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June 01, 2008

Low-Tech Zip

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

A lot of attention is focused on high-technology progress from laboratory to prototype to production to refinement and, in the case of objects digital, to increasing performance at decreasing price. This probably has to do with the "glamour factor" of high-tech.

Unnoticed can be progress in low-tech fields. For example, the common zipper.

When I was very young, I don't think any of my clothing was fastened using zippers. Not that they weren't around; according to the history reported here, zipper technology had evolved to essentially its present form around 1914.

Nevertheless, my clothing was fastened with buttons until I was at some point in elementary school in the late 1940s. When I finally started wearing clothing with zippers, I found the gizmos unreliable. That is, they could jam. Or part of the zipped-up part could come unzipped. Or it could be hard to get the zipper properly connected so that zipping might begin.

These problems and others are still with us. However, slowly but surely, they happen less and less often. And rather than being wary of zippers as I once was, I give them little thought when I buy a garment.

Here, for the record, are some of my current zipper gripes.

A zipper on one of my Tommy Bahama sweatshirts is happy to zip up, but doesn't like to unzip unless it's in the fully zipped position.

Zippers on a few of my other garments have a tendency to jam because the slider catches on fabric. I chalk this up to an unintentional error in garment design or fabrication.

The zipper on a Brooks Brothers sweater is difficult to get started. I have to get the part opposite the slider inserted just so or nothing happens when I try to zip. Maybe that's why the sweater was on sale.

A few of my garments have zippers where the slider is on the right-hand side and not the usual left side. This makes things awkward because I'm not used to working a zipper that way. For what it's worth, the garments are imported -- one from Denmark, the other from England.

All this complaining aside, the many zippers I deal with over the course of the year are virtually trouble-free, unlike they were around 1950. I hope yours are too.



posted by Donald at June 1, 2008


Donald, your zipper gripes are a breath of fresh air. This is just the kind of thing that excites me.

Once, I worked for Dear Abby as her assistant. I offered another assistant a pair of boots that didn't fit me. She tried them on and loved them. When she tried to take them off, the zipper on one got stuck. We tried everything to unzip the boot. She became frantic, because if Dear Abby came back from lunch and found us away from our desks, she might have us executed. (She was very strict, to put it mildly,)

I think the poor woman had to destroy the boot to get it off. She couldn't stand me after that event.

Viva la zipper!

Posted by: Sister Wolf on June 1, 2008 8:29 PM

the zipper was almost relegated to beta status a while back when button fly jeans were the mark of the fashion forward. now designer jeans are sporting the zipper once again. the button fly has a bit of the bad boy to it, what with the manly essence underneath constrained by fewer barriers to exit.

Posted by: roissy on June 1, 2008 10:20 PM

I'm finding zippers are getting worse in quality thanks to cheap manufacturing. With the old ones I could fix most problems now a days it gets tossed since those plastic teeth once damaged are useless.

Posted by: TW on June 1, 2008 10:35 PM

Yes, zippers have really improved since we were young, haven't they? I am very impressed with the ones on my American Tourister luggage. If the zipper gets dented, forcing the slider over the dent (which can take some time of course) repairs it.

OTOH, I have a coat I bought in the nid-nineties on which the zipper didn't work for years (thought maybe the Amish has something there with their zipper aversion). I would just use the buttons instead. I recently tried it, and...voila! Works fine again.

Posted by: Yakking Guy on June 2, 2008 12:34 AM

Rarely indeed do I encounter any troubles with zippers, and when they do arise they almost always involve coats and jackets. Most commonly they happen when fabric gets caught in the zipper track and are relatively easy to fix. As for a zipper's breaking completely, well, I can't remember the last time that happened.

Posted by: Peter on June 2, 2008 4:16 PM

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