My kids love to dress up, especially the younger two. The youngest is dressed as a fire chief or a pirate more often than he’s dressed as himself. The middle one regularly goes to school dressed as a ninja, a baseball player, or a gangster. They also dress up in less obvious ways, choosing a collared shirt and bowtie sometimes or getting an ear pierced.
It’s interesting to watch them try these thing on, not just the clothes, but the roles that go with them. The opportunity to put on a costume also seems to be an opportunity to put on a way of being and acting. They’re experimenting not just with dress but with what it’s like to act in a certain way, to be as tough a firefighter, as sneaky as a ninja, as cool as a gangster. They want to know what it feels like to occupy that identity. What will people say about my bowtie? Will they think an earring is cool?
This process is especially fascinating to me because I’ve long ago settled into a way of dressing and being that suits me, so long ago that I rarely even think about it. At some point or another I decided that I was more interested in clothes that were durable and cheap, that weren’t faddish, that were likely to keep me for a while, and that were most likely bought at a thrift store. I don’t remember that decision, but I do remember trying on clothes and identities as my children are doing now, experimenting with parted hair and skinny shorts in junior high, with long hair and Birkenstocks in highschool, and with whatever I could afford in university.
Most of that didn’t stick, of course, and my kids won’t likely stick with ninja costumes either, but I suspect that the process of trying on those identities had an influence on who I am today, and I suspect also that talking our kids through that process, as they dress like a firefighter or try a new hair style or get an earring, is a way that we can help them discover who and what they should become.