Pirates in Our Living Room

We’ve had a long history of pirates in our living room. And knights. Ninjas. Cowboys. On occasion, Ninja cowboys, come to think of it. And lately, that rare but elegant combination has appeared: a ballerina princess. Sometimes she brings her butterfly wings.

Dressing up is a wonderful outlet for children’s imaginations. It lets them literally fill the shoes of their imagined heroes and characters. This is the time of year when the spotlight is aimed at children in costume, but it’s something that for generations has given pleasure to children throughout the year.

Let me give a few examples from the childhoods of some well-known creative people. Trina Schart Hyman, accomplished children’s author and illustrator, loved to dress up as Little Red Riding Hood; she’d pull her dog and her father into key roles. (I’m hoping the dog was the wolf.) Benjamin Britten, English composer, wrote plays as a child that he and his siblings enacted in costume for his parents. His father often would come to the upstairs performances in his own costume: top hat and tails! The dancer Martha Graham also staged plays, with costumes her mother sewed for her.

But it doesn’t take great tailoring skills to enable our children’s costumed adventures. Gathering old hats, fancy vests, odd belts, and other costume possibilities can get you started. Grab some post-Halloween bargains. Rummage sales can provide hand-me-down costumes.

Let costumes be a creative resource for your kids. We keep an ongoing “Costume Bin” in our attic from which many interesting combinations have emerged as our children have foraged, often with friends at their sides. As kids create costumes, they often created characters that go with them. “I’m a pirate,” a child might say, “but I’m not a regular pirate – I’m a superhero pirate!” Stories naturally follow.

One other wonderful fringe benefit of the Costume Bin: it’s bailed us out of many last-minute projects at school that were announced to us at the dinner table as “I need a costume tomorrow!” That alone makes it worth its weight in dubloons, matey.

Or so says a pirate I know.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter