Details in Garment Construction: Buttons and Zippers

One of the trickiest categories to source includes buttons, zippers, and other hardware.  As always, the devil is in the details. Jay Arbetman, an industry expert who runs The Sourcing District, offers his advice.



Button styles include 2-hole and 4-hole sew-through buttons, shank buttons, and tunnel buttons.  Make sure your contractor is equipped to attach the kind of button you choose. Tunnel buttons likely require an additional expense to attach, and I do not recommend them.



Button sizes are properly expressed in lignes. This term derives from the French system of measurement before metric.  40L (the “L” after the number stands for ligne) is a button that is 1 inch in diameter.  Regular shirt buttons are typically 18L (just less than ½ inch) and the button on a shirt collar is typically 14L or 12L. On an irregularly shaped button, the measurement in lignes signifies the distance between the two widest-apart points.  You can easily find button size charts online to guide you.


Buttons are made from many types of natural and synthetic materials. Polyester buttons are common – they are durable, easily dyed to any color, and can be made shiny or matte. Shell buttons look are beautiful vintage buttons that tend to be fragile in the manufacturing and washing processes – they can be difficult to source. European glass and crystal buttons are exquisite, expensive and rare.   Looking for natural materials?  Bamboo, wood, coconut and corozzo are all milled into buttons as well.  Beware that some natural materials are difficult to dye and are not reliably color-fast.

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Buttons are commonly dyed, which is fine except in certain cases such as placing a red button on a white blouse. In that situation, it would be better to source a button internally colored of red material rather than dyed red.  Mottled or pearlized looks can be achieved with internally colored buttons.



Zippers are made in four broad style categories: metal, molded (a.k.a. plastic), nylon (a.k.a. coil) and invisible (a.k.a. concealed). Note that invisible zippers do not perform as well as other zipper types. Do not use them in a stress situation. Zippers can also be separating, as with a jacket, or with a pair of pants. Separating zippers are far more expensive than non-separating ones.

Gauges and Lengths

Zippers come in various gauges and lengths. Gauge signifies the width of the zipper’s teeth. Zippers with #3 or #5 gauges are most common, but gauges range up to #20. A #3 zipper is used on pants and skirts, a #5 separating zipper on jacket fronts. #8 and #10 gauges are also commonly used as well. If you buy from a set inventory, then you will choose from the zipper lengths that are in stock. Make sure your patternmaker is aware of what lengths you have available.  At The Sourcing District, we only sell custom products, so you can select the length you need. Larger gauges and longer lengths result in higher priced zippers.



Tape is the cloth that allows you to sew a zipper onto fabric. Exposed zippers have become trendy over the past few several years. Most zipper manufacturers use a standard color card that consists of about 602 colors – with such a wide range, there’s little need for customization. However, expect to pay a dye charge for tape colors other than white and black.

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Metal finishes on buttons and zippers are usually made of brass or nickel, each in regular, shiny, or antique varieties. Remember that all kidswear items must be nickel-free. Gunmetal finishes come in several names and look close to black. Other exotic (and very expensive) finishes exist as well. Metal buttons and zippers are more expensive than conventional ones. Like others, they can be sew-through, shank, or tunnel in construction. An consideration for is their sheer weight – you probably do not want to sew a heavy metal zipper onto a delicate voile fabric.



Do not buy at retail because you will pay too much. Do not get caught in the trap of using a store-bought item for a sample, thinking that you will easily be able that exact button at wholesale prices later. Also remember that as your production grows, per item button and zipper prices will decrease significantly.

In the button world, Renaissance Buttons offers very high end “crafty” buttons. The Sourcing District is a great choice for shirt buttons and other basics.  There are several button companies on the West Coast.


The Sourcing District offers all of the zipper types mentioned. At The Sourcing District, minimum order quantity is 100 for most models and delivery time is three weeks. YKK is well known for zippers as well.  YKK is sold by a series of distributors. Price and lead times vary. A. Feibusch is the YKK distributor in New York, for example.



Source Your Materials

Contact The Sourcing District through Maker’s Row, or contact nearly 10,000 more factories and materials suppliers. A search for “materials” on our platform yields 1,682 results!

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