Alison and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad, Totally Busted Zipper

Don't let this happen to you.
Publish date:
April 16, 2014
shoppables, wardrobe malfunctions, wedding dresses, zippers, party dresses

Hey, guess what? I went to a wedding last week. It was lovely as all get out. The bride (hi Jessica!) was as breathtaking as a bride could possibly be, and it was held at the historic Highland Springs Resort in Cherry Valley, California, home to olive groves, lavender fields, a 1,100 year old oak tree and baby farm animals running through the hotel restaurant.

Everything about the evening was incredible -- except the part right before it started where I put on a brand new dress that I'd never worn before and:

Cue the zipper breaking (along with more than a little bit of my heart.) Not only was I obviously not at home when this happened, I had no backup dress -- and I, a professional costume designer and dresser of famous people, also did not have any wardrobe tools on my person -- I mean not a needle and thread or even a single, solitary safety pin. The best part? The bride is a costumer too -- and there were about fifteen other costume babes in attendance as well. I frantically burned up the phone calling all of them only to find that not one had a needle or a safety pin either. (I'm actually having the whole lot of us drummed out of the costume union just as soon as I get a spare moment.)

Luckily, the front desk of the hotel had one mangled, bent needle and a small piece of hot pink thread, so with minutes to spare, my dude Tommy sewed me into my dress. I threaded the needle and he did his best. "It'll be dark soon, right?" he asked just before we walked out the door to the ceremony. Let's just say I hugged the bride very carefully after her walk down the aisle.

Shockingly, his stitching held up all the way until the groom's college pals and their raucous 1990s cover band took the stage. At some point during the frantic dancing to the theme song from Friends, my dress burst open again. At that point, I decided to just put my coat on over the whole mess and dance some more. (In between taking 9,000 Polaroids of anyone I could get to stand still.)

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't the end of the world -- but it got me to thinking -- why isn't there a quick, easy fix for when you find yourself with a busted zipper? On shows, I just frantically call my seamstress over and she either replaces the zipper in ten minutes or sews the actress into her dress right on set. But was there a secret solution I was overlooking?

Sadly, the answer is a resounding no. Every single costumer I talked to at the wedding agreed with me -- when a zipper busts, you have to replace it. Barring that, sewing it closed is your only option. But I do believe there are a few ways you can baby a zipper to make sure it doesn't punk out on you at the worst possible moment.

1. Get a helper

Zipping up a fancy party frock is really a two person affair. You need one person to hold the sides of the dress close together and another person to carefully zip it up, paying close attention that the teeth of the zipper are not getting bent or mangled. When you are blindly zipping yourself up from behind, you can't see what's going on, and are more likely to get it off track and bend some teeth along the way.

2. Close the hook & eye (And check for stray threads.)

The purpose of a hook & eye at the top of a garment is to help keep the sides of the zipper track together for a smoother, guided zip -- so doing it up before you start zipping is of utmost importance. Giving the area along the zipper a once over for stray threads that could get caught in the track and interfere with the functionality of your zipper will also save you mountains of heartache down the road.

3. Lube it up

Greasing a zipper (plastic or metal) in advance of zipping it is always a good plan. They make special zipper lube for this purpose, but you can also use a bar of soap or even a tube of lip balm in a pinch. Just be careful not to get any grease on your garment. Some folks swear by rubbing the lead of a pencil on a stuck zipper, as graphite is actually a lubricant, but I find it only really works on metal zippers.

4. Be gentle

Invisible zippers are the worst. (That's what the zipper on my dress was, by the way.) Dressmakers love them because they are (duh) invisible once zipped up, but they are notorious for splitting and breaking when they hit a seam in the garment or an actual curve of a body part. Go slowly, and don't ever roughly force the zipper over a stress point. It's best to back up and get a running start at areas over the bust or widest part of your back.

5. Be prepared

The moral of my tragic zipper story is this: preparedness is key. Always, always pack a needle and spool of thread to match your special occasion dress. If it's your wedding dress, (or some other crazy special occasion frock) consider having the zipper looked at by a tailor in advance of your big day so they can troubleshoot it for you. It doesn't matter how much you paid for the gown, the zipper could easily be sewn way too close to the fabric in some parts, rendering it unusable. And having a large safety pin that can stand in for a broken zipper pull on hand in an emergency is a must.

A final piece of zipper advice: I find a metal zipper to be superior to a plastic one in every single way. Not only are they stronger, you have at least some hope of bending a bent metal zipper tooth back into place. With a plastic zipper, the tooth just snaps off -- and that's the end of the story.

A pal of mine who is getting married in June is wearing a vintage gown -- and she proudly wrote me that she had the original metal zipper replaced with a plastic one. I think she'll live to regret it, but I also have a pretty strict policy of not ever disagreeing with brides, so I'm going to follow my own instructions and offer to help zip her up right before she walks down the aisle -- with my tiny sewing kit at the ready -- just in case.

I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison