Dress-Up Play – No Experience Necessary

costume collage


I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s pertinent enough to reiterate, that one of the things I always looked most forward to before I had kids was making them costumes. I always knew I’d be one of those parents who would gladly let their child leave the house in a superhero costume and wash it while they slept if need be. Since my daughter’s first Halloween at five months old I have been enjoying the pleasure of making her costumes.  But, oddly, blogging about it has been a challenge for me.

Yesterday a friend sent me a link to a Huff Post Parents article that put everything in perspective for me.  I blog to share my adventures but in a way that I hope teaches you something as well.  My costumes for my daughter are all made up as I go and often come together quite haphazardly, a process I can’t tutorialize or often even walk you through.  And then I read the story of Fashion by Mayhem.

Mayhem is what mother Angie of @2sisters_angie calls her 4-year-old daughter.  And for nine months now that have been creating beautiful custom ensembles… out of paper.  You can follow Angie on Instagram to get their latest and greatest works right in your feed.  From shark couture inspired by a trip to the aquarium to reproductions of red carpet looks.

What I realized when I read this story and saw their fun fashion adventures is that you don’t need to have certain skills or step-by-step instructions when it comes to dress-up play.  You don’t even need to have fabric.  Dramatic play is all about exploring where the imagination takes you, and if yours can take you there, your skills will find a way to catch up with you.  One of my favorite quotes of Angie’s from the article, written by Ilana Wiles of Mommy Shorts, is “A friend suggested I could start sewing these creations from scraps of fabric and I laughed at her. I’ll take paper and tape any day over getting anywhere near a sewing machine!”

So in the spirit of adventure, imagination, and dress-up, I share with you a collection of handmade costumes I’ve done for my daughter in the past two-and-a-half years, with just a little insight in to the impitus for each, and hope that you go have some fun with your little visionary, even if that means sticking masking tape to your chest in the shape of your initial and having a super-hero kind of afternoon.

From the above collage of images:

  1. Sock Monkey – Halloween 2011.  When my dauughter was born we called her our little monkey because of the way she curled up on our chests.  One day we were ogling her while she curled up in a little onesie covered in sock monkeys… and the idea was born.  I bought my first ever crochet pattern books and spent evening after evening of maternity leave crocheting bits of one pattern to bits of another.  I sewed the buttons around the leg opening on to the onesie the morning of Halloween, but when I put it on her I felt overwhelmed as I realized that all of those years of looking forward to this moment were gone, and it was actually here.

  2. Half boy-half girl – Halloween 2012.  For a moment I considered having Penelope be something like Elmo, something she knows and likes, but I decided this could very well be the last year that I have any say in the matter, and decided to go my own way.  If I remember right I was inspired by an image I saw of an adorable circus themed kids room, in which was an adorable strong man stuffed animal.  I liked the carny idea, but wasn’t married to the strong man.  Somewhere along the way came the half boy-half girl idea and I set out to figure out how to make it come true.  I really just wound up buying a dress and a little suit at the second hand kids clothing store, making sure the were sewn together as individual pieces, cut them in half, and sewed them together with a zipper up the back.  It sounds like it should be more labor intensive than that, but it was really that simple.  I acquired through a friend a tiny cardboard hat, which I cut in half and hot glued to a headband, then covered the ugly hollow side with some fake flowers matching the dress.  I love the pictures of her riding on the carousel in her carny costume, I just think it’s fun, and I hope she’ll look back and be glad that I was creative while I could still get away with it.

  3. Cinderella – Summer 2013.  My daughter was in a major Cinderella phase.  I don’t think it was long after I went to a lecture by Peggy Orenstein, the author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter.  Despite not really having any idea where the obsession came from, I caved and borrowed the movie from the library.  She watched it as often as I would allow.  I finally asked her if she wanted her own Cinderella dress, and she excitedly said “yes.”  We took our adventure to the fabric store together and picked out the perfect fabrics.  Not wanting to disappoint her I whipped it out that evening so it was ready for her in the morning… at which point I could barely get her in to it.  I kid you not, she refused to even try that thing on for like three months.  Eventually she not only wanted to try it on, but wear it out of the house for the day.*

