My father was a young teenager during the Second World War. He remembers that charity parcels came from America to help with the wartime scarcities, and that in his village they got some American clothes. He was the first boy in the village to have trousers (“pants”, I suppose) with a zip instead of buttons. Like a typical insecure teenager, he wasn’t too happy about being different from everyone else, let alone having to wear evidence of the family’s need for charity.
Fortunately, zips are the norm today, except that the button fly has survived as a “fashion” item; something that I find totally bizarre — I mean, how can it be fashion when nobody other than the wearer knows the difference? I won’t buy them myself: a zip is superior in every way, apart from the small risk of nipping delicate bits.
The modern zipper isn’t the result of a single invention, but came about through a series of developments. In 1891, W. L. Judson applied for a patent on a “Clasp Locker or Unlocker For Shoes” which is basically a zip, although the opposing elements that lock together are little hooks and eyes rather than interlocking teeth. This design and similar ones tended to pull apart, but by 1913 a toothed version had been invented which was sufficiently secure to avoid embarrassment.
Although pants with zippers became common in America by the 1930s, women’s clothing didn’t generally acquire them until decades later, the suggested reason being that this was not just a matter of fashion, but prejudice that a dress which came off quickly was a sign of moral laxity. Actually, when it comes to moral laxity, fast or slow is fine by me.