How the zipper changed fashions
Clothing has a long and interesting history. The impact it had on the world, in particular, the United States and its people is impressive. Clothes are often referred to as something minor and not significant. However, clothing caused many historical events which lead to changes in the culture, manufacture, lifestyle, trade, etc. Fashion in world's history dates back to the 14th century while clothes have been invented as long as 650,000 years ago. Simple and primitive, followed by more complex and composite, clothing finally became what it is now. Technical progress and mechanization allowed producing model pieces suitable for any weather and occasion.
Scientists still cannot state with confidence when was the first time a human being used anything to cover themselves. It was after they lost the body hair when there occurred a need to put something on the body not to be cold. Comfort during the coldest times of the year was the major reason why people started to wear anything. History of clothes starts with animal skin put together with a help of bone needles. It could not provide absolute protect for all body parts, however, allowed to cover 80% of it. Humans were able to survive adverse weather conditions and comfort themselves. Later they found out that combinations of pieces, different materials, and details make the clothes look better and be even more enjoyable. Dresses started to have different forms and lengths, etc.
Scientists argue that first fabric was used around 100,000 years ago. A study conducted by the University of Florida scholars assume that people started wearing clothes 170,000 years ago (Upton, 2013). Their assumptions are based on the evolution of the human body lice. They also considered climate change, migration, etc. Migration was one of the occurrences that became possible due to the invention of clothes. People were able to move from Africa to other locations, settle and live in comfort there.
The ancient people quickly figured that there are other things besides animal hides which can serve as the body covering. Around 8,000 BC flax fibers were introduced and used for fabrics. Cotton was first used about 3,000 years later while silk became popular in another 1,000 years. Silk saw its beginning in China. At the same time in Japan, people started using fibers of hemp and bark. Materials like papyrus, reed, palm, etc. were also “used together with flax (linen) to make ropes and other textiles” (Pop, 2013).
It has been already mentioned before that clothing had a great impact on the history of our country and contributed to shaping the global civilization. History reveals that 114 BC was the year when the Silk Route began. It is “credited with the development of great civilizations of China, Egypt,and Rome, and thus helped to lay the foundation for the modern world” (Pop, 2013). People in different parts of the world started to differentiate between fabrics which were good for particular pieces of clothing. Linen and wool, for example, would be used for most clothing while silk and cotton were used much rarely. Clothing was also a method of demonstrating the social status and power, affiliation to the governmental or religious institutions.
Clothing gained dramatically different meaning hundreds of thousands of years after its history has begun. In the 14th century, the term “fashion” officially became of the industry's determining factors. It affected both the demand and the supply of clothes and brought it to the whole new level. Clothes became not only a necessity but great possibility to express oneself, to stand out, and be unique. It became an art – beautiful, fast developing and impressive. People started to pay more attention to their look, to discuss them, distinguish between appropriate and old-fashioned apparel. As the years passed by, styles started to change more and more after. Europeans rushed to create new trends, to improve and perfect their outfits. Even thought Europe, in particular, Italy and France were considered the world's fashion centers, the United States successfully used most of their brilliant innovations and pleased the world with own achievements in the clothing industry.
Starting from the 17th century, fashion in America started to develop intensively. Even though Americans kept their clothes in chests since there were still no closets, they met the three piece suit and the “Empire style” dress. The last one came to the United States from France and was in trend until the 19th century. Dresses in the 17th and 18th centuries fastened mostly with lace which was time-consuming and did not allow any complex sewing techniques. People also felt a scarce of garments during that time, the supply was somewhat insufficient and a lot of clothing came to the United States from Europe.
