Toddler dress-up time!
September 11, 2011 9:05 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to start collecting dress up clothes for my toddler daughter, but need ideas and tips.

The kiddo in question is 21 months old, and is starting to like the idea of pretending to be someone else. I'll hit the after halloween sales this year, but in the mean time I have no idea where to look for cheap and fun ideas. Our goodwill and garage sales have been fruitless. Ideas that require sewing or other crafty capacities welcome. She doesn't watch TV, so she has no concept of Dora or Tinkerbell, which seems to be all the rage.

We're thinking: pirate, cowgirl, fireman, fairy and maybe some animal ears?

Which costumes get the most mileage?
Where do you look for fun accessories?
Did you have a favorite dress up costume from childhood?
posted by Nickel Pickle to Shopping (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My daughter used to love dressing up in women's sized clothes that we got mostly from thrift shops and friends. Even though they were much too large, if you stick with smallsizes and are creative about how you use them (a shirt becomes a dress and a short skirt can be a floor length maxi skirt, or even a strapless dress). For our little girl, the glitzier and spanglier the better. She especially loved fancy hats and shoes (but be very careful with heels).
posted by Rock Steady at 9:17 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your babe is too young for this still, but my favorite dress-up clothes were my mom's old clothes -- horrendous bridesmaid gowns, high heels, work clothes 10 years out of style, a wig, and of course, plenty of shoulder pads to use as boobies.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 9:18 PM on September 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

And I didn't finish my sentence. Put a "they can make great dress-up props." in my answer above.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:19 PM on September 11, 2011

Best answer: I thought the idea in this recent question was really cute: dress-up sweatshirt with interchangeable ears.

My brother and I didn't have many dress-up clothes as kids (our mom made us all of our Halloweeen costumes, and we couldn't play in them because they were "special"), but we did a LOT of make-believe-type play. The most versatile dress-up item we had? An old king-size bedsheet. (Ours had a lovely floral print...a plain color might be a better choice.) A bedsheet could be a cape for a superhero, wings for a bird, a funny hat, a toga, a dress, a collar and leash to play doggies, really long hair--you name it. Sheets can be anything. And when we got tired of playing make-believe, we took turns dragging each other around really fast on the wood floors.

Simple is better. The less niche a "costume" is, the more things it can be. That bedsheet was awesome.
posted by phunniemee at 9:20 PM on September 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: First, congrats on not having her watch TV at home. Second, we had our kids dress up in costumes that were their favorite book characters. For example, a bunny and say it was the bunny from Goodnight Moon. Also, one year when they were 2, 3 and 4 we had them dress up like Mommy and Daddy. My daughter put on a summer dress with a flower in her ear and some oversized flats on her feat and a purse in hand for candy and to look like mom. My two boys wore khakis, a button down shirt and ties and one had one of my old briefcases and the other carried a lunch bucket thing.

Can always have them dress up as a professional. Construction worker (little fake hard hat, dungarees, t-shirt, boots), Doctor (hospital scrubs in kids sizes), baseball player (any sports player -- tennis is easy for a girl), lawyer (shark outfit), etc.

Most of what we used were clothes that were given to us by friends with older kids (hand me downs) or were from a reasonable but less expensive store like Old Navy. For cheap costumes, we went to Party City.

My favorite costume as a child was my fireman outfit. Apparently, I wore the fireman hat for weeks after Halloween and wanted to ride on a real fire truck. Finally, my uncle was a volunteer fireman and he took me on a tour of his station complete with the special fireman chocolate milk at the end. "But mom, fireman drink chocolate milk, not regular milk." was my refrain for a while.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:21 PM on September 11, 2011

Just turned to the Blue and saw this thread and this link in the thread. Maybe have your daughter design her own costume?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:25 PM on September 11, 2011

Best answer: When my daughter was four, we were shopping for a Halloween costume for her brother, and she found a plastic ninja katana that she was really hot to have.
But you already have a costume, I said, you're a fairy.
"I'm a ninja fairy," she said. "I have a pretty dress, so they want to come close, THEN I WHACK 'EM."

