First it was eyelets and lacing, then came the button and buttonhole, the hook and eye, and then the zipper. But a new closure champion stole the show in the 80’s, and its name was Velcro. A miracle fastener, Velcro featured a dual strip of materials, one a series of hooks, the other a soft pile fabric of looped threads. The hooks latched onto the loops, but would easily detach themselves with a sturdy pull. Easy on, easy off, easy money for creator George de Mestral.
Swiss engineer de Mestral had invented the Velcro hook and loop tape back in 1948, and as with most ingenious things, it happened by chance. On a walk through the woods, de Mestral noticed that plant burrs attached themselves to his pants. Their amazing sticking power prompted the engineer to observe them under a microscope, and what he found altered closure history forever: the burrs were made up of a multitude of tiny hooks that would snag themselves into the loops of thread in the fabric. De Mestral imitated the ‘hook and loop’ makeup in materials, calling it Velcro after the terms velvet (a fabric made of loops) and crochet (French for ‘hook’).
In the beginning, Velcro was primarily an industrial-use material, and it was quite expensive. Velcro was a trademarked company name, but when the patent ran out in the 80’s, the brand became a generic term for an endless number of knock-offs. The world went wacky for the amazing powers of Velcro, and in the flick of a switch, Velcro attached itself to everything. Shoes, jackets, pants, and wallets…Velcro took the zipper’s place for nearly everything in the early 80’s.
Several products owed their success to the miraculous properties of Velcro: Jimmy’Z surf shorts utilized Velcro waistbands for an adjustable fit; KangaRoos, L.A. Gear, and other athletic sneakers utilized the Velcro closure instead of shoelaces; wallets ripped open with the ease of Velcro. Velcro even became a carnival style game using a suit of the hook part of Velcro, and the human propelled himself onto a giant target of loops. Everywhere you looked, everything you put on had a snappy rip-away fastener that became addictive as you ripped and stuck, ripped and stuck, ripped and stuck...