Zips vs Buttons


A Scandinavian friend of mine, as he was enthusiastically scouring the Regent and Oxford Street racks on one of his visits, told me something which, while a common enough assertion, has remained with me ever since; “I really don’t like…what are these called? Zips?”

We had been looking at knitwear in COS, Zara and H&M and, though a stickler for detail, I had been comparatively indifferent to the style of fastenings on the jumpers and cardigans that we had been turfing through, preferring to ruminate on the appropriateness of colour, pattern and style of knit. As soon as my companion had mentioned his preference, I could think of nothing else. Zips were, rather suddenly, curiously unappealing.

Jumper after jumper, I examined the zips and it dawned on me how incongruous it was to have a crudely knitted, cosy pile of a jumper split by an industrial and severe metallic strip. Practical, I conceded, but of the finest aesthetic? Not at all. The alternative to it is of course the humble button. I saw several jumpers of similar fashion to the zipped variety that employed buttons instead; comparing them, it was clear that the buttoned versions, though less practical than the zipped, had a more endearing, childlike charm.

The poor old zip, though severe in the aesthetic sense, is definitely a winner in the efficiency stakes; not only is it quicker to fasten a zipped cardigan, buttons have a habit of ‘undoing’ themselves and also let in more cold air due to the gaps in the fastening. However, there is something about that harsh line, even when ‘hidden’ by material, that now dissuades me from purchasing any kind of zipped knitwear.

As inefficient as the button is, and however much I find it irritating when they loosen, come undone, fall off and catch on snags and hangers, a decent set adds something to a garment whereas a zip inevitably detracts – hence the efforts of manufacturers to hide it under material. A beautiful horn button on a navy blue cotton cardigan is a thing of beauty; a zip in it’s place is, at best, an inconvenience.

However, perhaps I am not as strongly supported in these claims as I might imagine. Perhaps the majority of readers not only see the practical superiority of a good zip but also consider the aesthetic of the button to be utterly passé.


  1. Doug said:

    Your finish fairly begged for someone to say “No, no, it’s not just you – I hate those zips as well”.

    So, I’ll say it. I hate those zips as well. I do not wear them, and doubt I ever will. Zips (or as we Yanks call them, zippers) are fine for pants and casual jackets, but precious little else.

    February 3, 2011
  2. Jules said:

    I don’t disagree about the zips they are annoying but it is hard to find decent cardigans with nice buttons. I know there are a few companies that try to replica classic designs for cheap but they are poorly made. Nothing like a nice cardigan with Horn or leather buttons. I got one from Ralph Laren and the buttons make all the difference. I got two Inis Meain jumpers, one without buttons and one with a zipper. I feel the zipper doesn’t do a lovely jumper justice.

    February 4, 2011
  3. Harry said:

    Well, I beg to differ, at least from the simple yes/no dichotomy of the above comments: zips have their place, just like buttons. They can add an explicitly technical/industrial feel to certain garments, which can be innovative and tasteful. And there are ugly solutions with buttons too – esp. when the garment pulls and gapes unevenly. In terms of a British classic example, I am glad my Barbour Thornproof has a sturdy zip, rather than buttons (to be fair, it has push buttons to cover the zip).

    February 4, 2011
  4. Lark said:

    Zips require a different cut, don’t they? And often a different material? The zip seems to require a knit that will fit fairly close to the body rather than draping, which means to my mind a certain lack of grace. I also notice that if a zipped sweater isn’t the perfect length and fit, the zipper will bow out when I bend (sometimes it does this anyway) giving an unattractive wave effect.

    A zipped jacket is a bit different, since it’s made in a heavier woven which keeps the zipper in place. Also, it’s not designed to cling (unless it has an unfortunate banded waist) so the zipper hangs which makes all the difference.

    If there’s one sweater I truly dislike, it is the zip cotton sweater in a medium-weight rib knit.

    February 4, 2011
  5. Neil S said:

    The mild inconvieniences of buttons are simply an inherent characteristic for what is to me the only option for fastening coats and cardigans. If only garments made from high quality cloth used buttons made of materials other than the cheap shiny plastic buttons of their more popular equivalents.

    February 5, 2011
  6. destoyer of zippers said:

    You are far too mild. I have never found ANY practical advantage in the zips at all. They can snag. In contrast, I have a number of buttoned cardigans from Uniqlo and not one button has yet come loose. If your cardigans buttons are cheap or sewn on badly, replace them. The extra five seconds of securing the buttons is a negligible matter, and the matter of letting in air between the buttons is a non-issue, because if it’s that cold outside you’ll be wearing a coat. Lastly, zippered knitwear is supremely inelegant when sitting down, due to the fact that it must be done up from the very bottom, which results in that ugly puffing-up effect, avoidable by undoing the bottom button of a buttoned cardigan.

    Zippered cardigans are an abortion and should not exist.

    February 20, 2011

Comments are closed.