The 19th century changed the fashion history of the United States dramatically. The production of clothes continued to become more and more mechanized. One of the greatest inventions ever made was the sewing machine. Dresses were still made by hands, however, the invented mechanisms made processes less time-consuming and easier. At the beginning of the 19th century there weren't any synthetic fibers yet, however, scientist already puzzled over such invention. Starting 1850, they introduced the synthetic polymer which was used by designers instead of linen, silk, cotton, etc. The first synthetic dye was introduced a few decades later. The sewing machine was not the only technical invention introduced in the 19th century. It brought a lot of other devices and developments which changed the course of the clothing history. Among them “power looms, or weaving machines, steam power, electricity, new dye formulas” (Encyclopedia of Fashion, n.d.). These things made the production faster and easier. Clothing became more affordable. People were able to purchase more and enjoy a larger variety of wardrobe. They often rejected the tailors' services and went with ready-to-wear costumes. On the other hand, the progress negatively impacted the tailors' business. Nevertheless, the apparel industry was developing extremely fast.
America's fashion in the 19th century was influenced by European fashion culture. It, therefore, can be divided into several fashion industry periods. During the first period, men and women wore silk, powdered wigs, high heels, etc. The beginning of the 19th century was the time of “expensive, exquisitely tailored garments” (Perkins, 2013). Various details were used in order to make dresses look wider. Curving tails on plain coats were popular as well. Men also wore tight breeches. Both men and women tried to give their outfits a luxurious look. The second period was characterized by a much modest look. Dresses looked more simple and restrained. Elaborate pieces became “lightweight dresses tied at the waist by a sash and accentuated by a bodice made of gauze” (Perkins, 2013). Men and women preferred comfortable clothing, nice looking and convenient outfits. Since riding was especially popular, men often choose pantaloons and high boots. Women wore three-quarter jackets, wide hats with straps and ribbons. At the beginning of the third period, the dresses remained simple with sleeves called “”mutton leg”. Later, they got replaced by long and “bell” shaped sleeves. Women paid a lot of attention to accessories. Their outfits featured brooches, in particular, cameo, gloves, etc. Men started to look more informal. They mostly wore loose pieces. For formal occasions men a coat with a top hat.
The period was full of inventions and innovations which are present in nowadays fashion. The initial version of a t-shirt, for example, was introduced at the end of the 19th century. Knickers were designed in 1800 and suspenders were designed in 1822 by Albert Thurston. Walter Hunt invented the safety pin 27 years later. In 1855, people met dry cleaning which is definitely one of the most useful inventions in the clothing history ever made. The press stud fastener was another great invention of the 19th century. It took place in 1860. Just 10 years later men started to wear “trousers, waistcoats, and coats” and women started to wear bustles in order “to cause their dresses to bulge at the back” (Lambert, n.d.).
The last but not the least invention of the century was the introduction of the zip fastener. It was made by Whitcomb L. Judson in 1893. The innovation changed the fashion dramatically, it literally breathed new life into it, allowed designers to create absolutely new looks, and make clothes more comfortable. I can not think of a closet without pieces like jackets, pants, etc. which feature the zipper. Most outerwear has it in them. What's more, it is an effective decorative element present in formal suits, cocktail, and evening dresses.
There is no doubt that the Judson's invention made a lot of clothes better and enjoyable. Before the invention of the zipper, most of them had a countless number of lace and twists, which were always visible, complicated and long to wear. Nevertheless, the role of the innovation was not reviewed appropriately at the start. Zipper became an essential part of the clothing manufacture only in the 20th century. Its first mass production occurred after the World War I while its initial introduction failed to convince experts in its necessity. In fact, Elias Howe, the founder of the sewing machine, tried to develop what he called “an automatic continuous clothing closure” in 1851 (Thomasnet, n.d.). However, he decided not to continue his attempt. Only 40 years later the innovation was presented to the public by another author and, since then, started to claim of success. Judson made two attempts to design a perfect zipping mechanism. His second “series of loops that were manually laced into the boot or shoe” pattern was the closest to modern zipper version. Still, it wasn't perfect and required major improvement.
Gideon Sundback, an engineer, started to correct the inaccuracies a few years later. He fixed them and presented a new, easy in use model of the zipper. It had “interlocking oval scoops (instead of hooks) which could be joined together tightly by a slider in one movement or swoop” (Thomasnet, n.d.). The innovation was called zipper in 1920 by B.D. Goodrich. Until then, the zipper was not successful on the market. It was used mostly by military designers but made military clothes so much more comfortable to wear. Moreover, zippers could be seen on shoes, boots and accessories like money belts or tobacco pouches. Clothes designers weren't that optimistic about zippers. They preferred proved methods and elements. Nevertheless, after producers diversified and offered zippers in different materials they started to appear in fashion workshops more often.
Zippers quickly extended from military clothing and accessories to regular wardrobe pieces and win over customers and manufacturers. Designers also started to use the product in other items like bags, sports goods, etc. Complicated in its construction, zipper turned to be practical and convenient in use. One move allowed to connect separate parts and turn them into an all-in-one piece. Neither buttons nor lace could not replace zippers anymore. They became essential, required and absolutely necessary for the fashion industry. It finally realized the great potential of the product and started using it extensively. Shortly thereafter clothing manufacturers involved zippers into children clothing. The campaign was very successful since it promoted fasteners as a “self-reliant aid for making kids independent in wearing their dresses” (Sewing mantra, n.d.). It was truly a great advantage for children clothes. They became much cozier and convenient to wear. Children themselves preferred dresses with something interesting, absolutely new and easy to use which is exactly what zipper was at that time.
The zipper was continuously gaining popularity, changing fashion, and influencing people's perception of clothing. After the element found its place in military clothing, children wardrobe, and accessories, it became popular among men. Men's trousers and other pieces gradually started to feature zippers. At the same time, the component was being very actively promoted by fashion experts. Esquire magazine, for example, called it a “newest tailoring idea for men” (SM, n.d.).
Another great idea provided unprecedented success and boosted zipper features clothes sales. Designers introduced fasteners which opened in both the ends. The aspect caused interest among customers and increase the role of zippers in the clothing industry. The market was full of things which had zippers in them, it became not only more comfortable but stylishly to wear such pieces. The zipper was on its way of becoming one of the top elements for clothing ever invented.
It is impossible to imagine modern fashion without zippers, buttons, pockets and other similar details. They came into the industry and changed it forever. They influenced the way people dress and look, and became designers' best friends. Fashion experts in Europe, America, and other continents referred to zippers as to the most convenient connecting element. Famous couture designers started to recognize its role in their work. Even some high fashion lines started to involved zippers. They were used in coats, dresses and other pieces in the most interesting and unexpected ways. Fasteners became appropriate for luxurious outfits, turning into an ornament element used for decorating the most elegant dresses.
Not everyone was well acquainted with the element due to rather a high price of clothes that has zippers in them. Nevertheless, this obstacle was gradually dealt with as producers started to supply fasteners in higher volumes. Buyers were able to purchase items which featured zippers and evaluate the benefits. Moreover, they tried to buy such things because they associated with “modernity and fashion” (Friedel, n.d.). The above-mentioned factors allowed to “overcome the long-standing resistance of the garment makers and buyers “ (Friedel, n.d.). Finally, zipper became the default element for clothes which were designed to open and close in certain places.
The zipper allowed people to wear regular clothes in a new way. Introduced as a work pant, blue jeans, for example, became one of the world's favorite things to wear. Zipper, in turn, assured their most convenient and comfortable version. Fancy outfits lost their relevance. They were replaced by plain, black jackets, cravats, vests, and trousers which often looked simple but felt comfortable due to invisible zipper instead of numerous buttons and twists. Even though men and women did not deny the ornate baroque style right away and some of them still wore decorative elaborate clothes, by the end of the century standards and style icons totally changed A dark plain piece without any ornaments or additional details started to indicate the high fashion. Women's clothes underwent many changes as well. Wide and ornamented dresses started to “incorporate slimmer silhouettes, or profiles, with the fullness of the skirt limited to the rear bustle” (EF, n.d). The only detail which remained unchanged was a corset which for accenting the waist. It was pinched tight to look as slim as possible. Corsets, therefore, become a must-have element in every women closet. The 19th century was more determining for the men's fashion than it was for women's. Styles introduces for men during that period became found the continuation on the following centuries. Pants, for example, have changed by becoming “tailored with buttons visible down the front of the fly” (Shmoop, n.d.). Nevertheless, such model didn't gain much recognition among men in the United States. With the invention of the zipper, pants approached to the modern models the most.
