Costumes and Consumerism: The Pricelessness of Process
In our home Purim costumes are made not bought. I established this rule for a number of reasons. First of all, the clothing we wear is a statement of identity. The first impression we present to others is through the external, through the clothing we wear. Wearing a costume allows children to embody a different persona and to be outside of themselves for a day. Having such a limiting and limited number of costumes for sale equally limits children's ability to embody someone different and develop empathy and imagination.
The most significant reason that we make our costumes is that I hate the amount of stuff my children have. We had an entire cupboard of dress up clothes, as well as another cupboard full of arts and crafts supplies and I felt that it was a waste to buy more stuff for one day. This year, our first in Israel, my hatred of stuff was reinforced as I saw the huge amount of costumes for sale in practically every store. Additionally, this year Israel Post made a deal with Ali Express that costumes bought by a certain date would arrive to Israel in time for Purim. This consumerist culture, where you can buy anything you want by pressing a button is one of the most amazing conveniences of our time, but I'm personally not comfortable with that being the message my children get from Purim.
Another reason we make our costumes is that I hate the costumes that are on offer. Almost every costume I see on sale makes me uncomfortable on a feminist (hello slutty nurse/police officer), religious (Santa hats?) and even political level (I'm looking at you, Native Indian costume). As a teacher, I also see firsthand how violent costumes often translated into violent behaviour and how overtly feminine costumes sexualizes children, predominately girls, before their time. Today, a grade 4 student of mine dressed up as Marylin Monroe and at the end of the day, after al the festivities she refused to help clean up because she was in high heels. (Vomit!)
The final and I think the most important reason we make our costumes is that I wanted my children to think and to develop their own creativity in the process. I recognize that I am uniquely privileged in that I have time to undertake this project with my children. I am a teacher and have afternoons free to do crafts with them, I also love it and don't care about mess.
Please don't misunderstand me. I totally understand how much simpler it is to buy costumes and make no judgement on those that do. And it goes without saying that children are equally able to develop into moral, empathic and creative adults whether or not they made their own costumes. I'm simply saying that if you're so inclined, Purim is an awesome opportunity to develop these attributes. An interesting article* I recently read on encouraging creativity in children encouraged parents to support kids to problem solve, invite their child to make and create, break the rules, allow for messiness and above all emphasize the process and not the product – the antithesis of the store bought costume.
In the end, my kids' costumes aren't going to be the best tomorrow. They aren't going to win any competitions or parades. They look decidedly amateur. But that's ok by me. Because they made it themselves.