Have you ever found yourself staring at the large rack of zippers in a sewing store, wondering if you should get a 7” nylon zipper or a 12” exposed zipper for your next project? You probably use zippers every day on your clothing and bags, but you may never really think about how many varieties of them there are! Check out this handy guide to learn about all the different types of zippers for garments.
The three most basic types of zippers are metal, plastic, and coil zippers. Beyond this basic distinction, zippers also come in many different styles, such as two-way, three-way, or continuous chains. They offer many attachment methods, such as invisible or exposed styles as well.
In this article, you will learn about the basic parts of a zipper and how it attaches to a garment. You will discover 19 zipper types and the purpose of each one. Finally, you will find information about zipper sizes.
- Parts of a Zipper
- What Are Zippers Made Of?
- 19 Different Types Of Zippers For Garments
- Zipper Sizes [Chart]
- How To Measure Zipper Size [Length and Width]
- Standard Zipper Lengths
- Coil Zipper vs Tooth Zipper
- What is the Strongest Zipper Type?
- How Do I Know What Type of Zipper I Have?
- What Does the YKK On Zippers Stand For?
- What Size Zipper Slider Do I Need?
Parts of a Zipper
Most zippers share the same basic anatomy, though some work in slightly different ways or have special additional pieces. A zipper works as a closure on a garment, like a button or snap, but it uses a unique pattern of meshing teeth to achieve this.
Working from top to bottom, you will find two top stop pieces made of either metal or plastic at the top of both sides of the teeth. These stops prevent the slider from zooming right off when you pull a little too hard as you zip up your jacket or dress!
Next, you come to the slide itself. Technically, the piece that sits between the mesh teeth is called the slider, and the tab you pull on is called the pull.
The fabric part of a zipper, which attaches to a garment, is called the tape. You can get zippers in many different colors so that this tape will blend in with your garment. Most of the time, zipper tapes hide inside a garment, but in some cases, these may also serve a decorative purpose, such as in an exposed zipper style.
When you think of a classic zipper, you probably picture the interlocking teeth. You can find teeth made out of plastic, special kinds of nylon, or metal. Depending on the type of zipper you choose, the teeth may attach to the tape in different ways. Some zippers have teeth molded to the fabric tape during the manufacturing process, while other types have teeth sewn on in a separate step.
Finally, at the lower end of most zippers, you find two thicker metal or plastic tabs called the bottom stops. These serve the same purpose as the top stops and prevent the slider from falling off the bottom of the teeth.
What Are Zippers Made Of?
Most zippers feature teeth made out of metal, plastic, or nylon. Metal zipper materials include brass or antique brass, aluminum, and zinc. Originally, all zippers were made out of metal.
Actually, zippers have not existed for very long in fashion history. Gideon Sundback patented the first real zipper in 1913, though he called it a separable fastener. At the time, synthetic fabric and plastic parts had not really been invented yet, so all zippers used metal teeth.
As a fun fact, later fashion inventors would call zippers a clasp locker, a zip fly, and a zip! The name “zipper” comes from the sound made by pulling the slider up quickly over the metal teeth. A man named BF Goodrich came up with the name and was one of the first people to market zippers in the 1920s, using them in pouches and rain boots.
You can also find a lot of different types of plastic zippers these days. These use similar types of plastic but form the zipper in unique ways, such as using molds or extruding the plastic.
Many outerwear or sportswear garments also use nylon zippers, which have excellent waterproof capabilities.
As you will see in the next section, zippers can have a lot of stylistic differences beyond the material they contain. You can have two zippers made of the same kind of plastic that look different!
19 Different Types Of Zippers For Garments
Besides the basic material distinction of metal, plastic, or nylon, you can find zippers in various structures and styles. Style distinctions may include the actual shape of the zipper components, such as triangular versus square teeth. Or it could describe the way the zipper attaches to the garment in an exposed or hidden style.
Metal zippers feature teeth made out of various types of metal, including brass and zinc. These traditional zippers make a nice fashion statement today but do not have the mass popularity of plastic zippers, which offer more flexibility and cost less.
On the other hand, metal zippers can offer a lot of strength and work well on garments that do not have a lot of curves.
Metal zippers have two different kinds of construction. Some come from one long wire, with the teeth formed right out of the wire, while others have teeth die-cast onto the tape.
Finishing treatments made of chemicals can give the metal a unique appearance, like an antique look versus a shiny chrome-like look.