The zipper, among other important innovations, made the 19th century a turning point to the clothing industry and fashion in America. Women started to actively communicate the fashion information. They shared ideas, news, and latest trends in mode. Indeed, it became an essential part of their lives. Vogue publications got especially popular in the United States in early 1800th. Godey's Lady's Book, in particular, was one of the most readable magazines. It included the most recent fashion information, “dress illustrations, and deferred to France as the center of trends” (Shmoop, n.d.).
One of the greatest discoveries of the 19th century was made by Charles Goodyear. In order to make living in the states with the warmest climate comfortable, he developed vulcanization process. The process allowed “latex fibers to stretch and then contract”, which literally gave a new breath to the clothing industry. The 19th century has also introduced department stores to Americans, the first Harper's Bazar print, ready to wear clothes, and papers patterns. Designers also introduced the Bloomer costume, hoop skirt, bra. Even though the last one was created in its early version and some of the clothes have already existed in the earlier prototypes, most of them changed due to the implementation of the zipper and variety of alternative fabrics. People learned the easiest and most comfortable ways to wear their favorite clothes. They started to consider fashion an art, it became a science and a highly technological process.
The zipper, in particular, has gained many variations since its invention. It appeared in plastic with the nylon spirals instead of metal scoops. Such zipper quickly became popular among fashion designers since it could have been dyed in different colors. Zippers were later introduced in other materials adjusted for specific purposes such as post-operative applications, etc. The fastener influenced not only fashion industry but culture and society in general. It was used by poets and artists in multiple works. A popular poet, Aldous Huxley, referred to the zipper in his Brave New World novel in order to “allude to the impersonal and mechanical nature of sex in his nightmarish world of future” (Friedel, n.d.). The zipper was mentioned in Hollywood movies and Broadway performances. Movie directors and producers used it to convey “the awkwardness of relying on the mechanical in the intimate realms of daily life” (Friedel, n.d.). Less or more favored, the zipper was still influencing the fashion, the market, and the society.
The fastener's uniqueness lies in its indispensability. Even more than a hundred years after the discovery, zippers are still being supplied and demanded with the same want. They belong to the small inventions that had a huge impact all over the world. The society will never be ready to give up this small element that ensures their comfort to the greatest extent. Zipper allowed clothes open and close in places it was not possible with buttons, made them look refined and delicate. It brought many things close to perfection. It became a symbol of technical progress and development in the United States. The complex innovation meant modernity and breakthrough, sometimes rebellion or impulsive culture. The zipper has been crucial for high fashion, sportswear and accessories, travel bags and adornments, children's clothes, decorated pieces, and so on. Boots and the rest types of shoes largely owe zipper its diversity and variety of models. Zippers had a huge effect on fashion. They nailed it and allowed many things to emphasize the body shape and be comfortable at the same time. After the introduction of the zipper in the 19th century, women were able to wear corsets by themselves as there was not need to tie lace on the back. After it was introduced in 1893, designers started to transform outfits into newest, more fashionable and contemporary looks. Both men and women started to wear clothes with zippers for various occasions, official and informal events, travel, and work.
I believe that the most important and significant contribution of the zipper to the United States fashion history was freedom. Freedom of choice, minds, and imagination. It allowed everyone to decide what did the innovation meant for them- the progress, the complication, the excessive frankness, the comfort, etc. Unlike other inventions, it influenced almost all clothes, shoes, and accessories. If had an effect on people's perception of fashion, the culture, and the society in general.
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