Clothing Fasteners

Woman buttoning jeans

A fastener is the essential part of a fastening system used to hold together at least two pieces of material. It is typically a single item (button) that often works in concert with another device (buttonhole). Apparel fasteners may be permanent or temporary. Permanent fastenings, such as stitching and fusing, create form and shape in tailored garments. Temporary fasteners take many forms, including basting used to hold fabrics in place before permanent machine stitching is applied. Temporary fasteners, such as hook and eye closures for bras, can adjust garment size. Zippered fly front openings in men's trousers provide access for bodily functions. However, one most often thinks of apparel fastening as providing a method of "donning and doffing" garments for everyday dressing (Watkins 1995).

Using Force to Fasten Clothing

In physics terms, friction is the basis for holding solid materials together using one of two methods, applied force or restraining force (Kammermeyer 1967, p. 19). Applied forces are either bidirectional, like the two opposing threads of a lockstitch holding fabric layers together, or radial, like the circular pressure exerted by the female side of a snap fastener (or, in the United Kingdom, press stud). Restraining forces for apparel follow mechanical principals relying on either random surface texture as used in hook-and-loop tape, more commonly known as Velcro, or on functionally configured parts like the teeth of a zipper.

History of Clothing Fasteners

The earliest apparel fastenings can be traced to the Mesolithic era, when needles were used to stitch materials together, and to the age of metals, when evidence of bone buttons and a safety pin-like device are found. The Bronze Age introduced forerunners of the buckle with the brooch and pin concept and the penannular, a sliding pin on a U-shaped element. The first written record of buttons is from the twelfth century (Epstein and Safro 1991). Modern developments have improved on old concepts and added ease and efficiency in fastening garments. The sewing machine increased the speed of stitching fabric pieces together and facilitated production. The zipper, introduced in the late 1800s, has evolved from a bulky mechanism made of metal hooks and eyes, to interlocking metal teeth, to plastic coils, to extruded all-in-one devices. Velcro was invented after World War II and has applications in industry and fashion. New technologies in adhesives and fusibles have influenced the speed of apparel production and the appearance of apparel.

Variety in Closures

There are many fasteners used in modern clothing. Garments are "stitched" together with thread, glue, or fusible substances. Lacing through grommets or eyelets is used in shoes and corsets. Tied or tucked-in fabric ends secure sarongs, saris, and wrap skirts. Clamping devices are used to fasten jewelry to the body. Hook and eye fasteners may be used to add an industrial look to outer-wear. Fashion apparel borrows fasteners like C-clamps and D rings from industrial products. Zippers have metal, plastic, or cut-crystal teeth. Buttons, the long-standing epitome of the fashion fastener, provide function with unlimited options in form, color, and texture. Fasteners provide function in garments and often provide the finishing fashion touch.

See also Hook-And-Loop Closures.


Epstein, Diana, and Millicent Safro. Buttons. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1991.

Kammermeyer, Michael. "Towards a Theory of Fastening Systems." Master's thesis, California State College at Long Beach, 1967.

Watkins, Susan. Clothing: The Portable Environment. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1995.

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Clothing Fasteners