Most young kids that I know like to play at dressing up. This is often as simple a game as hanging a square of fabric around their shoulders to form the cape that will transform them into a superhero. A stick found on the ground can be a wizard’s wand, a knight’s sword, a magical staff (none shall pass!), a Sith Lord’s lightsaber or an assassin’s gun. A small child may try on their mother’s dress and become a princess, tottering around in high heels that are eight sizes too big. They may play with her make up and think themselves beautiful with their technicolor face paint unevenly applied.
Playing at dressing up in the privacy of home can be such fun, but as soon as fancy dress costumes are required in the outside world the game plan changes. I dread events where there is a requirement to dress as a character or representing a theme and will generally avoid them. Attempting to kit out one’s child for such occasions is even worse.
With annoying regularity my young children would inform me, sometimes the night before, that they needed to attend school dressed as a book character; an evacuee; a poor child from the Victorian era; a teacher. My heart would sink as I would know that all of the competitive and talented mums would have their sewing machines buzzing, the paper mache accessories painted and the authentic embellishments sorted. My children would be sent in wearing a mash up of clothing that bore no resemblance to what was intended. I have no skills when it comes to making stuff.
The first time my children were involved in a nativity play I was reliably informed by a friendly mum that a shepherds outfit could easily be run up from an old blanket and an angel costume from a white sheet. At this stage I knew no better. My little son was the only shepherd who looked as though he was wrapped in a tatty blanket over his PE kit; my little angel like the poor relation of the shiny, sparkly host around her. The next year I went into my local town and bought everything ready made.
My inability to make stuff has let my kids down on so many occasions. As parents we never really know how much this sort of thing affects our children. I was recently talking to my youngest son about one of his birthday parties from many years ago. A friend and I have sons the same age with birthdays that fall close together. When they were younger it was common to invite the majority of their classmates so we decided to share a party and run it ourselves in our village hall. I was only willing to do this as she had offered to organise the games if I did the food and clearing up. I was so happy with this arrangement. Looking after other people’s children, especially en masse, terrifies me.
When I mentioned this party to my son he did not really remember anything about it until I described the cake. My friend and I had agreed that we would each provide our sons with their own cake so that candles could be blown out by each child. I have no recollection of what my son was given. It is possible that I bought a caterpillar or train shaped cake from a supermarket; perhaps I made the simple round or square chocolate cake that he has always liked. What my son remembers about this party is that the other boy was presented with an incredible confection in the shape of Thunderbird 1. It was awesome. Handmade by his mum with authentic detailing and the envy of every child at the table including my little birthday boy. I could never have competed with that.
As my children got older they stopped attempting to take part in dress up days at school. They now ignore the requests and attend in normal uniform or mufti; it is probably less embarrassing for them than appearing in whatever outfit I have attempted to put together. They kindly tell me that the cakes I make taste fine and that is what matters. When they have wanted a shaped or themed cake it has been bought in.
I believe that the spirit of those early, innocent and fun dress up games played at home lives on in adults. As I spend a lot of my time on walks, working out, or attending to my house and garden I tend to dress in practical and comfortable clothing such as trackies and hoodies. It can therefore be quite good fun to put on something more glamorous from time to time, adding accessories such as jewellery and putting on a little make up. It may not turn me into a beautiful princess but it does change the way I look, hopefully for the better. This dressing up gives me confidence and makes me feel better about myself. As I act the part society expects it feels good to be suitably costumed.
This tidy and well presented version of me is not someone I could maintain all the time. I have neither the patience nor the motivation to attain such a look on a regular basis. Part of the appeal of dressing up is that I become someone else for a short period; the novelty is part of the fun. I do sometimes look at those friends who always seem to be so beautifully presented and feel that I should make more of an effort. I guess it cannot really be that important to me or I would do it.