Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Discount Guide to a Great Dress-up Bin

Our kids love dress-up clothes. Like many young girls, it all started with Disney princesses. Even though we had not seen any of the movies, one day we walked down an aisle in Target, and my four-year-old suddenly became completely obsessed with owning a mermaid tail. They have all gone through a major sparkle phase, but now they prefer old-fashioned dresses, sunbonnets, and aprons to itchy polyesther.

In one of my favorite books, Educating the Whole-hearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson, the Clarksons first introduced me to the idea of making your entire home into a place that inspires love of learning. They do this through discovery corners, such as an audio corner for listening to books, a craft table with supplies, a selection of musical instruments, or a writing desk with fancy paper in another. One of the things they suggested was adding a historic dress-up bin to your home. I have found that dress-up clothes can be a wonderful way to bring books to life in your home. Our kids have been Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sarah Nobel, Madeline, and even Mrs. Rachel Lynde. I know that a book has really captured their heart when it enters into their free play.  So, over the past few years, I've been adding new dress-up clothes to our bin to inspire the kids to interact with different eras of history, cultures, and classic books.

In the process, I have discovered some great ways to put together a Literary/ Historic dress-up bin for not a lot of money.   Since I have spent an inordinate amount of hours thinking about dress-up clothes, I'll share my best tips with you so you can save yourself the effort. (I'm sorry, but most of these are geared toward girls, but if you have boys and do a dress-up bin, please chime in in the comments.)

1) After Halloween Sales: One Christmas when my girls were really into the more commercial character costumes, I happened across a 75%off rack of costumes at Target after Halloween. I was able to get Tinkerbell costumes, Renaissance Princesses, and Angel costumes for $3-$7. The costumes were similar in quality to the dresses available in the toy department at a fraction of the cost. We wrapped them all up for Christmas presents and the girls loved them. I've noticed that Target is moving their holiday sale items through faster each year, but keep your eyes open in the next week or two and you might hit it big. Besides the character costumes, they often have more generic costumes like knights, doctors, explorers that you can find for a great price.

2)Thrift stores: If you use your imagination, thrift stores are full of great costumes. When we were doing our Around the World tea parties, I was able to put together outfits inspired by different countries by shopping at the Goodwill. If you find a small-size woman's dress, it can be a perfect long dress on your daughter. By adjusting the straps and adding a seam or two, they work great. I have been able to find Chinese dresses, boldly-printed sundresses for African dresses, and turn women's wrap-style shirts into Kimonos. I also found a great Laura Ashley red calico dress from the 1980s that made a perfect Laura Ingalls dress. Though I don't have as much experience with boy costumes, in the Civil War Unit Study int he free resources at Schoolhouse in the Woods, they have instructions for making Civil War coats out of thrift store jackets.  They are really brilliant.

3) Etsy: is the best place to find beautiful, handmade historic costumes from Little House on the Prairie to Anne of Green Gables. We purchased several sunbonnets from etsy stores for the same price as the factory-made ones at Old Sturbridge Village. You can also buy matching doll costumes for American Girl dolls. However, there is another way to shop on Etsy that can also save you money. Search for vintage prairie clothes from the 1970s and 1980s. I found an adorable dress for Trixie by searching for "pinafore." The seller guessed that it was made in 1976 for the bicentennial celebration. It was the perfect Carrie Ingalls dress for $12.

4)Ebay: We have also bought costumes from Ebay. We found handmade colonial style dresses with aprons and mobcaps for about half the price of Etsy. The fabrics were definitely cheaper, but suitable for our purposes. You can also look for vintage or handmade clothes on ebay. Try searching for "girls prairie dress," "girls dress pinafore," or "modest girls dress," or strangely enough "Amish dress." Yes, they sell Amish dresses on Ebay. Who knew?

5) Hand-me-downs: A great place to look for dress-up clothes is in your parents' closets. My mom has passed down lots of my old clothes that she still had and the girls have loved having them for dress-up: everything from old prom dresses, simple dresses my Mom sewed me to knit shawls. I also mentioned at church that I was sorely lacking in dress-up clothes for boys and two friends with older boys passed down their costumes to me. So now we have cowboy, knight, and animal costumes for the little guy.
6) Unexpected Places: Last year, I really wanted to find the kids fleece cloaks. We had just read The Courage of Sarah Nobel and the girls loved her red cloak. As a mom in New England, I saw the benefit of having warm dress-up clothes. My kids have no trouble running around the house on a frigid day in tutu, but it makes me cold to look at them. I found a toddler cloak on sale at The Capery on Etsy, but I couldn't afford the bigger girl sizes.Then I found the perfect fleece cloaks at an unexpected place: Cracker Barrel. They sell women's fleece capes for $20. We found a red one and purple one, which worked perfectly. For our son, we were able to sew a simple cloak just by cutting a rectangle of fleece, folding over the top a few inches for a collar and adding velcro and a decorative button.

Bonus: If you are going to buy any dress-up full price, these flutter wings are worth every penny. After fighting with wings with wires in them and destroying several pairs, we put these on the Christmas list. They have two straps which go over the shoulders and finger loops, which help them to flutter when you run or flap.The kids love them.

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