a little metal ring at the top) and they are lovely to work with. I credit the 100% cotton tape. Its flexibility makes it a lot easier for me to get them in smoothly. When I need to stitch across the teeth, I use the hand knob, dial-y thingy. Haven’t broken a needle yet.


mamafrog September 24, 2007 at 3:41 pm

I never really like the invisible zippers, couldn’t get the hang of the little gadget! This style would lend itself to moving the zipper into the back and leaving the front as is. Front zippers always seemed a little iffy in case the gapped or came down and you didn’t notice!


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 3:57 pm

As one who is old enough to have worn at least one dress with a “decorative” centre front zipper, may I murmur a gentle warning as to just how Uncomfortable they can be! Talk about rough on your underwear and unkind to your skin. And this was in the 60s when I didn’t have much shape to get entangled.


enc September 24, 2007 at 4:24 pm

That’s a pretty glamorous “housedress” in my opinion. I had just assumed it was a day dress because of the design and nice details.Maybe the front placement of the zipper dictates that it live in the “housedress” category versus the “day dress” category.


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 6:54 pm

“I can’t stand that horrible noise it makes!” one of the plotlines of the movie Garden State is about this guy who was the inventor of silent velcro, aparently it made him millions, so perhaps someone will actually invent it.


Anonymous September 24, 2007 at 9:06 pm

Most of the dress styles vacillate between either a duro-type, or this 50s-type (latter all having similar bodices and skirts). Would love to see more variety in terms of style, if it’s at all possible. Thank you.


Judy September 24, 2007 at 9:39 pm

I’m shocked you didn’t mention anything about the giant pockets on this dress! They were the first thing I noticed, and I know you love pockets.


saidee September 25, 2007 at 3:27 am

Well, in reply to anonymous who wishes for more variety, when I look through MY patterns, I find that I tend to buy the same pattern styles again and again, each with slight variations. We all have our favorites.I love the pockets and the rick-rack and the capelet. As my friend Rachel would say, if you wear proper undergarments, in this case a slip, then I don’t think a front zipper would be so uncomfortable, or even touch your skin. I like to hand-pick all my zippers; they look better, and turn out better than if I machine-sew them. I love tearing fabric; it just FEELS good! I’d never thought much about the sound. I’m not keen on velcro on clothing, but I have sandals that are so easy to fasten because of softish velcro, from Sweden, I think. Not terribly noisy, either.


Anonymous September 25, 2007 at 9:29 pm

I would like to respond to the anonymous…you crack me up! This is Erin’s blog!! On my blog I journal about about what pleases me and I suspect she does too. Too funny.JenL


Handknit Kids Sweaters June 21, 2011 at 2:44 am

As one who is old enough to have worn at least one dress with a “decorative” centre front zipper, may I murmur a gentle warning as to just how Uncomfortable they can be! Talk about rough on your underwear and unkind to your skin.


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