Friday, August 31, 2012

Play Dress Up, Learn History

What little girl doesn't love to play dress up?

I loved dressing up when I was a child. My two favorite costumes were a blue Cinderella dress made from one of my mother's old prom dresses and my Laura Ingalls Wilder costume from a long ago Halloween (when it was more about the treats and dressing up than the tricks and being scary). I still have some of my old costume pieces (sadly, the princess dress is long gone), and they started what became our Amigos' beloved dress up box.

Of course, over time, I added to it with finds from yard sales and thrift stores...nursing smocks, vests, interesting hats, and even a few bona fide costumes from the "After Halloween 80% Off Sale" at the consignment store. The box morphed into a trunk, then kind of took over the closet.

That's when I decided enough was enough and it was time to downsize the dress up supplies (or at least pack some of the less often used stuff away). I found a Samsonite suitcase for a few dollars at the thrift store and told the kids that this would be our new "dress up suitcase," and we worked together to pick everyone's favorite, most often used dress up clothes: princess dresses and crowns, aprons and bonnets, and tutus for the girls. Coonskin caps, cowboy hats and holsters, King's cape and crown, and knight's armor for the boys. A few animal masks. Some scarves and funny hats. Costume jewelry. Shoes.

In the end, it all fit in the large suitcase and things were better. But still, I felt there had to be a way to get the variety of play scenarios (they are currently limited to ballet, castle, and pioneers) without sacrificing the ideal of not having too much.

I finally found the answer. Amy Puetz of Golden Prairie Press has written a fantastic book about girls' clothing in twelve different time periods of The United States of America's history. From the Pilgrims and Puritans to a Turn of the Century Tea Party, you will find an inspired array of costume ideas girls of all ages will love (and I mean Mom, too!).

What I love best about her idea is the simple idea that many costumes can be made using the same basic dress simply by changing the embellishments, like different headcoverings, aprons, and cuffs on the sleeves. Absolutely ingenious! In today's world, where stores like Toys R' Us (and even catalogues we love like the American Girl one) tell our daughters that they need a different (expensive) outfit for each time setting, this minimalist, yet precisely detailed concept is just what we need to teach our girls that oftentimes less is more...but that doesn't mean you have to give up your fun!

Here's an excerpt from the book Costumes With Character:

In this book I share the simple idea of taking one dress and transforming it into styles from different eras.

Costumes with Character utilizes the concept of one dress costuming. With the simple addition of cuffs, collars, belts, aprons, etc., one gown can easily be altered to reflect the fashion of different time periods.


A simple dress can be used for so many time periods that it is an essential for any girl or young lady who loves historical costumes. When the dress is completed, the costumes are half done! Then add the accessories for each costume.
There are different ways to get a dress that will work. It may be sewn using a pattern, or you may make over a dress you already have.

Do you see how clever that idea is? Take ONE basic dress, then add accessories, and voila! A whole new dress up experience. An entire wardrobe spanning centuries from just one dress. Imagine how much less real estate that sort of a costume system will take up in your house. Revolutionary! I am completely sold on the idea.

Isn't his dress up outfit adorable?
It's done with a simple smock dress (kind of like a loose nightgown),
with the added accessories of a bonnet and an apron.
The bare feet are authentic, as women often went without shoes...
at least until they were in company.
Of course, at first, I was intimidated by the idea of having to sew dresses for TWO girls. I am pretty good at fixing old quilts by hand, and I am pretty good at turning jeans into fun things, but following a pattern, well, not so much. Then I read the above statements more closely and I finally saw the part that said, "You can make over a dress you already have." Aha! That I can do!

And I would have done it, if not for Tex's accident and injuries, and our extended stay at the hospital in West Virginia. But I decided we could still have fun with this excellent resource. Not only can you read all of the fascinating background information about the time periods, the women, and the clothes they wore, and see pictures of actual women from each time period, but you also get to see photos of the "Costumes With Character" take on the look. That makes it very easy to imagine how you can put together a similar look with things you already have.

That's when I decided to raid our "Dress Up Suitcase" and see what I could put together without sewing a stitch, to inspire those of you who are not so quick to pick up a needle, but would still be interested in getting your girls excited about history by incorporating some "living" history in your curriculum in the form of immersing themselves in the era by dressing the part.

Here's what we pulled together in about an hour. I used things from the girls' regular closet, as well as items (like the sunbonnets) from the dress up suitcase. The look isn't "perfect," but it was enough to get the girls interested in the pioneer spirit.


The only downside to the book is that it is for girls only. Poor Cowboy felt a little left out. I sure think it would be nice if Amy would make a boys' version of the book next! We'll have to pull out the coonskin cap and let Cowboy dress up like Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett in the meantime.

The Amigos all had a fun time putting together their new looks, and enjoyed hearing some stories while in costume, then left for a long session of "Pioneers and Fronteirsmen." We read aloud a great old book called My Favorite Place that night before bed and it had the best two chapter description of kids playing "Pioneers and Indians" in their yard and having the best time using their imaginations.

For those of you who ARE good seamstresses, Amy offers an additional set of printable patterns (some do require taping together to be complete), or you can size up the patterns in the original book on thin pattern paper to make her actul dress pattern, which seems fairly simple. I am hoping my mom, who is an excellent seamstress, might consider making each of the girls a dress (and a few of the accessories we don't have already) as their Christmas gift this year (hint, hint).
The information in the book is a great way to kick off a unit about Pioneer times, or any other of the twelve costumes/eras covered. You can see the table of contents and a sample of the book to see what else is covered. We added or plan to add more resources of our own as we progress through this period (we are doing American History this year), and Amy offers suggestions for enriching her lessons on clothing on her site, if you need some basic ideas of how to supplement the learning.

Here are some of the books we have been reading and will read more of in the weeks to come.

Other resources from our library to supplement our study...

Amy also offers other titles that cover historical topics, such as the "Heroines of the Past" Bible study series and "Ten Girls From History." You might want to check them out, too.

Do you think that some creative costumes and a touch of informed imagination would add a bit of character to your homeschool? Then check out Golden Prairie Press and Costumes With Character. You can purchase the ebook for $21.95 and the pattern set for $15.00. At the time of this posting, there was a 20% off sale going on, so don't delay to get the best price!


You can see what others on the Crew thought about this eBook and other products by Amy Puetz at the Schoolhouse Review Crew Blog.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the eBook Costumes with Character and the additional pattern set in order to fully evaluate this product and complete this review. All opinions you read are my own and no other compensation was received.


Kimberly Kovach said...

What a great job of pulling together to show different looks! Hope Grandma DOES make some of these for your girls for Christmas.

Jennifer said...

Great job improvising with the time and resources that you had on hand. The girls look like they enjoy the costumes.

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