Playing Dress Up

I’ve loved playing Dress Up for as long as I can remember. We have loads of pictures from when I was a kid – me dressed as some sort of classy lady, and my brothers as women with pillows stuffed in their dresses (because I was the big sister and they had to do what I said!). 

As an adult, I’ve continued to find ways to play Dress Up. Ironically, I don’t like Halloween because dressing up is expected. I’d rather be prompted by a motif somewhere in my life. I’ve worn a Marie-Antoinette-inspired hairstyle with nesting creatures to a friend’s animal-themed art opening and a 1930s-inspired skirt and hat on a Route 66 road-trip. 

Part of the appeal of Dress Up to me stems from a love of highlighting different facets of my identity. I know core characteristics that remain the same throughout my lifetime and I always like to play around with style, but the outward identity I embrace has changed several times. I’ve gone from Small-town Liberal Country Girl to Art World Professional to Edgy Bisexual Woman-About-Town to Suburban Wife-and-Mother. 

The hardest one, I’ll admit, was to Suburban Wife-and-Mother. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, my inner wild-child chafed at the responsibilities inherent in caring for and about other people. That transition is one of the reasons I started this blog and one I’m still exploring. 

Playing Dress Up is one of my favorite ways to try on a new identity. I’ve always loved the outward trappings of 1950s housewife, so why not embrace that? A couple times, I’ve dressed in my best fit-and-flare dress, heels and had a bourbon cocktail ready for my husband when he came in the door, served in a retro glass, of course. 

Embracing these identities also helps me to understand that they are each one aspect of myself. When I remember that I take a costume on and off, I’m reminded that Suburban Wife-and-Mother is also one identity, albeit one that I wear a lot. But who’s to say I can’t be Edgy Bisexual Woman-About-Town AND Suburban Wife-and-Mother? What isn’t changing is that I am an artist at heart who loves to connect with other people, both my family and other creatives. 

So I’m using New Year’s Eve as a chance to play Dress Up. 2020 has been a doozy for many people. What better way to pivot into 2021 than assuming a new identity? It’s a way to get beyond your everyday self and to do something more creative and exciting. 

If you don’t yet have plans for New Year’s Eve (or even if you do), pick a theme and play! We’re doing tiki-themed this year based on a few excellent items I acquired recently. My mother-in-law got me “Easy Tiki” by Chloe Frechette for Christmas. It’s a beautiful book with a history of tiki,  60 recipes you can make at home and tips to achieve that tiki vibe (hint: Drama is definitely involved!). We’re trying out a tiki classic – the Zombie. 

I’m also dressing in a new caftan I bought from Donna’s Dress Shop here in Kansas City. They have amazing vintage and vintage-inspired pieces, many by local designers. My peacock caftan is fun, flow-ey and makes me feel gorgeous!

Tiki not your thing? Here are a few other ways to play dress-up! 

Check out my Pinterest site for inspiration on costumes. Pick something fun but unusual. Maybe a headdress made of yarn?

Draw a picture of your family, but put them in crazy outfits. What better way to get everyone out of their comfort zone while still having some family time!

Repurpose an old outfit into a new one. I turned my old prom dress into a NYE outfit for a bygone year. (full disclosure – I’m a mid-level sewer. I can make something look good as long as you don’t look too closely!) I also altered my wedding fascinator and veil. It was just too boring without a veiled-doll head attached. 

Get inspired by artists who painted lavish attire. 

Gerard Ter Borch was a 17th-century Dutch painter who was renowned for his paintings of silk dresses. You can almost feel the luscious fabric.

Gerard Ter Borch The Younger, “The Suitor’s Visit”, c. 1658, Courtesy National Gallery of Art, Washington

Giorgio Vasari and other Renaissance Italian painters created spectacular attire for their figures. Check out the lavish outfits and armor in this work at the Spencer Museum of Art.

Giorgio Vasari, “Christ Carrying the Cross”, c1562–1565, Courtesy Spencer Museum of Art
  • Contemporary artists often experiment with costumes and attire. Nick Cave’s “Soundsuits” are inspiring. You can see a few gorgeous examples at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.

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