If we were to rank clothing fasteners (buttons, zippers, hooks, toggles, ties) on their chicness or discreetness or even sexiness, Velcro would probably come in last. That grating chshshshhhhh sound alone is enough to turn off most people.
But as easy as it is to dismiss Velcro and all of its annoying characteristics (like the aforementioned sound, the lint that inevitably accumulates in its fibers, or when the permanently creased tabs no longer stay put), it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s an invention that forever changed the landscape of fashion. To understand Velcro is to know how it was first invented—or even what it looks like.
Hold a magnifying glass to it and you’ll find that Velcro is essentially a strip of fabric blanketed with a ton of teeny-tiny hooks that somehow miraculously, temporarily “mate” with another strip with even tinier loops. The idea dawned on Swiss electrical engineer George de Mestral in 1941 when he wondered why burdock burrs clung to his dog’s fur during a hike through the woods. He looked into it and after swapping cotton for durable nylon and polyester, he patented his brainchild—the hook-and-loop system—in 1955, naming it Velcro, a portmanteau of the French words velour (“velvet”) and crochet (“hook”).
The response was overwhelming. In 1958, columnist Sylvia Porter was given the opportunity to preview the invention, calling it a “zipperless zipper” after recounting one particular “zipper horror story.”
“The new fastening device — which is on my desk as I type this and which I have been opening and closing, opening and closing for days — is in many ways potentially more revolutionary than was the zipper a quarter-century ago,” she wrote.
A year later ran an article, in which its author described Velcro as “the big noise this spring will be a sound like ripping cloth. It will herald one of the most revolutionary closures in history.”
Indeed it was—and is. From the outset, the use of Velcro was rooted in utilitarianism. It soon replaced traditional mechanical and chemical fasteners in everything, from solar energy to AstroTurf. On the clothing front, it was praised for it its swift, easy on, easy off convenience for those whose professions relied on speed: the military, firefighters, athletes, and so on. Most famously, Velcro was used to secure Neil Armstrong’s space suit for his walk on the moon in 1969.
Several French couturiers were on board; these visionaries played with the new innovative material and parlayed it into never-before-seen, one-of-a-kind looks. In the ’60s, Pierre Cardin was reportedly obsessed with Velcro. Paco Rabanne, too, experimented with Velcro, along with colored adhesive tape, metal disks, and chains in his creations. Influenced by futurism and modernism, André Courrèges unveiled a space-inspired collection in 1964 with crisp, geometric dresses that were crafted out of surprising textiles, including Velcro, nylon tape, plastic, and vinyl. The accompanying white boots―a square peep-toe with cutouts at the shin that fastened up the center with Velcro―became one of his most enduring designs, so much so that it’s forever immortalized in fashion exhibits.
Its ease was lauded over and over again, which coincidentally enough made it the perfect solution for sartorial dressing for those with disabilities. In 2012, Matthew Walzer, a teen with cerebral palsy, wrote a letter to Nike about a shoe he could put on without assistance. It inspired the sportswear giant to launch a line of Velcro sneakers called FlyEase.
“One of the key learnings we’ve had in crafting accessible footwear is the importance of easy entry and exit of the shoe, not just simplifying its fastening system,” Tobie Hatfield, senior director of athlete innovation at Nike, once said. “Eliminating the intricate hand movement of lace tying is important, but if the athlete cannot get their foot into the shoe, lacing becomes a moot point.”
Tommy Hilfiger was also struck with the same idea. Last year, it announced the launch of Tommy Adaptive, a collection of disability-friendly clothing with easy-to-use closure systems ranging from magnetic buttons to Velcro.
Yet, despite all these incredible advances and the handful of placements in couture collections, Velcro in high fashion never really took off. Early childhood memories of Velcro-strapped shoes from toddler or adolescent years might be a reason. And functional footwear silhouettes that defined the ‘80s and ‘90s like Teva’s sport sandals, which incorporated Velcro to secure the foot, were a far cry from sleek, needle-thin stilettos.
It really wasn’t until the rise of normcore in 2013—and subsequently, gorpcore—that these practical shoes with their chunky outsized outsoles and Velcro fasteners were not only embraced by the fashion world, but also catapulted to mainstream fame. All of a sudden, Velcro was in.
Once considered uncool, Teva saw collabs with Opening Ceremony and Derek Lam. It pervaded the street-style scene during the Spring/Summer 2019 collections at fashion week (Teva-inspired styles were seen on the runways that season as well at Anna Sui and Sandy Liang). Velcro sandals were also found at Versace.
The “ugly” dad sneaker movement saw every kind of iteration imaginable, with designer labels introducing Velcro versions of signature styles, including Acne Studios, Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney, and Miu Miu. John Galliano’s Velco-strapped boot that he conceived for Maison Margiela’s Spring/Summer 2017 runway was deemed particularly “horrific.” And when Mary-Kate Olsen chose to style her black lace-trimmed dress with a pair of white Velcro sneakers by Alexander McQueen for a Sotheby’s party, it made headlines. Most recently, Gucci introduced a sneaker-sandal hybrid featuring Velcro straps and elastic laces that had consumers drawing comparisons to outdoor brand Keen’s hiker shoes.
While Velcro is most prominently seen in the sneaker world, there are a few notable instances of it making its way into ready-to-wear—more so now with the rise of utilitarian in fashion. The first to come to mind: Helmut Lang’s OG faux bulletproof vest from the Spring/Summer 1998 season—a style from which Kanye West drew inspiration for his military vest that he showed during his debut Yeezy collection for Fall/Winter 2015.
Dries Van Noten turned to fencing for his men’s Spring/Summer 2013 show, rolling either gauzy colorblocked vests or white padded tunics that exposed Velcro from one shoulder. And for Fall/Winter 2019, Virgil Abloh brought utilitarianism to Off-White by cinching the waist of models, who were outfitted in tailored jackets and sleek rib knit dresses, with a black Velcro harness belt—an accessory that, by anyone’s book, was very, very cool.
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createdAt:Tue, 02 Apr 2019 07:29:34 +0000
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