So -- glittery dresses, and weapons.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 9:36 PM on September 11, 2011 [19 favorites]

My mom hemmed a bunch of shiny pretty fabric remnants from the fabric store for me when I was about three. They made perfect skirts and capes and who knows what else. That, plus an old lace slip, a hula skirt, a tutu and some of my cousin's old jazz dance costumes made up the bulk of my dress up collection. The key ingredient was really the shiniest fabric around- a few random yards and half yards of lamé and I was set.
posted by MadamM at 9:43 PM on September 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Plastic helmets from toy shops. We got 9 for about 20 bucks. Fire person, knight, police person, racing driver, construction worker... forget the others. But then the kids use their imagination for the matching outfit.

One great tip...plain , silk, scarves in different scarves. We got the complete ROYGBIV set and they have been a daily pretend play favourite from one to eight year olds. Cannot recommend enough for costume play and music and magic and all the fin stuff. Really. Scarves. Great for sharing when friends come to play too. And when Teddy needs a sling or blanket or pirate scarf.
posted by taff at 10:00 PM on September 11, 2011

My nieces have really enjoyed dressing up in an old slip of Grandma's. You can make too-large clothes smaller by clipping them with clothespins, which opens up quite a lot of choices. I always enjoyed having a pillowcase or small towel safety pinned to my shoulders for a cape, and having a piece of yarn tied around my waist to make a tail. Oh, and we had a small sheer curtain that was great for all kinds of costumes! A length of any interesting fabric will do.
posted by corey flood at 10:14 PM on September 11, 2011

My daughter loved my old dresses, finally a purpose for them! (I sure wasn't going to get thin enough to wear them) The ideas above are great, every now and then I'd snap a few pictures of her then add in more imagery in Paint Shop Pro (wings, gems, a dragon to ride, or have her peeking out of a flower), she loved it and ended up taking some to school for show and tell when she got a little older! Good luck and have fun!
posted by Jayed at 10:23 PM on September 11, 2011

You can make a vest out of a grocery bag and color it with markets. Depending on how you design it, cowboy, construction worker, whatever. Cardboard and puff paint can also be turned into all sorts of things.

Wings can be made with coat-hangers and fabric glued in place. Decorate with markers, beads and sequins. I'd also suggest asking friends and family who has old costumes or spangly clothes they're no longer using - you may be very surprised what turns up.

My mother sewed, so I had the dress-up bin to end all dress-up bins. Some of the best pieces included a bridesmaid gown she cut down to my size (though her sister - the bride in question - was evidently quite miffed about that), a 70s paisley tunic that became a dress, a flouncy flowery skirt that was floor-length on me, a fluffy petticoat, a slip that was an elegant gown, and some random pieces of lace and spangly tulle that could be draped into whatever.
posted by psycheslamp at 10:35 PM on September 11, 2011

You can sometimes find fun stuff at party stores - little cheesy tiaras, etc.

You may or may not want to try this, but we loved playing with some old frilly lingerie -- it was huge to us at the time, but it was capes and gowns instead of whatever small thing it was originally intended to be. Watch out for strap choking hazards.

Finally, just some lengths of cloth and maybe a belt (or not) can be really fun.
posted by amtho at 11:18 PM on September 11, 2011

Thrift shops often store their Halloween stock until October. You might find some good costumes and accessories if you check Goodwill or any other charitable thrift shops again soon.
posted by Francolin at 6:48 AM on September 12, 2011

Best answer: Dollar stores have a ton of cheap costumes and accessories. Dollar Tree in particular has awesome stuff, and everything is $1 (website gives you an idea of what they have, but you can only buy in bulk online, and selection varies by store).

I just joined Pinterest and have come across a lot of costumes ideas. Memail me with your email address if you want an invite. Also start checking out the craft/mommy blogs - I'd start with Dollar Store Crafts.
posted by radioamy at 7:12 AM on September 12, 2011

Best answer: It always seems like a fabulous idea to get kids a "proper," realistic toys to play make-believe with, but I think kids get more mileage out of makeshift stuff. The realistic stuff is more exciting at first but kids get bored of it easier because they aren't exercising their imagination as much. Which is not to say that kids should only ever have sticks and cardboard boxes and old sheets to play with, but just don't get too hung up on providing dozens of proper-looking costumes for dress-up. A few fun costume pieces plus a heap of fancy/tacky thrift store clothes, scarves, purses, old jewelry, etc. (keeping in mind whatever is safety appropriate for the age, of course) will spark a kid's imagination a lot better than having a real fairy costume and a real princess outfit and a proper whatever else.

