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The weakest link
Jan. 24, 2011
by Ivan Raconteur

I can’t ignore it any longer. I am faced with the unpleasant prospect of having to retire two of my favorite jackets before their time.

One is a black leather motorcycle jacket, and the other is a winter coat insulated with goose down.

Both are sturdy garments and are generally in good shape.

I have had both of them for years, and yet, they both have many years of good service left in them – except for one thing.

The weakest link in these garments is the zippers.

The motorcycle jacket is made of thick leather with brass fittings, and it is practically bulletproof.

My winter coat is well-made, and designed to withstand a Minnesota winter.

It hasn’t been keeping me very warm lately, though.

Ever since I began having zipper problems, I have had to make the difficult choice of whether or not to zip it up when I head out into the cold.

The challenge is that problem is intermittent.

Sometimes I have trouble getting it zipped, but other times it works fine.

There are also times when it zips up easily, but cunningly refuses to unzip, leaving me helplessly trapped inside.

This can be the most frustrating part, especially when I am in a hurry.

I hate to admit it, but I am getting too old and inflexible to pull a Houdini and escape from a jacket while it is still zipped up.

Even if I could, I would find it embarrassing to show up at a board meeting or other official function and have to spend the first five minutes wrestling around trying to pull my jacket over my head.

There is something inherently undignified about a big man trying to wriggle out of a garment like a snake shedding its skin.

I am sure the audience would find such an exhibition amusing, but I would just as soon not give them that pleasure.

To be honest, I am not that surprised when a zipper fails.

What really amazes me is that they work in the first place.

Inventors often surprise me, and the inventors of the zipper are no exception.

Elias Howe received a patent for an “automatic continuous clothing closure” in 1851, but did not do anything with his invention.

In 1893, Whitcomb Judson received a patent for a similar device, called a “clasp locker.”

Whitcomb, along with Colonel Lewis Walker, founded the Universal Fastener Company.

The company’s head designer, Gideon Sundback, designed the modern zipper in 1913. Four years later, he received the patent for his “separable fastener.”

The name “zipper” wasn’t introduced until the B.F. Goodrich company incorporated the new device into a line of rubber boots.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that clothing designers began to widely use zippers in their garments.

As part of the new movement, the zipper won “the battle of the fly,” replacing buttons in mens’ trousers. Proponents claimed the new fasteners would eliminate the possibility of “unintentional and embarrassing disarray,” and who doesn’t want to avoid that?

Despite their long history, I am still perplexed by how zippers work (and by how they fail to work, usually at the most inopportune times).

It has been a drafty couple of weeks since I stopped zipping my coat, but I hate to give it up.

I just can’t help thinking how many more years of service I could get out of this coat.

When it comes to coats, I am more concerned about staying warm than fashion, and even though I have had it for several years, it is really just getting comfortably broken-in. I should be able to get another decade out of it at least.

I suppose if I put my mind to it, I could probably find someone who replaces zippers, but that brings up another problem.

If zippers are the weakest link in the garment world, repairs are the weakest link in my world.

I may set out with the best intentions, but tracking down a zipper repair expert is hardly likely to make it to the top of my priority list.

Another concern is that even if I do find a place that will replace zippers, the cost of repairing the garments might be greater than buying new ones. This seems to be a trend with many products these days.

Things that we used to repair are either manufactured in a way that makes it impossible to repair them, or the cost of repair is prohibitive.

What is, unfortunately, most likely in this case is that I will end up carrying the jacket around in my vehicle for awhile intending to find a repair shop, or putting the coat in the back of the closet at the end of the season, and forgetting about the zipper problem until next winter.


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