Keep your shirt on

by Ruth Griffiths

Since humans started to drape themselves in animal skins, we have needed something to hold it all together. I found it intriguing to research the history of clothing fasteners.

Buttons date back to 2800 BCE, according to Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. Buttons were first used “as ornamental details carved from seashells and stones, rather than fasteners. Functional buttons popped up in Germany during the 13th century thanks to the advent of the buttonhole, and by the start of the 14th century, buttons were used widely across Europe, due in part to the popularity of tight-fitting clothing.”

Buckles date back to the Iron Age, between 1200 BCE and 600 BCE. Both square and D-shaped belt buckles have been discovered in ancient graves. Interestingly, the word “buckle” has roots in the Latin “buccula”, or cheek strap, which alludes to the straps that Roman soldiers used to keep helmets in place.

According to a blog by Emily Singer, “hook and eye closures first popped up in 14th century England on doublets and breeches as an invisible button of sorts. Originally crafted by hand from wires, hook and eye closures have primarily been used in women’s clothing, specifically bras and corsets. Arranged in rows, they evenly distribute stress on restrictive garments.”

I had thought that the zipper was an invention without precedent, but the zipper was initially called the “hookless fastener.”

Perhaps there really are no “new” ideas, only innovative improvements on the past.

According to Singer, Elias Howe received a patent for an “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” in 1851. There have been many refinements of the zipper over the years, including airtight and water-tight zippers. “Invisible” zippers have the teeth hidden behind a tape, so that the zipper is invisible. The zipper tape’s colour matches the colour of the garment, making it “invisible”.

Like buttons, zippers have become a fashion statement. You’ll find zippers on clothing where no openings exist.

Did you ever wonder about the initials YKK that are on most zippers? That Japanese company (formerly called Yoshida Kogyo K.K.) controls half of the market worldwide.

Anyone who struggles with shoelaces will love the story of Velcro. This tape and hook fastener was invented in 1951. Swiss engineer George de Mestral noticed how burrs clung to his dog’s fur and his own clothing while on a hunting trip through the Alps. He made an innovation on the hook and eye closure on a massively reduced scale, taking two fabric strips — one with tiny hooks and one with soft loops — that bound together when pressed.