Playing dress-up is a surefire way to make a kid’s day. It’s amazing to watch a child’s persona transform and imagination come to life when you hand them even one new accessory to incorporate into playtime. Compiling a dress-up collection for your children is a great way to encourage independent play and build their confidence, and it affords them an expansive gateway into some good, old-fashioned and unplugged fun. So invest in a garment rack or clean out an old chest, and use these tips to create an inspiring wardrobe of endless possibilities.

1. Shop Your Closet and Ask Family Members to Do the Same
Your very own closet contains a gold mine of dress-up clothes. Sift through your hangars and dresser drawers, looking at each item with the curious eyes of a child. Dad’s old white button-down shirt would make a perfect chef’s uniform or doctor’s lab coat. Mom’s outdated evening gowns or bridesmaid dresses and long forgotten silk or satin bathrobes are waiting to make a comeback from the 80’s to see the light of day again as the regal garments of a queen or princess. Odds are, everyone in your family could donate several clothing items from their closets as well to jumpstart your child’s dress-up collection. You’d be surprised how an old purse from grandma or grandpa’s retired bow tie could unleash hours of fun.

2. Accessorize at the Dollar Store and Party Stores
Give your kiddo a five dollar bill and let him/her pick five accessories to complement the outfits in his/her dress-up collection. Dollar and party stores are chock-full of fun play items that will give that added zing to any ensemble. Feather boas, eye patches, wands, swords, fairy wings, tiaras and pirate hats can turn even a “regular” outfit into something special.

3. All the World’s a Stage
Getting ready to put that dance recital get-up or school play costume into garage storage for posterity? Not so fast! Add that sequined leotard and that crazy ladybug getup to the mix for everyday dress-up fun. Even slightly outgrown uniforms from dance class can join in the rotation for impromptu ballet performances in the living room. A simple tutu can elevate any outfit into an event worthy of an encore.

4. Restaurant Supply Stores
They may be a bit oversized (unless you’re lucky enough to find kids’ sizes), but the next time you’re at the restaurant supply store, stock up with an apron, a chef’s hat, and an oven mitt. There’s something about kids and their inherent love for playing ‘restaurant,’ and promoting a tyke to chef will really make him feel special.

5. Bring Out of Season Clothing & Gear Out of Storage
We’re not saying your tot should don a down parka in 100 degree weather, but toss a few out of season accessories into a dress-up box and imaginations will really thaw out. Mittens and gloves, snow hats, swimsuits and snorkeling gear…get your money’s worth by making them available to your kid no matter the season.

6. Navigate Yard Sales & Thrift Stores
There are some stellar dress-up finds at yard sales and thrift and consignment stores, if you’re up for sifting through the good, the bad and the ugly. Disney princess outfits, which can run anywhere from $30-$100, can be found as low as $5 at your neighborhood garage sale. We all know how fickle kids can be, so one little girl’s discarded Ariel costume could be your daughter’s newfound treasure for a fraction of the cost.

7. Purchase a Set of Multi-colored Play Scarves Or A Few Yards of Loose Fabric
Colorful play scarves are so versatile. They may be used as educational tools and for a variety of creative dress-up play adventures. Tie them together to fashion skirts, boas, headdresses, pirate hats, capes, and king or queen’s regalia. Or simply buy some fabric at your local craft store and let your kids ‘design’ their own clothing and put on a fashion show.

8. DIY: Sew Up Some Fun
The Internet is bursting with adorable sewing tutorials for costumes and dress-up outfits.  Check out this superhero cape and power cuff made from one gigantic T-shirt. Make a silly moustache to give kids an easy disguise that’s right under their nose. This viking helmet will truly prove who’s boss in your household once and for all. Plus, now that everyone is obsessed with Pinterest, you’re always just a click away from sewing tutorials for dress-up items!

9. Upcycle: Transform Old Clothing into New Dress-Up Duds
Learn how to turn an old t-shirt into a football jersey and how to make a twirly ribbon skirt from scrap fabric and ribbon at Prudent Baby, or how to turn any pajamas into a clown costume at Rookie Moms.

10. Stretch the Halloween Costumes
It seems obvious to shop Halloween sales the day before and the day after the sugar fest, but most parents forget to take advantage of the deep discounts on costumes. Doing so means that dress-up fun can continue to be a “treat” all year long. You can score some killer deals, and if you don’t have the space or the desire to store an abundance of costumes, go with smaller, yet still spectacular accessories: a kitty-cat mask, a wizard’s hat, silly glasses, a clown wig, a construction worker’s hat, etc.

11. Special Ensembles As Cherished Souvenirs
Splurge on a special dress or costume while on a family vacation, and little ones will recall fond memories of their trip every time they wear it. “This is the Sleeping Beauty dress I wore when Cinderella walked with me through Disneyland.”

*Note: It’s important to remember that every item in your child’s dress-up collection should be age-appropriate and used under adult supervision when required. For example, items like neckties may pose a strangulation hazard for young children. Also, it might be smart to skip the fake jewelry altogether, since the vast majority of it has been found to contain toxins including lead and cadium.

What’s your kiddo’s number one favorite item of dress up clothing? What was yours as a kid? Let us know below!

— Beth Shea

photos courtesy of Beth Shea