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Dress-Up Box

Source: Martha Stewart Kids, Volume 11 2004


From the moment 2-year-olds first slide they're tiny feet into grown-ups' shoes, their stepping into the magical world of pretend. Experts will say they're learning another person's point of view, but to your little grown-up, it's simply about having fun. You can help your kids enjoy the adventure even more by setting up a well-stocked dress-up box.

Stocking the Box
The best places to get clothes for a dress-up box are the closets of grown-ups. If you don't have much to cull from your own closet, put the word out to family and friends. Or visit thrift stores, yard sales, and discount stores, which can provide a wealth of inexpensive selections. The items should strike a balance between ones that have specific uses, such as a football helmet, and those that can have many, such as a scarf. Be sure to add plenty of accessories, and choose a wide array of styles. A great way to expand your child's options is to occasionally swap some of the box's contents with a friend's. There is one item you'll want to include even though it doesn't fit in the box: a big mirror.

Hats and Headgear
Toddlers won't mind large hats that slide around, but as kids get older, you may want to add toy hats that fit better. Wigs create lots of new looks, and their quality doesn't matter. A tiara is a wonderful addition for a girl; with a scrap piece of tulle, it becomes a bridal veil. Don't forget headbands, which can be worn in a wide variety of ways.

Shoes and Boots
Too-big shoes are most popular in the earliest stages of dress-up. Boots stay on better than shoes, so they might get more use. Rain boots are suitable for equestrians and firefighters; cowboy boots complete the outfit of a rancher or a rodeo star. Girls love heels, but you should stick with shoes that have low ones to avoid a twisted ankle.

Short dresses and bathrobes, as well as half-slips, are great choices since they become floor-length on a child. Bridesmaid dresses are favorites with girls. Men's suit jackets can have many uses. Suit vests come in interesting textures and patterns; down or camouflage vests are good to toss in too. To make grown-up clothes easier for kids to wear, just do a few simple adjustments: Trim straps and stitch them back together so they won't fall down, shorten long dresses by cutting them with pinking shears for a quick fix, shrink suit jackets in the washer and dryer, and replace buttons and ties with Velcro. Children are not very picky, so your makeshift tailoring job doesn't need to be perfect.

Start with purses and wallets, and include play money, date books, and keys on a ring. As kids begin to experiment with different roles, add such props as a magnifying glass, stethoscope, cane,menu, receipt pad, telephone, and microphone. Provide items that children can be creative with. A chopstick may become a fairy's wand, a conductor's baton, or a teacher's pointer; a wrapping-paper tube makes a fine sword for a knight or a scepter for a king.

Young kids will happily pile on necklaces and other baubles. For safety reasons, toys should be substituted for certain items, such as badges with pins, and small objects should be avoided with young children. Choose costume jewelry, and try to find clip earrings. Boas, shawls, and ties are musts. Sunglasses should be on the glamorous side; turn a pair into fancy eyeglasses by removing the lenses. Select different kinds of gloves -- some dressy, but also work gloves or rubber gloves. Belts can go around the waist (get them to fit by cutting in half and stitching back together). Scarves offer special versatility; a sheer square can make kids "invisible".

Costumes and Uniforms
Check with dance studios for used costumes. Old store-bought Halloween costumes might inspire your child to be a superhero or a fairy princess. For uniforms, ask local businesses for their old ones -- a little mechanic will appreciate a work shirt with authentic oil stains. Thrift stores may have uniforms or scouts' shirts, which are fitting for a police officer.

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