Coming across a picture of myself at the age of three, I realised this was about the age I became conscious of dressing myself. Even though my clothes were of course chosen by my mum, I was responsible for assembling this eye-wateringly pink get up. I really enjoy the fact that it’s Christmas, I’ve clearly just woken up – courtesy of the ruffled hair and sleep deprived expression – and I’ve put all my Christmas presents on, creating a hybrid ballerina princess.
This love of dress up was also explored by my siblings. For our local village carnival, we would dress up each year in our favourite characters of the moment. One year, I was Cinderella in a dress painstakingly made by my mum, and Chris and Sand were Kuzko and Pacha from the Emperor’s New Groove. Sadly, no pictures survive but we uncovered some from the year Chris went as a strikingly convincing Noddy, and Sand, who as a baby had no choice, was a disgruntled bunny.
Even now, I distinctly remember my favourite outfits, such as the wedding dress from the Little Mermaid and a fitted vest with a massive poofy skirt, modelled below by me and my frequent playmate/neighbour, Kate. In each image, we’ve carefully curated the whole outfit, with matching tiara/veil and tiny heels completing each look. In another image, I’ve gone for a more dressed down, princess-about-town look with my massive skirt exploding underneath my much more practical cardigan.
Seeing the tiny heeled shoes made me realise how much my years of dress up still resonated with me, as I bought a pair of heels for a formal event, mostly because I absolutely loved how plastic and bright they were. Seeing these images again linked my dress up heels with my adult self, with a sense of pink frivolity still clearly ingrained in my sense of dress.
When I first saw these images, I wondered why are children so encouraged/drawn to dress up? What struck me was remembering the transformative quality of dressing up. This isn’t to say I necessarily believed that I was a princess/bride/ballerina, or when I played with my older siblings one of Robin Hood’s merry men – we had wooden swords from a visit to Sherwood Forest – but more that it fed my imagination by being dressed in a certain way. In my youthful career of dress up, I portrayed many roles and many genders. However, I naturally gravitated towards the most girly girl outfits I could get my tiny hands on. In my ordinary day as a young child, my outfits comprised of much more practical clothing, including hand-me-downs from older siblings. As Amanda Rock writes, dress up allows children to socialise but also builds up their vocabulary and confidence. In my experience, dress up gave me a chance to experiment with my femininity, fashion and a very short lived acting career.
Reference: Amanda Rock, Benefits of Playing Dress Up for Kids https://www.verywellfamily.com/the-importance-of-dress-up-play-2765056