A couple of weeks ago during one of my vintage hunts for jewelry to repurpose into rings, I found a beautiful pair of 1930s brass filigree dress clips with vibrant purple rhinestones. I had never before bought a pair or even knew how dress clips were used. Their history really sparked my interest so I made the purchase and set out to learn as much as I could about them.
I have seen a lot of unusual styles of vintage jewelry, but the dress clip, a trend that only lasted for two decades, is one of the most fascinating to me. If you have never seen or heard of one, a dress clip is a type of brooch with a flat hinged metal clip mechanism to hold the jewelry in place on a garment.
Here is a photo of the back and front of the pair of dress clips I bought:
Until their first appearance in the late 1920s, there was nothing else like the dress clip. Rumor has it that fine jewelry and wristwatch designer Louis Cartier invented the idea of a spring clip fastener in 1927 after watching a woman hang the wash on a line with a clothespin. He then designed and patented the first dress clip.
It wasn’t long before every jeweler began producing dress clips such as Coro, Trifari, Eisenberg, Miriam Haskell, and Hattie Carnegie to name a few. They quickly rose in popularity as the 1930s cocktail attire in the movies began to be reproduced.
Contrary to what the term suggests, dress clips were not used as fasteners. They were simply made to add a bit of sparkle to square necklines, collars, pockets, and cuffs, transforming a plain day dress into something much more striking.
This pair of early 1930s Art Deco aquamarine glass dress clips could definitely add that much-needed sparkle!
Dress clips were most often sold as matching pairs that could be worn individually or joined by a hidden mechanism to be used as a brooch. This versatility made them very fashionable after the stock market crash in 1929 when even the wealthy had to cut back on their spending.
“Disposable clothing” was not in the vocabulary of women who lived during the 1930s and 1940s like it is in ours today. They learned how they could wear the same “good dress” over and over in different ways because if they wanted to stay fashionable, they had to adapt to the major challenges of economic recovery and a country at war. Dress clips were the perfect answer to helping the average woman make the most out of her very limited wardrobe.
I gaze at my dress clips which I have just discovered for the first time in 2014. I imagine a woman of the 1930s watching herself in the mirror as she clips these prized costume jewels onto her collar. She smiles and is thankful for the invention of the dress clip which has turned her drab housedress into one with a hint of glamour. Just what she needs to bring her a little joy during these tough times.
Kimberly Moore is a vintage costume jewelry expert, blogger, speaker, and author of Beauty in a Life Repurposed. To learn more, visit her website at kingdomsparkle.com.
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