When my son was in second grade, his teacher loved to assign projects where the kids had to dress up as historical characters. New to the elementary school world, I wasn’t yet up to speed on the stress that character costumes cause parents. That year, my son had to dress up as two separate famous men in history and I got a crash course in what it’s like to be in a craft store on the night before your kid has to give his presentation.
For his President’s Day “Hall of Presidents” project, my son chose Millard Fillmore. Because of course he did. For that project, we made due with a borrowed suit, a tie and a “President Fillmore” name tag. I hope we did President Fillmore proud but I’m pretty sure that costume was a total failure. And please, don’t ask me what Fillmore’s presidential achievements were, either, because I’m not going to lie—my son’s presentation was a snooze.
After the President’s Day fiasco, I wised up when it came to helping my son choose a character for his next project. I realized pretty quickly that I did not intend to spend many nights in the aisle of Target, trying to piece together an expensive costume we’d toss into the donation pile after a single use. Rather, I had a plan: I was going to make him pick a colonial character in history and we were going to reuse that costume year after year.
So, while all the other kids were picking Derek Jeter and Taylor Swift, my kid chose Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
I bought a white long sleeved cotton shirt and I safety pinned lace in a triangle that looked like a ruffle on his chest. I bought a ream of red fabric and fashioned a cape that I secured behind his back. He wore black sweatpants with the elastic bottoms shoved up to his knees. I completed the look with his soccer socks and a pair of dress shoes we used for church.
But, my crowning achievement was his white wig. I bought batting used for sewing projects and I wrapped it around his head to look like hair. I added a few rolled up pieces to simulate “curls” at the bottom and voila, he was instantly transformed into a virtuoso. The entire costume cost me just under $30 with the bulk of the expense going towards the sweatpants.
Materials to make your own costume:
Did he look ridiculous? Probably. Did we refashion that costume into a Minute Man, George Washington and Alexander Hamilton over the next three years? You bet we did. And I don’t want to brag but that costume won him first prize in our town’s Fourth of July colonial themed parade, thank you very much.
You, too, can repurpose a generic colonial costume for all your kid’s school project needs. Either buy one (Amazon has all sorts of options), or make one like I did. Years later, when it was my daughter’s turn to dress in historical costumes, we were already pros: Her colonial dress and dust cap served her well as Laura Ingalls Wilder, Susan B. Anthony and the time she chose “apothecary” for the school wide colonial town presentation.
When I mentioned my costume repurposing to some of the moms in my neighborhood, they, too, jumped on the colonial costume bandwagon. And, over the years, we’ve amassed quite a selection of colonial wear. So much so, that we’ve called on each other for help, depending on the period of history. It’s pretty amusing to read, “Hey, does anyone have a set of chaps for my son’s farrier costume?” in the neighborhood group text.
And while our neighborhood kids seem have a knack for picking the most obscure professions in history, we’ve been able to repurpose and outfit pretty much every colonial or historical figure easily and economically. Somehow, though, we haven’t been able to convince them to use our cobbled together costumes for Halloween. I guess having to explain that you are Susan B. Anthony house after house isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.