When I was a kid, my favorite dress-up stuff included: the lace and satin long dress I wore as a flower girl in somebody's wedding; a box of hand-me-downs from an older cousin which included a dress with a lace-up bodice that I thought looked like something "Heidi" would wear, and a pair of ruffled pettipants to go underneath; an old purse of Grandma's in which I kept some discarded keys on a keyring, some "credit cards", a chapstick, and other grown-up necessities; a brown cotton shift dress that I sewed some beads on for an Indian Maiden costume; a long, glamorous white chiffon scarf I purloined from a neighbor kid's yard and walked around pretending to be a movie star until her mother caught me with it and made me give it back; my mother's rabbit-fur stole which I was so not allowed to play with, but sneaked out of my mother's closet all the time anyway (it was called a "stole", after all); pretty much anything interesting that belonged to my mother including clothing, her glasses and her diamond wedding set (which I wore to school and got in BIG TROUBLE over.) Basically, if you have a lot of stuff in your house I can guarantee your kid will find stuff to dress up in all on her own, and it mostly won't be store-bought Halloween costumes.

You probably can't go wrong with a store-bought tutu, however.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:35 AM on September 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh! Wigs, sunglasses and hats are really fun for dress-up too, especially for little kids.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:44 AM on September 12, 2011

Best answer: 'Plain silk scarves' -- yes -- Google 'play silks' and you will find ones being marketed to kids, some quite beautifully dyed. Funky belts are a good thing, along with the other accessories mentioned. A mix of amazing-post-Hallowe'en sale stuff and non-purpose-made is great.

Head back to Goodwill; check the bed linens, scarves, costume jewellery... If you put the word out to friends and family you will probably score some good donations; gaudy outdated ties and glasses and so on, just right.

Re. tutus: they are inexplicably popular at present and there are a lot of people doing it wrong. Make sure it is easy to get on, and not unbearably itchy at the waistband.

My 4yo's current favourites are a handed-down leotard and little leather ballet slippers, and cat ears, and play silk togas with a wacky belt found at Children's Place (I still reel at the thought that it was sold as actual children's wear -- do not overlook clearance sections of children's clothing stores as dress-up-box sources) plus "jewellery" and plastic slip-on "high" heeled shoes, kinda like these. I had a 1970s green pair of plastic high heels, fond memory there. (Went great with the slightly battered very lacy and poufy 1950s child's formal dress.)

Big-box party supply stores and are sometimes good sources for cheapie dress-up accessories.
posted by kmennie at 8:02 AM on September 12, 2011

Nthing scarves, shawls, etc., as well as any clothing with sequins, feathers, or lace (in that order). And yes, wigs are great. Don't forget purses though -- the brighter and more sequined the better. It's also fun to fill it and carry stuff around. (The blocks which are currently the cell phone and lipstick, say, or the scribbled on paper which is a credit card.) While I think the less constrained the better, my daughter also enjoys having my old cowgirl outfit, fairy/butterfly wings, bunny ears, a tiara, and a lemur tail (it doubles as any tail at all). It doesn't seem to stop her from being whatever she wants to be. (She was a bunny princess for Halloween.)

My parents got a ton of stuff one year at garage sales, for my daughter, so that might be somewhere else to try. (Especially if you live somewhere that has a garage sale day, so you can quickly go through twenty nearby sales.)
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:32 PM on September 12, 2011

Since you sew... if you head down to your local little India, you will find amazing sari fabrics. Not merely the tasteful, though colorful, ones you see people wearing around town -- but purple!-green!-pink!-orange!-gold! eye-popping fantasias from a little girl's fever dream. If you want to do this on a budget, ask about "roll-saris" -- these are $5 or $10, for 5-8 yds. Little India is also an excellent place for scarves of every description.

And bindis (when she's a little older). Jeweled peacocks and flowers and swirlies that stick on your face.
And bangles, in every color there is.
And anklets, that jingle when she walks.
And henna tattoos, that take 2 or 3 weeks to disappear.
So many beautiful things.

And... wait for it... strong female role models. What would Rani Lakshmi Bai do?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 8:13 PM on September 12, 2011

Oh, yeah, Serene Empress Dork has a great point about "grown-up stuff". Old keys, credit cards (can be store discount cards), sunglasses, wallets, purses, briefcases, business cards, cell phones, empty cosmetics, etc. Seem hopelessly mundane to us, but fascinatingly mature to little ones.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:43 PM on September 12, 2011

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