They call them “stripper zippers” for a reason! “They” being us. We performers call them stripper zippers, because they are easier and more reliable to strip out of a stage costume.
When you need the reliable function of a zipper, you want to avoid invisible zippers and metal teeth zippers. While invisible zippers are lovely in a garment for hiding the zipper, they will inevitably fail you on stage. Purchase a zipper with large plastic teeth, either online or at a craft store that sells sewing paraphernalia. If the costume piece needs to be split completely when unzipping, be sure to acquire a zipper that separates at the end. (These can be labeled for use in jackets, sports, parkas, sleeping bags, etc.)
The better the cloth butcher or seamstress you are, the easier a time you will have replacing a zipper and it may be sewn with better quality, but even a novice can do this! Don’t be intimidated! As performers, we have the advantage of typically being viewed at a distance, under alternative lighting conditions, to patrons who aren’t focusing on stitches and thread colors. The audience won’t be able to see any small imperfections and their attention will be elsewhere. Use a color that matches your costume if you’re able. This will help disguise it, especially if you end up with a lot of the zipper showing. (I’m not a great tailor and learned to sew via the “just wing it” method, so my adjustments are slowly getting better, but still not executed properly.)
Zippers can be added upside down so you’re beginning from the bottom and unzipping upwards. This works well for when you want to be able to hold your garment together before you flash open the spectacular show that is your body… or more costume…, because your hands will be at the top. You’ll be able to easily grasp the two sides and hold tight together until you’re ready.
Consider adding a tassel or other type of decorative pull so you can find the end. This adds an element of visual appeal on the costume and can make the unzipping more dramatic. (There are always exceptions, such as – if the objective of your act/costume is for the audience to not know there is a zipper.) Longer or larger pulls can be especially helpful for performers with short arms, less flexibility, or larger bodies to work around.
When you are only partially unzipping a garment, you may want to insert a zipper that is a little longer than you actually need. You never know what changes your costume layers or body may undergo and it’s better to have extra room you don’t need than to be short space in the future.
Avoid trims, fringe or other items that may get caught in the zipper. In standard “Do as I say, not as I do” logic, I have a dress with long fringe on all the under parts and a zipper on the dress over top. The audience doesn’t even realize the danger I put myself in every time I use that costume! That being said, if you have a situation like this, be very strategic about how the costume layers are laying on each other and how any movement you make impacts the interaction between these.