Monday, March 5, 2012

Fear of Zipper

The current trend toward underarm zippers in women's dresses brings back memories of being trapped in my clothing, unable to escape without help. I was 13, thrilled to receive a hand-me-down shirtwaist dress with slim skirt from the teenager two doors down the street. Even though I had the figure of an undernourished twig, I had to wriggle to get into the dress. 

Yes indeed, it looked wonderful. I felt very fashionable for about 5 hours, until I tried to get out of it. I unzipped the side zipper, which had been scraping my ribs all day. I unbuttoned the button-to-the-waist front. I rolled the skirt up to my waist; I crossed my arms. Pulling on the shoulders of the dress,  I tried to get it off over my head. The waist stuck at my shoulders. I tried to pull the dress down, but my arms were above my head. Finally I lay on the bed like a sausage until my mother came home.

I had to wear that dress several more times. We devised and practiced an escape route until I could undress without help. It was never comfortable, and never without fear of ripped clothing and dislocated shoulders. I was thrilled and delighted with when nylon coil zippers came down in price. Never again would I have to endure the torture of the underarm zipper!

Imagine living in the 40's and having to wear side-zipped clothing all the time. Eventually that scrape, scrape, scrape would raise a bloody welt. I wonder how any woman of that era ever allowed a man to hug her, to press buttons or zipper teeth into the tender flesh (bloody welt?) covering her ribs. Hugging and cuddling would be acts of aggression. There would be no need for any other forms  of contraception. Hmm. Perhaps the low cost nylon coil back zipper is the real reason for the Summer of Love.  

Now hear this! Side zippers are not for everyone. True, zippers today are less bulky than they were in the 1960's. They're not metal , and their teeth will not leave tiny bite marks on underpadded rib skin -- not without a lot of help. They may even be easier to insert in side seams. But I ainta gonna do it. I see no reason to endure panic and bruised ribs just to be able to use 12- to 15-inch underarm zippers instead of 18- to 22-inch zippers that march down my back. For me, the arm down the back contortion is infinitely easier than the wriggle-shimmy -yank. Having wriggled and shimmied, all too often I found the yank impossible. I cannot look at a dress with an underarm zipper without feeling an echo of the terror and frustration I felt at 13.
Entranced by Kay Whitt's use of pattern and color, I bought a couple of Sew Serendipity patterns without noticing that they are designed for under arm zippers. The pattern and fabric are still in a bag. In the unlikely event that I ever use one of these patterns, I will alter the back to allow for a seam and a zipper. I have lost  most of my desire to replicate that style, but I will probably make up a skirt or two from the book.