BrassBrass zippers like this YKK option have a slightly golden appearance. Brass zippers show up a lot in coats, purses, and various types of bags. They offer a lot of strength, especially in large sizes that feature big teeth.
Many popular brands of jeans also use brass zippers. Metal zippers tend to last a long time, making them a good choice for durable clothing like jeans!
Antique BrassAntique brass zippers receive a special chemical finish that makes the metal teeth look aged. The metal often has a darker brownish-gold color and looks more matte and less shiny. Zippers like this sturdy heavy-duty YKK option offer an elegant, old-time vibe for a garment.
Sometimes antique brass zippers make a fashion statement in a visible part of the garment. You see this a lot in coats–if you wear the coat open, the zipper makes an important part of its appearance! But antique brass zippers can also work great if you need them to blend into certain types of material, where they will stand out less than a shiny regular brass zipper.
AluminumAluminum zippers can have different finishes, giving them fun hues like a metallic greenish look or a shiny silvery look. These zippers see a lot of use in coats and bags.
The downside to aluminum zippers is that they can wear away a tiny fraction over time. They can also corrode under too much heavy washing or exposure to bad weather. You can find heavy-duty aluminum zippers like this option that have large teeth and should hold up for a long time!
ZincMost die-cast metal zippers use zinc. Die-cast means that molten metal pours into a mold, where it gets the shape of the teeth. Zinc on its own makes a more brittle kind of metal, but it attaches the teeth to the tape in die-cast zippers.
This technique may use brass teeth, as zinc is one of the major components in brass.
You may find these zippers termed “molded metal” instead of diecast as well.
A large percentage of zippers made today feature plastic teeth. These can come in coil form or molded plastic form. Plastic costs much less than metal and it also lasts a long time. It may not have quite the tensile strength of metal zippers in some cases, but lots of heavy-duty zippers also feature plastic teeth!
Most molded plastic zippers have their teeth fused onto the fabric tape, making them extra strong. Plastic zippers also have a huge advantage over metal zippers in one particular area: they offer way more flexibility!
You can find several different types of molded plastic zippers.
Delrin Molded Plastic
A Delrin zipper has triangular teeth that create a uniquely flexible and stylish zipper. Like most plastic zippers, the teeth fuse onto the tape through a type of injection molding.
This kind of zipper works best in stylish dresses or jackets. You do not see these zippers for sale individually so often but large-scale clothing manufacturers use them pretty often.
A woven-in coil zipper uses a unique loom to weave the zipper teeth to the tape.
Once again, you do not see this unique type of zipper as often at sewing stores, but you can buy them directly from manufacturers such as YKK.
Woven-in zippers have a thinner, more flexible structure overall, making them ideal for form-fitting clothing.
Plastic ExtrudedThe other kind of plastic zipper, extruded zippers, use plastic components that have extruded and hardened separately and then get stitched onto the fabric tape. Sometimes just called “molded plastic,” this kind of zipper is very popular and usually affordable.
Many different brands sell molded plastic or resin zippers, including YKK.
L-type zippers have a kind of teeth called LFC teeth. These feature something of a lateral coiled element, which means that the zipper teeth. Most coil zippers are made of coiled filaments instead of plastic poured into a mold or extruded onto a tape.
L-type teeth look slightly different from CFC zippers, which have a coiled element of filament. Plastic and nylon coil zippers like these are pretty popular, and anyone can buy them from sewing stores or online.
Besides metal and plastic, nylon makes up many of the uppers sold for apparel and sturdy outdoor equipment like tents. Most waterproof or water-resistant zippers contain nylon.
You can find nylon zippers in many of the styles described in the plastic section above. You can find L-type nylon coil zippers, for instance, or woven-in coil zippers made from nylon.
Water RepellentMost water-repellent zippers contain nylon teeth, like this one made by Meillia.
Besides closely interlocking nylon coil teeth, these almost-waterproof zippers usually have a protective rubber flap that goes over the top of them in a garment.
Things like wet suits or military gear will likely use a water-repellent zipper with nylon teeth.
CoilPossibly the most popular type of apparel zippers, coil zippers have teeth made from one long coil of twisted monofilament, usually made out of nylon. This long coil gets sewn onto the zipper tape on each side and creates a small row of teeth up the middle of the zipper.
Because of the twisted nature of the coil, this style offers a lot of flexibility. It also has flatter teeth than some styles, making it more unobtrusive. Coil zippers look like your basic plastic zip, as you can see in this version!
InvisibleInvisible zippers have the same coil tooth structure as a basic coil zipper in most cases, with one key difference: the coil is sewn onto the reverse side of the tape so that the tape faces out in the garment instead of the teeth!
Invisible zippers show up a lot in things like sheath dresses and pencil skirts, where you do not want the line of a zipper to disturb the shape of the garment. This invisible zipper will give you an idea of how “unseeable” this style of the zipper is!
Two-WayTwo-way zippers have two sliders and two pulls, allowing you to pull down to open the fastener or pull up!
You do not see two-way zippers in clothing except for heavy winter coats very often, but they come in very handy on luggage and backpacks.These two-way zips by Meillia give you an idea of the double pull action.
This kind of zipper usually comes in a larger size, starting at about size 5.
A three-way zipper comes with three separate sliders and pulls, and has the unique ability to let you unzip a section of the upper at a time, creating a gap in the middle of it! You can sometimes find this rare form in things like catsuits or bags.
Closed-End/Open EndAnother stylistic difference you find in zippers lies in the open or closed end of the tape. A closed-end zipper connects at the bottom of the tape, meaning that the two separate sides of the zipper do not completely come apart in your hands if you unzip all the way down. An open-end zipper like this one has two distinct halves unconnected at the bottom of the tape.
Pants, boots, and bags often (though not always) use closed-end zippers. Jackets and coats almost always use separating, open-ended zippers because you need the front of the coat to come completely apart to put it on!
A separating zipper is just another name for an open-end zipper. This type of zipper is essential for garments like coats and jackets, and you also see it on things like sleeping bags or in some dresses.
ContinuousA continuous zipper works quite differently from the average apparel zipper because they do not have top stops or lower blocks to keep the slider in place.
Instead, you buy them by the yard and sew the tape in for the desired length, then use stitching or stamp in your own blockers onto the teeth!
You do see this used occasionally in apparel, but the most common application is for bedding and cushions.
Lapped vs Exposed
The difference between a lapped and exposed zipper lies in how the zips are attached to the garment. Lapped zippers have a lap, or fold, of fabric that lies over the top of the teeth, hiding them from the outside of the garment. Lots of trousers use this method to hide the zip fly at the front of the waist!
On the other hand, an exposed zipper intentionally displays the zipper teeth. Think of a dress with a fancy antique back zipper up the front. In this case, the zipper itself serves as a decorative element on the garment.
Decorative Zippers For SewingIf you want to try an exposed zipper in your next sewing project, you can find all kinds of decorative zippers to make the process fun!
Sometimes also called novelty zippers, you can find zippers with lace tape, denim tape, or special rose-gold teeth.
The sky is really the limit if you decide on a decorative zipper!
Zipper Sizes [Chart]
Zipper sizes have an elegant simplicity because the size number always indicates the width of the closed teeth in millimeters. For instance, a size 5 zipper will measure five millimeters across the closed teeth!
That said, if you measure a random zipper, you will find that the width of the teeth may vary a bit in size and will likely not measure exactly five millimeters–the width usually has more of an approximate measurement, meaning that it falls closer to five millimeters than to six millimeters for a size 5 zipper.
Zippers also come in a variety of different lengths. For example, most fly zippers come in either a five-inch or seven-inch length. But the zipper that goes all the way up the back of a dress often comes in an 18 or 22-inch length.
The stoppers at the top and bottom of a zipper also come in different sizes to suit the sizing of the teeth.
Generally speaking, zippers sized one to four work well in everyday garments like skirts, trousers, and dresses. Sizes 5-7 show up more often in jackets, coats, and bags. You can find large sizes like the 8-10 range in things like tents, military gear, and boat covers.
|Teeth Width||Standard Zipper Size|
How To Measure Zipper Size [Length and Width]
Zippers have two key measurements that determine the size, known as the gauge and the length.
Zipper gauge indicates the width of the teeth when meshed shut. A large gauge means a bigger sizing number and usually a stronger zipper, too!
To measure the gauge of a zipper, place it on a flat surface. Make sure you have pulled the slider all the way up, so the teeth interlock.
Use a tape measure to determine the distance from one side of the teeth to the other. This should measurement fall somewhere between one and ten millimeters.
To measure the length of a zipper, note the distance between the top of the slider and the bottom stop when the zipper is closed. You can find some slight variations in this depending on if you have a specialty zipper, such as a two-way zipper, but the main idea is that you want to measure the vertical expanse of the teeth when the zipper is closed.
