Sunday, September 9, 2012

Button Hooks and Hairpins

Great-grandma Kittie Van Slyke cut a stylish figure in her youth. Both garments and hair styles were elaborate in the mid-1880's, when this photo was taken. Keeping up appearances must have necessitated a range of accoutrements and accessories that seem quaint, if not obsolete, to us today. In Kittie's day, button hooks such as those in the photo below were used to fasten up dresses as well as shoes and boots.

Button hooks and hairpins

Thank goodness for the modern zipper, which spares us the tedium of fastening dozens of buttons when we dress for work every morning. But who ever heard of its inventor  -- Whitcomb Judson -- who developed and marketed a "Clasp Locker" in 1893? Although this gadget was exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair that same year, it apparently met with little commercial success until the next century. Judson's clasp fastener was improved upon twenty years later by a Swedish immigrant who became head designer at Judson's Universal Fastener Company. The name "zipper," an example of onomatopoeia, was given to the device yet later by the B.F. Goodrich Company when they used the fastener on rubber boots.

And what of Kittie's elaborate hairstyle? Opening a dresser drawer in what I remember as Kittie's room, I discover a small paper packet containing her hairpins. The braids encircling the crown of her head were certainly held in place by hairpins such as these. I held them in the palm of my hand, encapsulating a bit of family history as tangible as my own plastic comb.


To learn more about the invention of the zipper, go to:

The History of the Zipper:

Inventor of the Week Archive at:

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