My dad left me, my bigger sister & my mum when I was barely 2.
My mum went from being a lighthearted wife of a wizard to a sole provider for 2 young girls, so begrudgingly took her New York City parents ever practical advice & went back to school to learn a practical money making skill. She signed up for nursing school.
Which meant dropping me & my big sister at the babysitters around 7am & picking us up around dinnertime.
I spent a lot of time at said babysitter (who luckily had amongst her own 5 kids a daughter my exact age who easily became my best friend for my entire childhood/into adolescence)
We got up to all sorts of things. But what stands out most in my memory is that Dress-Up Box.
It was a big case full of all sorts of things you might imagine in a 5 children house dressup box… but honestly all I really remember is the 1 dress that Lindsey & I would vie (gently fight) for every time we played. It was a light green dress and it was lavishly full of ruffles. It made you feel like a total ruffle princess and what little girl does not want to be a ruffle princess? We took turns. I don’t even recall what we played. I just recall the legendary way I felt as soon as I put the dress on. No longer just a little girl… something more.
Fast forward to my late teens.
I am in a Improv Theater class at a community college in Santa Cruz, which is part of a pretty long string of improv classes extending from elementary to middle school & now to college. Improv is exhilarating. You never know what you may become moment to moment and it keeps you on your toes and your whits sharp and your sense of self flexible. (all very valuable life skills I would easily argue)
One day our teacher has something totally new up her sleeve.
There is a large overflowing chest full of costume elements like coats & ties & hats spilled over onto the stage.
She has us walk across the stage as ourselves to the other side- noticing how it feels to walk as ourselves (um… ok….. Where is this going?)
She has us pick up any piece at random and put it on and then walk across the stage the other way and notice how our walk or our character changes because of the strange jacket or the weird hat we now wear. Our sense of identity and the way we walk change easily and not subtly. We repeat this multiple times with other items. It is striking. Just that hat and suddenly I am a used car salesman. A cowgirl. A 50 something year old down on their luck. These characters just emerge easily (almost magically) out of this one piece of costume! She encourages us to exaggerate them and then to give them words. Mini monologues.
I am bloody fascinated.
Again a dress up box of costumes has me spellbound in its ability to transport me outside myself and into something else.. Something more.
Fast forward to now.
I have my own ‘chest of costumes’ in the form of a giant studio or mini warehouse (depending on how you look at it) and I cannot even count all of them.
There is no shortage of ruffles for me or my friends & indeed future generations of my offspring will have a serious bountiful panopoly of ruffles in which to dress up in.
I’ve already given a dress up chest to my nieces.
Fairy wings & face paint kit to my other niece. They are happy little shape-shifters with an aunty like me.
Oh- and I suppose I make a living now greatly due in part to that mysterious power of costumes to transform & transport. To give permission & paint stories & fantasies that take us up & out of the everyday.
We get a small taste of that in fashion and makeup… which is why they can get a little addictive. We want so much to escape the predictable & often restrictive confines of our normal everyday self.
And we should want that and we should have that! We should all have a dress up chest full of things that make us feel foreign & different & special & even grand. That remind us how fluid identity is & how liberating it can be to skip through its feelings & forms like we do as innocent children.