Was Vionnet the First Couturier to Use a Zipper? Spring 1929

Vionnet Spring 1929, Sketched for Delineator magazine, March 1929, page 27

Vionnet for Spring 1929, Sketched for Delineator magazine, March 1929, page 27

Delineator Magazine Reports on Paris Fashions, March 1929

The Butterick Publishing Company, which published Butterick patterns and also the Delineator magazine, maintained an office in Paris for the purpose of reporting on couture and other Paris fashions.

“…Butterick keeps a staff of experts in Paris all the time. Wherever new modes are launched there is a Butterick expert noting each successful model.  Quickly that expert cables the news. Sketches, details follow by the fastest steamers. Immediately patterns are made for each of the successful new modes.” — Butterick Advertisement in Delineator, August 1924, p. 67.

Couture for Spring, 1929,  Article in Delineator, March 1929, page 27.

Paris Fashions for Spring, 1929, Article in Delineator, March 1929, page 27.

The top left sketches show designs by Cheruit and Vionnet. Designs by London Trades and Mary Nowitsky at right. The evening gown is by Louiseboulanger.

Dress and jacket by Cheruit; Blouse, skirt, and coat ensemble by Vionnet, Spring 1929

Dress and jacket by Cheruit; Blouse, skirt, and coat ensemble by Vionnet, Spring 1929

The sketch and caption for the peach satin blouse by Vionnet show that it closes with a slide fastener – i.e., a zipper.

Delineator, March 1929, page 27.

Delineator, March 1929, page 27.

Butterick Pattern #2526: Culotte Blouse with Zipper; Wrap Skirt

Left, design by Vionnet; Right, Butterick pattern #2526

Left, design by Vionnet; Right, Butterick pattern #2526

When I turned to page 28 of the same issue, I found Butterick patterns which are nearly line-for-line copies of the Vionnet blouse, wrap skirt, and coat ensemble.

Butterick culotte blouse & skirt pattern #2526 on left, Coat pattern #2495 on right.

Butterick culotte blouse & skirt pattern #2526 on left, Coat pattern #2495 on right.

Back views, Butterick patterns #2526 and #2495

Back views, Butterick patterns #2526 and #2495

The name of Madeleine Vionnet does not appear on this page, but the idea for the culotte blouse is typical of her ingenuity. The problem of wearing a 1920s wrap skirt which rides far below the natural waistline (the skirt over a satin blouse would have a tendency to migrate around the body as you walk), and the problem of keeping the blouse tucked in when you sit and stand, or raise your arms, are both neatly solved by the “culotte blouse,” known much later in the 20th century as a bodysuit, as popularized by Donna Karan. The 1929 blouse is made-in-one with panties, like a camisole & panties underwear “combination” or “teddies”, also called “cami-knickers;” the crotch keeps the blouse from riding up and twisting around.

Here are the pattern descriptions:

Pattern descriptions for Butterick #2526 and # 2495.

Pattern descriptions for Butterick #2526 and # 2495.

1929 march p 28 vionnet zipper pattern blousePhoto Left of pattern #2526 “The Elegant Version of the Culotte”: This is Paris’ newest idea on the ensemble frock. The blouse is not only a blouse but a step-in, which gives it these advantages; it stays in place and it eliminates a piece of lingerie. It closes with a slide-fastener under the tied neck-line. The skirt is a graceful one-piece tie-around, holding the hips snugly. Designed for sizes 32 to 42. [bust measure]
1929 march p 28 coat pattern # 2495

Photo right of pattern #2495 “The Ensemble with Casual Coat”: The coat-and-frock ensemble has reached new peaks in the mode. There is no smarter example of it than this with a seven-eighths length coat, which hangs casually open, has moderately wide sleeves and a shawl collar, and the frock described above….Designed for 32 to 35 (15 to 18 years); 36 to 44. [bust measure]

The Vionnet culotte blouse was described on page 27 as ending “in brief trousers with the new sliding fasteners at each side.” The Butterick culotte blouse pattern described on page 28 only mentions a slide fastener down the front. It’s difficult to say from the tiny back illustration (unfortunately on the curve of a bound volume) whether we are seeing a side seam or a side zipper. [Using the Ladies’ Room while wearing a bodysuit was always awkward, but I’m not sure side zippers would help much.]

I have not searched the library for other reviews of Vionnet’s collection for Spring of 1929, but it certainly deserves more investigation.

If you search for “Schiaparelli zipper” you may find sites claiming that she was the first couturier to use zippers (then called ‘slide fasteners.’)  She was among the first; and she pioneered (and even encouraged the development of) colored plastic zippers in women’s clothing.  But, unless Butterick invented the designs sketched in its March 1929 issue of Delineator, Vionnet deserves the credit for the first zipper used in couture.

#2526 is not the first Butterick dress pattern to use zippers; # 2365 appeared in December of 1928, and no designer was mentioned.


Filed under 1920s, 1920s-1930s, Not Quite Designer Patterns, Vintage Couture Designs, Vintage patterns, Zippers

12 responses to “Was Vionnet the First Couturier to Use a Zipper? Spring 1929

  1. How fascinating! It is equally interesting how she created a “Culotte blouse.” Do you think maybe she was inspired by the then old-fashioned Victorian bathing suit or gymsuit with the over skirt?

    • The text seems to take the existence of a “culotte blouse’ for granted — it’s not written as if this is the first one they’ve ever seen. I’ll be on the lookout for other examples when I get around to going through more — earlier — 1920s magazines. I love how one question usually leads to another.
      I’ve been collecting examples of how women dealt with those low-waisted twenties skirts, expecially once I realized how much their backsides were flattened by corsets, girdles, and corselettes. (Skirts intended to be worn with an overblouse were often attached to a camisole instead of having a waistband.) So even Vionnet’s apparently tied-at-the-waist wrap skirt seems extraordinary to me!

      • Well, I’ve been inspired to get out my late 20s sewing pattern catalogs – Fashionable Dress – and give them a closer look.

        When I think of a 1920s skirt, I always visualize the cami-skirt combination.

  2. I’ve been looking in my 1926-1930 magazines and catalogs, and I’ve seen nothing like the culotte-blouse. There was very little in the way of blouses and skirts, with most of the blouses in the mass market catalogs like Sears being middies and such for sportswear. Also, very little in the way of skirts as well. Not until 1930 was more than one page devoted to them in any of my catalogs.

    • Thank you for following up. This really is an interesting pattern, isn’t it? For one thing, I’d love to see the pattern itself to find out whether the crotch had a button or snap closure, and more about those zippers on the sides that are only mentioned once. I did not go through all the Delineators for 1927-1929, so I’m waiting for them to become available at the library. Has anyone given you a “fashion detective” award? You amaze me. Thank you for hunting!

  3. Thanks guys for this fascinating piece of detective work. I have a dress that always seemed late 1920’s to me, but with a size zip, which I thought was a later fashion adoption for the general public. But if home sewers were using zips in the late 20’s, then it’s possible.

    • Of course, the zipper ads are from 1929, so that’s really late 20s! When I think of a vintage side zipper, I picture the kind that is closed with a semi-circular metal stop at the top. I have been checking a copy of Zipper, but, although the author discusses separating zippers and zipper sizes, I had no luck with “side zipper.” Friedel says the tight fitting bodices of 1937 really made zippers in women’s dresses popular. As discussed above, installing a side zip isn’t as easy as installing one that opens at the neckline, so your dress may well be authentic 1920s, but with a zipper installed later in place of the previous snap closing. I’ll keep my eye out for some 1920s examples of side closing dresses.

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