I once worked at a place where my toilet breaks were timed – yes, such places do exist. That is where the type of trouser fly became an issue – one I had never really thought much about before. When all I had were two minutes, wasting one of them undoing the buttons of my fly was something I could not afford, making the zip front the only convenient option. Now whilst the type of closure may not always be the determining factor in your choice of trousers, all men have a preference for either one or the other – meaning both have their advantages.
Some historical background
The button fly is the original type of closure used in trousers, including the earliest models of jeans. It was only in 1913 that the ‘clasp locker’, as the modern zip was called at the time was invented, having taken some twenty years to develop. Initially, its use was mainly for closing boots and tobacco pouches, eventually being used in clothing (for leather jackets) in 1925.
Until recently, the zip was the undisputed preferred type of closure. As the discerning consumer became more drawn to styles that carried a more authentic look, the button fly made its comeback and seems like it’s here to stay.
Zip or buttons – a comparison
Functionality is a crucial factor in our choice of clothing and this is what I would say is what the zip versus buttons debate is really all about. In terms of ease of use, the zip wins hands down. In fact, the central message of a 1930s marketing campaign for children’s wear featuring the zip was how easy it is to use, even by children – so easy they could get dressed by themselves. Undoing buttons obviously takes much longer and requires more effort, at least till the buttonholes loosen up. Some buttons, especially on tighter jeans require strong fingers to fasten – and patience.
So why on earth, when the pace of life is taking on heart-pounding speed is the button fly still an option? Well, mainly because apart from ease of use, it has more advantages than the zip. Unlike the zip, buttons do not break or get stuck and if they’re damaged, they can easily be repaired/replaced. A broken zip will render your trousers unwearable and is not always replaceable, especially in the case of jeans. Consequently, if you’re looking for durability, the button fly is the better option.
Durability is also a serious concern when it comes to preserving the state of your most prized manly rubies. As the comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “That is one place on my wardrobe I do not need sharp interlocking metal teeth”.
Moreover, fade fanatics will only consider the button fly. This due to the colouration this creates on the fly, making it more aesthetically appealing. This is caused by the bulk of the buttons as ultimately, a button fly is also bulkier than its flatter alternative.
This is also important to keep in mind, especially in relation to the trousers’ fit. OK, a bit of bulk can look flattering, as long as everything else doesn’t look squashed. Therefore, a button fly goes best on looser fitting trousers, whereas on slim-fitting models, a zip fly is your best option.
Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the zip or button fly, or simply have your preference but it doesn’t really affect your choice of trousers, there are pros and cons to consider for both options. At the end of the day, what matters most is which of these is most important to you. So, which one will it be?