Buttons were used for decoration since at least 5000 years ago, but only began being used for fastening clothing during the Middle Ages after the development of the button hole.
Snaps for clothing were first patented in Germany in 1885 and are known as “snaps” or “poppers” thanks to the sound they make when fastened.
A basic zipper design was patented in 1851 by the inventor of the sewing machine, but the zipper as we know it wasn’t patented until 1917. Though the US Army used them in gear and uniforms in WWI, zippers didn’t start to achieve their widespread status on clothing until mid-century. And if you’ve ever wondered what the seemingly-ubiquitous “YKK” on zippers stands for, it is Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha, or Yoshida Company, Ltd.
Velcro’s invention was inspired by a Swiss engineer’s 1941 walk in the woods, during which his dog got some burrs in his fur. Studying the burrs under a microscope, Georges de Mestral saw the tiny seed pods held strong thanks to hooks in their tips, and after many years he perfected the hook-and-loop design for clothing and shoe fasteners. “Velcro” derives from the French words for “velvet” and “hook.”
Shoelaces are old. A leather cord lacing system has been found on moccasin-style shoes dating back 5,500 years.
In the men’s shirt market, cufflinks were somewhat of a transitional fastener between strings, which tied together men’s ruffled cuffs in the early 1500s, and buttons, which replaced cufflink holes on most mass-market dress shirts in the late 20th century. In they heyday of their popularity, they could be very ornate and show wealth and prestige, and are still found on tuxedo and other high-end dress shirts today.
The buckle was known to ancient Greece and Rome and used for fastening armor, but for much of its life was also an device to ornament or show wealth. Because of the fastener’s reliability, medieval Europe saw more than just the wealthy and elite adopt buckles as new manufacturing techniques made them more available.
While the stretchy usefulness of natural rubber has been known for centuries, chemical experiments in the early 1800s improved rubber’s stability and durability. Soon after, elastic strips in clothing began growing in popularity. In 1959, DuPont chemists developed a product created from synthetic material, and spandex and the availability of stretchy clothing expanded (pun intended).