Standard Zipper Lengths
You often find garment zippers available in just a few standard lengths ranging from seven to twenty-two inches. Of course, you can also find more variations in luggage, tents, boat covers, and non-clothing kinds of zippers! But in garments, zippers usually have a length between 7 and 22 inches.
Skirts, pants, and jeans typically use a seven-inch zipper. Dresses and coats will likely require a zipper from 14 to 22 or even 24 inches long.
If you need a zipper for a sewing project, check the notions specified on the pattern envelope or in the pattern instructions. This will indicate what size and length of zipper you need.
Coil Zipper vs Tooth Zipper
The main difference between a coil zipper and a tooth zipper is that coil zippers feature a long, continuous piece of material instead of individual and separate teeth.
Coil zippers feature an unbroken stretch of a monofilament in place of individual teeth. This zipper type offers a lot of flexibility and usually contains extruded nylon stitched onto the tape, though sometimes they contain plastic. You can find coil zippers used everywhere, from bags to boots to clothing.
A tooth zipper can use metal teeth or VISLON plastic teeth molded directly onto the fabric tape. Zippers with the teeth molded onto the tape offer much better weatherproofing than coiled teeth, but coiled teeth offer more flexibility and offer greater strength.
What is the Strongest Zipper Type?The strongest zippers feature a coil structure and often use stronger materials. You will find these kinds of zippers called “heavy-duty” and you often see them in outdoor gear or some very rugged types of outdoor clothing.
Heavy-duty zippers usually have extra-large teeth that give the chain a better grip on itself. This means that pulling the zipper from side to side will not separate the teeth. Most of the time, these zippers feature teeth made out of sturdy plastic or nylon.
Brands like YKK sell a variety of heavy-duty zippers, intended for marine use!
How Do I Know What Type of Zipper I Have?
You can find out what kind of zipper you have by examining its style, the kind of material it contains, and its size. This will make finding a replacement zipper much easier!
First, determine the style of the zipper. Do you see one pull or two? This will tell you if you have a two-way zipper or not. You can also whether the zipper tape lies on the exterior of the garment or hides inside to tell if you have an exposed zipper or not.
This one gets a little trickier, but look at the teeth closely and try to determine if they form one long continuous coil or if you can see the separate teeth. This will help determine if you have a coil vs a tooth zipper.
Does the zipper have metal or plastic teeth? That one, at least, you can pretty easily tell at a glance!
Finally, most zippers have sizing marked on the back of the slider. Check this to ensure you get the right size in your replacement zipper.
What Does the YKK On Zippers Stand For?
The YKK printed on many zippers stands for the name of a very large Japanese company called Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha. The company makes somewhere around 50% of all zippers sold in the world, including many of the fasteners used by prominent blue jean companies!
As you might imagine, the company also sells zippers made out of every type of material and in every color imaginable. In fact, it sells zippers in over 9,500 different colors!
YKK zippers have a good reputation in terms of quality and longevity. This depends on what style of zipper you buy, but most YKK types have self-lubricating teeth that don’t get gritty or sticky over time. They also come in super-heavy-duty types like the marine or military-level zippers. The brand markets to everyone from the military to firefighters to hikers and campers!
What Size Zipper Slider Do I Need?
The best way to find out what size of zipper slider you need is to measure the size of the zipper itself. This matters because you need a slider of the same size as the teeth of the zipper or the parts will not mesh together correctly.
If you still have the broken slider, you can often find sizing information stamped into its back. The tiny number printed or stamped there tells you the zipper size, and a letter may indicate the kind of fabric in the tape. This quick trick will save you a bit of time!
If you do not have the slider, you can determine the size of the zipper by measuring the teeth. With the teeth meshed together, determine the width of the teeth (not the tape) horizontally. You will want to use millimeters for this.
The measurement in millimeters should more or less correlate with zipper sizing charts offered by the brand that made your zipper.
Most zippers have teeth made out of metal, plastic, or nylon. Metal zippers often feature brass, fun finishes like antique brass, or a zinc alloy. Plastic zippers can have molded teeth, extruded teeth used onto the tape, or even teeth woven into the fabric of the tape. Nylon zippers usually have a twisted coil design that makes them more flexible.
You can find many different styles of zippers made out of those three basic materials! Popular garment zipper styles include exposed, lapped, or invisible zippers, all attached to the garment in unique ways. Zippers can also have one, two, or even three pulls and sliders, allowing them to open up in different ways.
Have you ever bought a garment because of a special kind of zipper? What type of zipper was it? Leave a comment below to let us know!