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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