Dress-up play is pretty popular with my little guy. He just loves to try things on, especially big-people things, like Daddy’s work boots. As a child, my best friend had a trunk filled with pretty dresses, full-length gloves, fun hats, etc. and it was always my favorite thing to play at her house. It would seem like Simon has inherited a bit of this love for costume play.
There are three things I believe, concerning dress-up play and children.
1-Dress-up play is an important opportunity for children to explore the concept of identity, and engage their imaginations. With the simple addition of a scarf, your child becomes a whole new character, and gets to try on a different set of mannerisms, maybe even a new accent. Throw on a mask, and suddenly a child can be braver, walking and acting in a way that they might not normally feel naturally inclined to. They get to test the waters of identity in a way that is playful and fun, which can help them develop their personality and grow. Also, the simple sight of a hat or pair of gloves, may spark the creative mind of the child to create hours worth of pretend. For example, maybe they see a white jacket, and when they try it on they spend the next couple of hours tending to the needs of their stuffed animals as a veterinarian. They might have played this pretend game without the white jacket, but then again, they might not have gotten the idea without something to inspire it.
2-Dress-up is not only for girls, nor should it require clearly defined gender specific costumes. Aside from their obvious anatomical differences, I believe children are basically genderless. Society has provided a set of norms in which girls are supposedly meant for pink, and boys are steered toward brown and blue. Some kids might fall into these patterns on their own, but many kids all want to do the same things, and not be divided into two categories. What I am suggesting, when it comes to dress-up play, is that you not limit your daughter’s choices to princess gowns and feather boas, while steering sons into camo and khaki. I also encourage other parents to go with the flow if a little boy throws on a pair of Mom’s high-heels and a purse and wants to try that for a while. It is all a part of exploring who people are and how they act. It does not mean they will grow up with a peculiar way of dressing themselves or behaving. It is all normal play-acting, and it should be fun. Simon has a dinosaur tail and a fedora right along with a butterfly mask and a few floral scarves. He is free to use them and mix-and-match however he chooses.
3-Dress-up does not require expensive or elaborate items, and in fact does not even have to cost a thing. We have quite the collection of dress-up clothes forming, and I have not spent a dime. I began with a selection of costume pieces I accrued in college, and have been adding random items here and there that come my way. The most recent addition was an elf hat, that my Mother received for free at her bank. (I will be removing the bank’s logo with a seam ripper.) I have also added a scarf that got a little hole in it, a hat that I wore in middle school that somehow followed me through the years, and a hat made by stitching a piece of felt into a cone shape. Today, we didn’t even get out the dress-up bin, but instead I let Simon have a go at all the winter gloves and hats. He thought this was fantastic, putting big, grown-up sized gloves onto his hands and watching the empty fingers flop around as he waved his arms, then trying on all of Mumma and Daddy’s hats in turn, and playing peekaboo with me when they covered his eyes. This is just our ordinary, every day stuff this time of year, but given to him for a while, it becomes a fun play experience that costs nothing.
In addition, to any other parent I would say don’t forget to get down on the floor and try on some silly hats yourself. Not only will you have fun, but you will encourage your child to be creative and to enjoy some make-believe.