  4. Owl wings – Fall 2013.  Penelope went through a phase where she loved to paint all the time.  We just left her easel and paints set up in the living room 24/7 and she’d work on a piece intermittently (or briefly) until she deemed it “all done!” and requested new paper.  Despite not only framing a piece above our desk, giving a piece away to Grampa, and giving two pieces to Auntie who framed them and displays them in her apartment, we still had a massive growing collection of paintings on our dining room table.  I genuinely don’t know where the idea came from, but one day I pulled out some old iron on vinyl and covered a collection of the stack.  I then cut petal shapes (feathers) out of the paintings and went about stumbling through sewing them to some flannel I had laying around, lined with a semi-stiff batting, and encasing the edges in a complimentary bias tape.  I was seriously winging it on this one (no pun intended, honestly) and the process changed pretty much every step of the way.  One of the coolest things has been that as I ironed more, and over time since they’ve been done, the feathers have curled up a little, which is an unanticipated but very cool effect.  They were meant to have wrist elastic too, but as she once again wouldn’t wear the wings at all for a significant amount of time, I gave up on that finishing touch, and now that she actually wears them, I think they’re more comfortable without them.  The hat was inspired as an accessory to the wings, and wound up being the inspiration for my whole line of animal hats, the most popular line in my shop.*
    *My favorite day was probably November 1st last year, when she still wanted to dress-up in the Halloween, and wound up wearing both her Cinderella dress and owl wings in a concoction we refer to as CinderOWLla.  Two things she loved the idea of, wanted nothing to do with, and then wound up loving in the end.

  5. Angeline Ballerina – Halloween 2013.  With two years of solid Halloween costumes in the bag, people were really starting to ask what they could expect this year.  I swore there was no way I was going to make her a Halloween costume because of the fact that I’d made her Cinderella and Owl costumes and she refused to wear either.  Why would I bother if she wouldn’t even wear it anyway.  But we have a couple of Angelina Ballerina books from when I was a girl which was Penelope’s latest obsession and after a quick chat she had me convinced that she really did want to be Angelina Ballerina.  After investigating leotards and tutus I deemed it more financially efficient to purchase them, and focus on the mouse features, namely the ears and tail.  Our first trip to a local dancewear shop, a place I shopped at as a girl, was a blast (even the grumpy and down right rude manager couldn’t bring down our mood).  She loved looking at all the leotards and tutus, and when we tried one on her she laughed and laughed.  She wound up wearing them out of the store. The tail and hat were actually quite easy, though I did do the hat a few times before I was satisfied with the shape of the ears.  I hand stitched the tail to a locking brooch pin and pin it on to her tutu, with another, smaller, one on the tip of the tail which I pin to her shoulder when she’ll let me, to keep the tail from dragging on the ground.  Come Halloween day she wound up wearing her owl costume to school, a swap that did not surprise me in the least, but she wore Angelina trick-or-treating, and it has been a top pick for dress-up play ever since.

  6. The Little Mermaid – February 2014.  The Cinderella phase is gone but all but forgotten, and the Little Mermaid phase reigns.  I wound up agreeing to make her an Ariel costume and we took another fun trip to the fabric store.  This time she’s more opinionated, so it was hard to get things that were actually appropriate for a mermaid costume and not just a print she took a liking to.  That fabric sat in my craft pile for quite a while, actually, as I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how to bring it together.  But today was her second trip to Disney on Ice, and Ariel was going to be at this one, and I knew I needed to have it ready for the trip.  So yesterday before school I managed to get the bodice designed and cut out, after school I got the shell appliques done and sewn on, after I ran some errands I got the bodice sewn together and after dinner managed to design and finish the skirt.  Phew, just in time for the big trip.  I foresee this being a popular item for a while, as before her nap (happening while I write this) she was adament about wearing it to go see some of our friends for dinner this evening because she “really wants to show it to them.”

So there you have it.  Whether you’re working with yarn, fabric, store bought items you put your own twist on, or whatever craft materials you have around the house, see if you can add a new dimension of play to your kid’s favorite thing.  As I mentioned in my cardboard box play post earlier this year, finding unconventional ways to support an interest and make concepts more dynamic is so powerful throughout childhood, and dress-up is just one of those ways, and a project you can approach from any background and skill level.

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