Playing Dress-up

dress-up box

Browsing through my local dollar store last week I came upon an aisle filled with Hallowe’en costumes. Yes, already.  The paper and tinsel costumes didn’t interest me that much, but a pair of bright-eyed children did.  They cruised up and down the shelves, studying each costume, checking with mom if it was acceptable, then going back to ponder the merits of a pirate versus a princess, a witch versus a vampire.  The costumes were entrancing, but flimsy.   If bought five weeks in advance, I wonder if they’ll last through to Hallowe’en.

The incident reminded me of the old dress up box in my childhood home. It lived at the back of my closet on a broad shelf created by the ceiling of the staircase.  Perfect place, don’t you think?  Dark, set apart, magical.  The truth was the trunk held a few of my mother’s old clothes but for my brothers and I it was treasure chest, yielding endless hours of entertainment and long involved tales of derring do and fair maidens.

In an age of slim fit pants, my mom’s old bell-bottoms seemed hilariously ridiculous, but paired with an oversize shirt knotted at the waist and a paper hat, they made a great sailor, change the hat for an eye-patch and a bandana and you had a pirate.

Carefully wrapped in tissue paper was a beautiful, lady’s blouse.  Made of amber silk with tight cuffs, puffed sleeves, pin-tucks on the bodice, fitted to the waist and flared over the hips it was truly a work of art.  It was also fragile with age.  I learned later that my great aunt had made her living as a seamstress.  The blouse was one of her creations.  Sadly, it turned to dust before I learned to appreciate it.

The biggest prize in the box was a cape—navy twill on the outside, scarlet satin on the inside. It served as Red Riding Hood’s cloak, Zorro’s cape, a bull-fighter’s capote, and a nurse’s outdoor wear, just to name a few.

On rainy days, when we were too much underfoot, my mother would banish us from the kitchen to the dress-up box. We could come back when we had a costume and a story to go with it.  Maybe that was the start of my story-telling career.

When my brothers and I outgrew dressing up, the box was tucked away in its special place, only to be rediscovered by my nieces.  Once again, the dress-up box played a starring role in a child’s imagination.  Little girls in swirls of gauzy scarves clunked down the stairs in too-big high-heeled shoes to regale their grandparents with long, involved and impossible tales.

I have the box, now. It was originally a wooden box for paper.  My great grandfather was a newspaper man and needed a lot of paper.  The large quantities he order, about 200 quires, came in these wooden, leather covered boxes.  As far as I know, this is the only one that has survived in my family, and it is in poor repair.  Anyone know how to reattach the leather covering without ruining it?

I no longer play dress-up, but I like to spin stories. Maybe that’s a technique I could explore.  Before sitting down at the computer I could don a long skirt with petticoats, a tight-sleeved blouse and an over-size hat.  Then I’d be in the proper frame of mind—and body—to tell tales of women on the frontier.

Share your dress-up story in the comments below to be entered in the draw for a free copy of The Man Who Hated Christmas.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Alice,
    I really enjoyed your costume tale. Brought back fond memories of our children dumping the dress up bag and spending much time putting together a costume for Hallowe’en. A costume that could change several times before the big night, but what fun they had.
    As for myself, I pretty much dressed as a cowgirl every year. Fringed suede jacket,holster with cap gun and canteen,Mexican cowboy boots, all topped off with a white felt cowboy hat from Calgary.
    Thanks for the memories.
    Lucy

    • Alice Valdal

      September 27, 2017 at 1:14 pm

      Nothing like a pair of cowboy boots to give a girl some style. Remember when we wore burlap potato sacks to the Sadie Hawkins Dance?

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