From Dress-Up Box to Cosplay Stash

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Left: toddler in a Viking Helmet. Right: 7yo in a Queen Elsa dress, wielding Thor's hammer
Apparently she’s always liked dressing as tough Scandinavians.

What finally convinced my daughter to clean her room this weekend was the suspicion that there might be a cat-ear headband buried in the dress-up box buried under… everything else, and Halloween is only a couple weeks away.

The dress-up box hadn’t originally had to do with Halloween, of course. It had been for everyday make-believe playing. She and her older brother had gotten it for Christmas when she was just a baby. It had been full of hats, props, and child-sized uniforms so that they could pretend to be everything from a firefighter to a Viking warrior. Over the years, every other costume piece in the house got thrown into the box. But also, over the years, they grew less interested in playing that sort of make-believe and spent far more time on video games, building, and drawing. They learned tabletop RPGs from their dad, but that was a make-believe that didn’t require dressing up.

So the dress-up box became a speed bump on her bedroom floor, occasionally spilling over and mixing with her dirty laundry. But Halloween is coming, so we literally dug it up, and I helped her sort through it in search of that pair of cat ears. “Is this a costume or a regular skirt?” I asked her, holding up a blue tutu-ish contraption—which may sound obviously costume-like, unless you happen to know my daughter and her sense of style.

Knowing her own sense of style, she smiled at it and said, “I don’t even know!”

“Well, let’s hang it in your closet then; you can wear it however you want.” Then I looked at the piles I’d started to make: costumes that were far too small for anyone in the family anymore and ought to be passed down; costume props; and a series of princess dresses I’d purposely made large for her so that she could wear them longer. “You know what? You should keep Princess Anna’s cloak around just to wear whenever you need a cloak. It’s a nice cloak.”

Girl in homemade Anna-from-Frozen costume including a sturdy pink cloak. Beside her is a "box robot" painted like YouTube gamer Chad Allen's avatar
It’s a nice cloak. Her brother’s cardboard gamer costumes never lasted long enough to make it into the dress-up box, incidentally, though we often kept the heads.

“Okay!” and we hung that in her closet too. Then I looked at the remaining costumes that still fit her and said, “we should hang all of these in your closet. You can get to them whenever you want them. And the props we’ll keep together in some place where anybody can get them if they want a bit for a costume.”

We exchanged a look of enthusiastic understanding. It wasn’t so much about playing dress-up anymore, it was about building costumes. Don’t ask me to explain the difference. I’m not sure I can. But there was a sense of revitalization, that we’d found a way to make the contents of that box relevant again. Maybe she doesn’t play quite the same way she did a few years ago, but she can still make costumes.

And maybe she doesn’t even have to save them for Halloween.

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