Monday, October 26, 2009

Memory Monday: Playing Dress-Up

I can remember every dress-up costume I ever wore as a child. There were three. That is, if you don’t count the various pathetic Halloween costumes I had (and trashed and abandoned every November 1). Or the outfits my friends (boys) and I would put together to be “Beach Bums” (our favorite pretend game): ragged shorts and shirts we had outgrown, flip-flops, and “stubble” scribbled on with my mother’s eyebrow pencil.

One of the costumes was a light brown skirt with African animals on it, each animal having a little straw tail. The second was my favorite, a satiny, iridescent midnight-blue skirt with a blue-black mesh over it – very glamorous. Both of these skirts were my mother’s, and on my five-to-seven-year-old frame, they swept the ground, just like a formal dress. Mom must have let me wear them because she no longer did at that point. I can understand why she might have tired of the first one, but the blue one – incomprehensible! It was absolutely fabulous.

Once I tried on a pair of her high heels with one of the skirts. That was the beginning and end of my history with high heels.

The third outfit consisted of a grass skirt that my Uncle Bill brought back from Hawaii combined with a paper punch-out crown.

There are no pictures of me in any of these outfits or in any of my Halloween costumes.

Of my daughters, however, almost every third picture in our albums shows them in dress-up or a costume of some kind, or at least a funny hat or silly glasses. Halloween costumes were never retired, just passed down and reinvented. When our daughters were younger, Halloween for the entire neighborhood was a major holiday. Almost every kid on our half of the block assembled into a huge, churning mass of princesses, Power Rangers, animals, and characters out of history and fiction. This inaugurated Dress-Up Season, which lasted through Christmas and all the way through winter. Actually, it went year round, but Halloween and Christmas supplied new costumes, which always signaled a change in fantasy games.

Not all dress-up required dedicated costumes: towels or underwear worn on their heads, underpants worn on the outside, towels tied on with a belt, a toy bucket or potty training toilet seat on the head for a hat – we have ample photographic evidence of all these original creations.

When my older daughter was three years old, our next door neighbor gave her a Christmas present that launched a major tradition: the dress-up box. Over the next few years I would add to it by combing the local thrift stores for scarves, skirts, belts, and hats that only cost a dollar or two apiece. Each year’s ballet recital costumes also got added to the mix. It was a rare day of play with friends that did not include a dress-up session. There were even things that the boys could wear, such as pirate outfits and firefighter’s hats.

Not more than a few years ago some old neighborhood friends who had moved to Michigan returned to visit. The girls, all in their teens, dressed up in some of the same long dresses that had engulfed them when there were little, and proceeded to prance around and dance, totally unself-conscious. Just like the good old days….

A few pictures from my daughters’ dress-up days, representing only a tiny fraction of the pictures featuring them in costume:

My daughters were crazy about Peter Pan, particularly Tiger Lily. In fact, they had a major obsession with the very politically incorrect Ugg-a-Wuggs, as they referred to the Indians. We had to play the “Ugg-a-Wugg” song roughly a million times during their childhood.

“I a Ugg-a-Wugg. I on a warpaff.”

Here the girls stare in fascination as “People Peter Pan” (as opposed to “Cartoon Peter Pan,” which they also loved, but not quite as much) plays on the TV screen. The Indian girl costumes were probably the most often-worn costumes of all.

Big people’s clothes

One of many animal-themed costumes

Witches are not just for Halloween – you can be one all year long

A ballet costume. She’s not sad; that’s just her “drama” face.

Creations from the Dress-Up Box

From a neighborhood dress-up session

Every day is Talk (and Scowl and Dress) Like a Pirate Day

The crew gathers for the yearly Neighborhood Halloween Extravaganza

“We’re King Tut’s Sisters.”

Renaissance Festival maidens


  1. NOW THIS IS A CLASSIC post! I love the photos! CUTE does not describe!!

  2. Thank you, Carol. These are some of the pictures that bring back the most memories for us and make us laugh the most. To bad I can't show the picture of my younger daughter with a toilet seat on her head....

  3. I guess the "toilet seat" photo would be like the one of my two sons dressed up like was during the time that my youngest (then about age 2)decided that he didn't want to wear any clothes below his waist. I always tried to shot the pix from his waist up! Great post, Greta and it reminds me that I do have one photo of myself and a girlfriend "dressed up" back in the 50's.

  4. What great pictures and fun memories. My five year old is in the midst of the dress-up era and it is hysterical to watch and photograph. She certainly makes her little sister laugh anyway.

  5. Loved your post - every kid ought to have a dress up box! Would have loved to see photographs of the toilet seat though! We used to have a fur stole in our dress up box. The unfortunate critter still had his head attached to one end...

  6. Linda - we have so many funny pictures that I can never post publicly, especially that toilet seat one!

    Tracy - this is such a funny age, especially when they get so creative. You can just never take too many pictures at this age.

    Karen - Yes, there was some sort of furry thing in my daughters' box, too, but it got pretty mangy-looking pretty quickly.