Curse of the zippers

Published Nov 2, 2013 at 05:00AM

I’ve had it with zippers. Specifically, the zippers on kids’ coats.

This school year (remember, that’s only two months so far) my sons have gone from having two functional coats each to having none — neither child can zip his coat closed with a broken zipper. I have lamented in the past about their propensity for losing their coats, and that has not changed — one of the coat casualties this year can be attributed to loss. The others fall squarely on zipper failure.

This is such a common problem that I now expect zipper malfunction in every piece of children’s outerwear that is equipped with a zipper. The leading cause of coat retirement from a child’s wardrobe isn’t outgrowing it, or the fabric wearing out, or even loss. It’s the fact that the zipper breaks on, oh, 90 percent of kids’ coats long before there’s a single sign of wear other than a couple hot chocolate stains and a thin layer of dog hair.

There are a number of ways zippers can fail, I’ve learned.

There’s the temporary stick, when careless kids pay no mind to the wad of fabric they just sucked up in the slider of the zipper and it becomes bunched up with fabric a child’s fingers lack the dexterity to remove. A frustrating, but resolvable problem.

But there’s also the permanent stick, when the zipper becomes so enmeshed with fabric, no amount of finesse or even brute force seems able to free it. This results in, usually, having to remove the coat sweater-style while it is still zipped up, and if you haven’t tried this maneuver on a toddler wearing a puffy down jacket, count yourself lucky.

Sometimes, the slider falls off the zipper entirely. Nothing can save this coat except installing a new zipper.

Other times, the pull tab inexplicably breaks. I’ve tried replacing them with paper clips, safety pins and other random objects pulled from the recesses of the junk drawer, but none apply the correct angle of leverage as the original pull tab, rendering the coat inconvenient, if not useless.

Some zippers lack the physical strength necessary to function on a child’s coat. These zippers fail with a weak sigh as their teeth simply pull apart under the pressure of bulky fleece shirts and other underlayers.

Other zippers lose their teeth like gap-smiled second-graders, and once a few teeth are lost from a zipper, it will never, ever zip again.

When we first started investing in winter wear for our kids, we’d buy spendy brand-name coats and I’d inspect the seams and examine the waterproofing with the intention of passing the coat on to the younger son when the older son outgrew it. But quality elsewhere in the coat is a moot point when the zipper falls apart before the kid has even grown INTO the coat, let alone grown OUT OF it.

Now, the chief quality I look for in a new child’s coat is zipper strength. Wimpy plastic-looking zippers? No thanks. Zippers with tiny teeth? Nope. Give me the coat with the heavy-duty, monster zipper no amount of abuse will break. Then, maybe my son will make it through a whole winter before he inevitably breaks it.

Back when I was less honest with myself about the things I would definitely get around to doing soon, I’d put coats with broken zippers in the hall closet to await repairs. I even bought a replacement zipper for one of them. But all I did is create a Broken Coat Graveyard, which eventually started displacing flat basketballs and too-small elbow pads from the closet, so I threw the coats out.

I guess I am going coat shopping this weekend in hopes that at least one of my kids will be able to zip his coat up by the time it snows. I’ll be the angry mom in the outerwear department examining zippers with a magnifying glass, looking for one that, miracle of miracles, might last through the winter.