Zippers and zoot suits #AtoZChallenge

Chicago from A to ZAs in years past, this month I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. 2016 marks my fifth anniversary, and this is the final post in the series! Click here to read them all, in alphabetical order.



Invented by Whitcomb L. Judson, the zipper is a Chicago invention. Who knew?

Technically, Judson holds a patent on a “chain-lock fastener,” which was a precursor to the modern zipper. He invented this in 1890, and applied for a patent for a “clasp locker” in 1893. Here’s a drawing from his application:


As you can see, his device was mainly designed for shoes, and was meant to replace the tedious buttoning and unbuttoning required of shoes at the time. Fancy that!

In 1913, a Swedish-American engineer improved upon the clasp locker, and ultimately the device was renamed a zipper by the B.F. Goodrich company in 1923.

Zip on, zipper enthusiasts!

Zoot suits

Another Chicago fashion innovation was the zoot suit.

Well, to be fair, the zoot suit’s invention has been attributed to several designers, including Harold C. Fox of Chicago, Charles Klein and Vito Bagnato of New York, Louis Lettes of Memphis and Nathan Elkus of Detroit. But since this post is about Chicago’s contributions to fashion, I’ll assume the real inventor of the suit was Mr. Fox.

Some famous zoot suit wearers include Cab Calloway:

cab calloway

And a young Malcolm X:

Denzel Washington with Spike Lee, in the film Malcolm X
Denzel Washington with Spike Lee, both in zoot suits, in the film Malcolm X

Hot damn!

Zippy zoos

And finally, although I dislike zoos in general, I still have the Lincoln Park Zoo song stuck in my head, almost 30 years later. Clearly a brilliant piece of marketing!

Pre-order your copy today

Like what you just read? Thinking of visiting Chicago soon? Pre-order your copy of my forthcoming guidebook, Chicago From A to Z, for lots more about the Windy City – including local hotspots, tourist attractions, cultural oddities, and anecdotes you just won’t find anywhere else!



  • A. Catherine Noon

    Congratulations on your forthcoming book, and on completing the challenge! I’ve enjoyed chatting with you about the city and look forward to reading more of your material.

    • Laura Roberts

      Thanks, Ms. Noon! I’ll be checking back on your blog as well. And if we ever move back to Chicago, we’ll have to meet up for some Italian beef. ;D

  • JazzFeathers

    Looks liek Chicago was a good place for inventions ;-)

    Congratulation on completing the challenge. I really enjoyed discovering Chciago with you :-)

    • Laura Roberts

      Definitely! They say necessity is the mother of invention, so I can see why a lot of things have been invented in the Windy City. ;D

      Congratulations to you as well! I enjoyed reading all of your jazz posts, if if I didn’t get around to commenting daily.

  • Debs

    Excellent closer! Love the zoot suits from the Malcolm X film especially.

    Congrats on the Challenge and the best of wishes for the success of your book!