Sunday, 24 March 2013

A girl loves a bit of bling 30's style.... the dress clip.

My blog today is on that lovely little gem which were once THE “must have” fashion accessory during the 30's and 40's but sadly today are largely forgotten - I am speaking of the “dress clip”.  To those vintage glamour lovers of the 30’s and 40’s that haven't come across this divine accessory read on;  I’m sure that once you  have discovered how versatile and how they transform  your outfits,  you will get hooked on them as much as I have!


The dress clip gained in popularity during the depression and became very popular during the 1930's. Originally created by Cartier in 1927, (apparently the design was inspired by the shape and spring clasp mechanism of the clothes peg ) worn similarly to a brooch but instead of a pin, a clip mechanism was used (the underside usually had little prongs to hold it secure) to attach it to clothing/fabric. They were often sold as a pair and worn either side of the neckline of a dress.
A dress clip used as a choker as worn by Ann Miller

There were many different varieties, from eye-catching, glittering rhinestones, metal, brass to bakelite and wooden figurals.  Initially the dress clip was meant to be worn at the bottom of a v-neckline or in pairs at the corners of a square or sweetheart neckline, they were eventually used to clip anywhere that required a fashionable accent - jazzing up a collar of a shirt or blouse either using two either side of the collar or a singular one where the collar is buttoned; placed on the edge of pockets (see photo below);  use to accent the strap on an asymmetrical dress; embellish a hat or beret; used on a scarf; attach to a ribbon and used as a choker (see pictures of Ann Miller, (right) and Joan Crawford (below) wearing one) or a bracelet; use on a purse strap, belt or gloves; brighten up a shoe and can even be used  in the hair for a  hair ornament (by fastening to a barrette).

Another example of a dress clip worn as a choker, shown stylishly by Joan Crawford

Dress clips used on pockets

As well as the dress clip, there was also the fur clip, it differed on its  metal findings/mechanism  to that of the dress clip for gripping fabrics; instead of the spring clasp mechanism with small “teeth” the fur clip had two sharp prongs designed to grip heavy garments.   The Fur clips gained popularity in the 1940's; originally called "pin" clips, they were to be used on fur jackets and stoles; the pin clip mechanism provided more security than a brooch would.   Despite their slight differences in how they attached to a garment both had the same purpose, to adorn and add glamour to your attire!

As well as single and double dress clips there was also the Duette. The Duette was a combination of a pair of dress or fur clips which clipped into a metal frame with a brooch type fastening so that you could wear the clips separately or combine them into a large piece and use it as a brooch (what a great idea and handy during the war years to create different looks without costing too much money!). Sometimes the metal frames were decorative so that you could wear the frame by itself; these are rarer than the conventional duette and so harder to find. There were some mechanisms made to house three and even four items, these are also rare and hard to find. Most duette patents date to the mid to late 1920's and duettes themselves were sold well into the 1950's.

Coro introduced the “Duette” with its locking mechanism, it was created by Gaston Candas of Paris, France, for precious jewelry  and patented by him in the U.S. on March 31, 1931. Coro bought the patent in 1933 and launched their first Duettes in 1935 (although when doing my research there is some debate as to who first patented the duette, some sources claim it was the designer Adolph Katz  others state it was Gaston Candas) .  Coro were the largest producers of duettes.This product was so successful that other companies started inventing their own device for mounting separate clips on a single frame that could be worn as a brooch.Trifari’s “Clip-Mate” followed in 1936 , this mechanism, patented by Alfred Philippe on August 11, 1936, was actually the company’s second invention of this type.  Gustavo Trifari patented a “Clip Brooch” on September 20, 1932 for Trifari, Krussman & Fishel, Inc but most of the well-known  companies (Polcini, Eisenberg, Haskell, Leo Glass, Calvaire, Fred Block, Mazer Boucher Reinad, Nette Rosenstein, Hattie Crnegie, Deja, Reja, Staret, Vogue) produced a few although it is hard to identify a manufacturer/designer because if a duette was marked they tended to be signed on the metal frame and not on the clips so if they became separated it was difficult to identify.  Duettes and Clip-mates look similar but can be distinguished by their locking mechanism. 

Anthony E. Waller of Providence, Rhode Island, applied for a patent for a “Finding for Clasps” on September 8, 1930.  The patent was issued to him on April 14, 1931.  This device was used on some dress clips produced in the 1930s.

The early design of the dress clip in the 1920's were mirror images of each other and were in flat miters, trapezoids or fan shapes, while in the 1930's they became  curvilinear incorporating volutes, scrolls, spirals, shells, pyramids, cylinders and stylized bows. With the double clips, some were designed so the same motif curved in different directions, making a right/left pair when worn together, others curved in the same direction so they were identical when worn separately, side by side, or made an “S” shape when linked.  During the early 1930s  the double clips were fabricated of platinum set with diamonds in geometric patterns but by the mid 1930's colour returned and double clips began to incorporate one coloured gem with diamond: aquamarine and diamond, ruby and diamond or sapphire and diamond. The only exception was with multigem or “tutti-frutti” style that combined carved rubies, emeralds and sapphires.

The versatility of the duette became so popular, especially during times when everyone had to be more economical,that bangles were designed so clips could be attached on the top. There were even necklace and bandeaux that were designed to incorporate detachable clips.

 My collection
Dress clips are just the perfect accessory to add a touch of glamour to an outfit and make you look like the glamourpuss you know you want to be! You can pick them up, if you are lucky and I have been, for just a few pounds. I have a lovely little collection of both single dress clips, doubles and ones that are known as a duette (dress clips joined together and worn as a brooch).

 Here’s a few of my dress clips:


Examples of duettes can be seen below, these are from my own personal collection.

Some helpful advice:

Check the tension of the metal clip.  When lifting the back, there should be a bit of resistance at first and then it should open freely.

Never immerse into liquid cleaner.  The clip back is often comprised of a metal alloy, and can rust over time.

Clean with a soft polishing cloth if necessary or use a soft toothbrush to carefully “dust” around stones.

When closing, the clip should snap back into place and maintain a firm grip on the clothing.

Good luck on your hunt for those wonder gems to adorn your vintage outfit! When looking out for dress clips, be sure to check the earring sections of a stall/shop as sometimes the  small sized dress clip sets are confused for earrings!

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