"Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay. My, oh, my, what a wonderful day. Plenty of sunshine headin' my way. Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!" ~Ray Gilbert (from Disney's Song of the South)
In spite of the miracle of Velcro, it appears that the zipper, and annual Zipper Day (April 29), are here to stay. Never heard of Zipper Day? It's when all people, adolescent or octogenarian, can proudly display and play with their zippers.
Be annoying and obnoxious... yes, that's right... up and down, up and down, up and down. This zippy holiday only comes once each year, so make the most of it. But may I suggest monkeying with the zipper on your coat rather than the one on your pants or dress? (Noodling around with either of those in public might just send the wrong message -- but that's for you to decide!)
The modern-day zipper is the culmination of a series of improvements made over more than twenty years by inventors and engineers. First, in the early 1890s, a mechanical engineer from Chicago, Whitcomb L. Judson, an appreciator of gizmos, doo-hickeys, and Rube Goldberg-esque thing-a-ma-jigs, invented what he called the "clasp-locker," the precursor to what we know as the modern day zipper.
Alas, though poor Whitcomb proudly exhibited his new closure device at the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, it was a complete and utter failure (OK, he did sell a grand total of 20 clasp-lockers to the Chicago postal service, but that was it!). His original device was more like a mechanized version of the button hook than the zipper we know of today, and he sadly died in obscurity in 1909, long before his revolutionary idea caught on and became one of the most commonly used and well-known technological advances of the 20th Century.
In 1913, however, the Swedish-American engineer, Gideon Sundbach, successfully improved on Judson's primitive contraption, turning it into the item we all know and love -- a simple, but brilliant design meant to temporarily join two pieces of material when engaged and then as easily, separate them when disengaged. The name "zipper" was actually coined by the rubber tycoon Charles Goodyear, who flipped over the onomatopoetic noise the closure made on his newly patented, vulcanized golashes: "z-i-i-i-i-p" up, and "z-i-i-i-i-p" down.
Simply put, a zipper is two strips of fabric tape with hundreds of oddly shaped, interlocking "teeth" stuck onto the two pieces of fabric intended to be joined. A separate element called a "slider" (No... not that famous White Castle mini-burger we all crave when we're drunk!) is moved up or down between the rows of teeth temporarily but securely joining the two separate sides, creating a perfect closure. We find zippers on anything from Elvis-inspired jumpsuits, haute couture evening gowns, tents (in some instances, indistinguishable from evening gowns), jeans, corsets, handbags, parkas, slipcovers, sleeping bags, hoodies and go-go boots.
While the basic principle has remained the same for nearly 100 years, the material for zipper teeth now includes plastic as well as the original metal. The teeth, regardless of what they are made of, dovetail together in an ingenious yin-yang-like fashion. In Chinese philosophy, yin-and-yang describes the contrast of exact opposites (earth and sky, water and fire, the left and the right), which, when combined, create a perfect unity of opposites... kinda' like the slider on a zipper.
What most people fail to realize until it's too late, however, is that like most types of gear, zippers also require some maintenance every now and then to prolong their usable life. Forcing zippers takes its toll on both the zipper and zipper slider (Think about how many times the slider "pull" has come off in your hand at the most inappropriate or inconvenient of times, forcing you to run for the pliers or a paperclip!).
The flotsam and jetsam of life should be removed regularly from zipper teeth (if we were discussing your pearly-whites we'd both be on the same page about regular brushing and flossing.) An occasional lubricating with paraffin (a wax candle will do) grazed across the connecting teeth will both grease-the-works and add protection.
Also, if your zipper is rusted or stuck, never force it. Instead, when seized up, if manufacturer's cleaning instructions permit (or you test a hidden patch for color-fastness first), soak the garment with said stuck zipper in white vinegar, or better yet, brush it on along the front and back of the zipper (hopefully with you not in it.) The acid in the vinegar should dissolve whatever tiny particles may be causing the malfunction.
Regardless of the functionality of your zipper, whether "yin-ing" or "yang-ing," always be mindful to "close your barn door!" Remember, XYZ-PDQ (Examine Your Zipper Pretty D@MN Quick!)
Made ya' look!
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