The European Zipper

The simple zipper. A foundation of modern clothing technology.

But if you’ve spent your life wearing clothing manufactured either in the United States or manufactured overseas specifically for the American consumer, you may have one misconception regarding the zipper you’ve carried throughout your entire life.

The first zippers to reach the average American consumer were mostly limited to shoes, boots, pouches, purses, and pockets. Outerwear that used zippers for the main front opening of a jacket or coat did not become truly popular and ubiquitous until after World War II.

But after World War II, and continuing for more than 70 years onward, the traditional configuration of zippered America outerwear has remained practically set in stone.

 

Red-blooded American right side zipper
Red-blooded American right-side zipper

 

Men’s Jackets: Slider (the part that goes up and down) is placed on the right side. The retainer box (the part the 2 sides of the zipper hook into) is on the left. You insert the left side of the zipper into the retaining box with your left hand, then pulls up the zipper with your right.

Women’s Jackets: Sider is placed on the left side. The retainer box is on the right. Operation of the zipper is precisely reversed, using the right hand to fit the sides together while the left hand pulls the slider up.

Now imagine a man receives a German Military Surplus Jacket in the mail and finds, to his shock and horror, that the slider is on the left-hand side.

 

Perfectly acceptable European left side zipper
Natural, acceptable, European left-side zipper

 

This surprising fact is not limited to military clothing. An internet search for left side zippers reveals many confused men questioning if they accidentally purchased a women’s jacket by mistake.

The truth of the matter is that this simple convention regarding men’s and women’s clothing is entirely an American institution. I have no idea of the true origin of this tradition, but I do know it never spread across the Atlantic.

For European clothing manufacturers, who are making clothes for their own domestic markets (and to fill domestic military contracts) the choice of left or right side zipper is a matter of the designer’s choice. But the majority of the military surplus zippers we see are definitely on this unexpected left-hand side.

With practice, the left-side zipper can be used just as easily as the right. But it still bears keeping this important fact in mind when considering your next military surplus jacket.

 

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25 Responses to “The European Zipper”

  1. Chris Laube

    To his shock and horror? Really? OMG! I bought a jacket that fits great, looks great, and keeps me warm but it’s a “ladies” juacket because of the lefty zipper. My manhood will be in question for ever more.

    Reply
    • Gary Fisher

      LOL! Thankfully you’re only at risk while actually connecting the two halves; once they’re together it’s impossible for anyone else to know which side the slider started on. That can be done discretely; it’s easy to hide the bottom of the zipper behind your cross-body messenger bag. :-D

      Reply
    • Old Gringo

      Me 2…The solution of feeling like your manhood has been subjected to scrutiny is not to tell anyone the zipper is left handed…Since I have refrained from telling anybody about my zipper no one has asked to see it…I thank the Lord every day no one has noticed…Ahmen.

      Reply
    • Robc

      I agree.

      Reply
  2. Michael Irwin

    Well, that’s interesting, but I thought you were going to present a truly ingenious style of zipper all together that had some non jamming, never separating configuration that never ever caught a portion of a mans genitalia accidentally. Get back to us when someone comes up with mens pants that has an extended zipper that extends 2″ lower to allow us to urinate without choking our Johnsons to death.

    Reply
    • Anne

      That would be Wrangler 13MWZ or 31MWZ. My husband swears by the these. The only jeans he says you can actually unzip, and not choke your manhood.

      Reply
  3. Lonnie G Hopson

    I whole heartedly concur with Michael Irwin.

    Reply
  4. Michael Holstine

    The left-handed zipper is a holdover, and extension, of the practice in Europe, especially France and England, where the lady of the house had servants that helped them dress. The servants used their right hands to fasten the clothing which would mean the fastener would be left-handed to the wearer. Men generally fastened their own clothing and, thus, had right-handed fasteners. This can still be seen in women’s blouses, etc. When zippers came along the practice simply carried over from buttons and ties to them, and this perpetuates the women’s clothing from men’s clothing myth. Unfortunate in my opinion, but then I would prefer a right-handed fastener on my clothing.

    Reply
    • comatus

      The article states, iconoclastically, that this is not the case, and that the left/right convention only applies in the the United States. Basically, that’s all the article says. So now you have to work up a legend of the history of American servitude. Old wives’ tale, if you can find any wives old enough to remember being dressed by their maids.

      Reply
  5. jAck

    Who cares so long as it works properly and smoothly every time.

    Reply
  6. Andy Black

    This happened to me. A few years ago I bought a German Flecktarn parka with GoreTex and the zipper was on the left. I never could get good at using it and broke the zipper after a few wears. Good times.

    Reply
  7. Yauzoo

    Thought this was going to be a “build a better mousetrap (zipper)” story. Apparently Isaac Romsdahl has way to much time on his hands.

    Reply
  8. Douglas Hunt

    A European “lefty” is a metric zipper.

    Reply
  9. Steven Bailey

    Found this out when I bought my first English waxed cotton jacket and yes I was surprised at the zipper on what I thought was the wrong side.

    Reply
  10. James

    Now I know why a mens water proof wind breaker from SG has a left hand zipper. Not really a problem. Just akward…….
    I even double checked the order, to make sure it said, mens….

    Reply
    • Leon

      I got a Carhart knock-off jacket at a truck stop in Arizona 12 years ago with a lefty zipper. I just assumed it was lefty due to the knock-off origin (somewhere in Asia). Maybe the Euros are infected with the same virus that caused British cars to be built with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the car, leading to them needing to drive on the wrong side of the road.

      Reply
  11. Bill Koke

    The origins of women’s left side vs right side dates back to when the lady of the house had hand maidens and they buttoned up the Mistress. That characteristic was maintained with snaps and zippers. It’s become iconic on this side of the pond.

    Reply
  12. wally

    OMG! As soon as I read this, my junk shrunk !!

    Reply
  13. Mark

    On the American men’s jacket zippers, you incorrectly stated that the retainer box is on the left but it is actually on the right (the slider side). I know, too much left/right thinking gets you confused.

    Reply
  14. Terry Trombley

    As long as I find my manhood under at least one of my zippers at any given time, I don’t really care which side the ol’ slider is on.

    Reply
  15. larry richard brown

    As im XML 9years it works for me

    Reply
  16. Robert Tingler

    We have purchased reversible jackets and coats for many decades, which means that one side of the clothing will have a left side zipper.

    Reply
  17. Lee R McElhinny

    I bought a Police Surplus fleece jacket, oddly enough, from Sportsman’s Guide recently. It came from Great Britain (England?). I had to remove the POLICE patch from the back and 2 radio microphone clips from the front. No problems there but I did notice the “backward” zipper. Since I ordered a 3XL jacket, I never assumed it was a women’s jacket but simply that “backward” zippers were the norm on the ‘other side of the pond’. It’s a great jacket & I ordered another one as a backup. The “backward” zipper has not been hard to adapt to after half a dozen times of using it. I can now use either a “left or right” hand zipper without a second thought!
    Now if we could get that longer zipper on our pants I’d have a couple fewer incidents, previously mentioned, of genitalia damage.

    Reply
  18. Lance

    If memory serves me correctly, the garment industry determined the left/right closure of mens/womens clothing as a way to identify clothing parts before they were sewn together. All mens clothes buttoned on the right side while womens clothes buttoned up on the left side. same with pants buttons & later zippers. It was a way to easily identify clothing measured & designed for the sexes.

    Reply
    • Anglii

      Lance, that may be true for buttons but does not apply to zippers. There’s no correct or wrong side when it comes to zippers. Both left and right zippers can be found in both woman’s and men’s clothing. It has more to do with where in the world the clothing was designed. Europeans are more accustomed to left sided zippers and Americans more accustomed to right. Clothing designers may cater to what their customer base is more accustomed to. Or perhaps it makes more sense for a predominantly right handed population to have left sided zippers because the insert pin would then be on the right for easier insertion into the left sided slide. Once inserted, the slide can be pulled closed with the right or left hand; and once the zipper is closed, even just partially, there is no way to tell if it’s a left or right sided zipper. It’s impossible to tell what side the slide is on in pants and jeans as the insert pin is permanently inserted into their slide. It’s the button that changes sides.

      Reply