Future Fashion & Mobility Trend Report:

Innovation Through Iteration

Part 3: The Revolutionary Zipper

The Future Mobility Trend Report is a collection of short stories, facts, and anecdotes about historical changes in fashion tech. Our series is a deep dive into some of the greatest changes in fashion that were born out of technological advancements. The first part of the series covered how materials allowed humans to travel into space. The second part of the series focused on innovation out of necessity. This is the third installment of our series.

It’s kind of hard to imagine life without the zipper. No really. Think about just a simple pair of jeans. Yeah, buttons always seem like such a great idea when you are trying a new pair of button jeans in the dressing room but then two months after buying this button-crotch enclosed pair of jeans and you are trying to figure out what in the world you were thinking. Now you don’t just use zippers on jeans, they also can be found on: coats, jackets, backpacks, purses, tents, sleeping bags, suitcases and can even be found on simple plastic Ziploc bags to more specialty clothing like spacesuits, hazmat suits, and scuba diving dry suits.

There are many names for the zipper: zip, fly, clasp locker, hookless fastener, separable fastener, slide fastener. Some of these names are sexier than others but the word “zipper” is actually onomatopoetic because it was named for the sound that the contraption makes.

What’s even more interesting about the zipper was that it wasn’t just one invention. The creation of the zipper was a long and drawn out process. It involved many different inventors, patents and multiple iterations until it finally became the zipper that we know and use today.

Whitcomb Judson is credited as the Father of the Zipper but 42 years before he invented the “Clasp Locker”, Elias Howe received a patent for the “Automatic, Continuous Clothing Closure” in 1851. Howe’s device was more like a drawstring rather than a slide fastener, but no need to worry about Howe’s legacy or Wikipedia page. He also invented the sewing machine.

In general, Judson’s device was way more complicated than Howe’s and included a hook-and-eye shoe fastener. He debuted it at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago and it received very little fanfare. But he did open the Universal Fastener Company. A man by the name of Gideon Sundback started working at the company. A few years later, he improved upon this Clasp Locker and received a patent in 1917 for the “Separable Fastener.” And this is where we can trace the roots of the zipper that we use today.

What were the differences between the Clasp Locker and the Separable Fastener?

Well, the separable fastener increased the number of locking elements from 4 per inch to 10 to 11 per inch. For every inch, there were 10 locking elements which included 2 rows of interlocking teeth that would attach together with a slider.

Zippers weren’t used on clothing until 1925 on the Perfecto leather jacket by Schott NYC. Before this, the main use was for closing boots and tobacco pouches.

Then there was a breakthrough — Self Help Clothing. Yes, there was a campaign to push the zipper amongst children because, with the zipper, they no longer needed to be so dependent on parents. At one point, the zipper even went to war with the button in the “Battle of the Fly” in 1937 which pinpoints when it won over French fashion designers. Then Esquire magazine wrote that it was the “Newest Tailoring Idea for Men.”

While the zipper is the most common fastener used today, it has continued to see some improvements. After Sundback’s revisions, more breakthroughs for the zipper came later including zippers that open at both ends making the zipper a classic example of innovation through iteration.

For the next part of our Future Mobility Trend Report, we’ll be discussing how bicycles made an impact on women’s clothing. Sign up for our newsletter!


Written by Erinn Springer. Edited by Lion Blau. Illustration provided by Kate Kilpatrick-Galbraith and to view more of her work go to https://www.instagram.com/vwolfeart/.

Mary Bellis. 2018, September 24. The History of the Zipper https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-the-zipper-4066245

Troy Patterson. 2017, August 27. The Innovation that Changed Fashion Forever. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-08-25/history-of-the-zipper-an-innovation-that-changed-fashion-forever

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 5). Whitcomb L. Judson. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 10:34, October 2, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Whitcomb_L._Judson&oldid=859296599

Wikipedia contributors. (2018, September 5). Zipper. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11:17, September 27, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Zipper&oldid=858149487