Purim Costumes on the Cheap
How to give your kids a fresh new look each year without breaking bank
By Mayim Bialik
Growing up the grandchild of immigrant sweatshop and assembly line workers (I preferred to call them "tailors," which sounded much more dignified), it was never more evident how unwealthy we were than at Purim. Well, actually, it was also super evident on Halloween. Almost all of the kids in my public and religious school hailed from the wealthy canyons of Hollywood homes with two--or more!!?--bathrooms.
And when Purim rolled around, these kids donned expensive store-bought costumes to literally parade about in. Every year they had new fancy costumes, and they looked so good.
But what my parents lacked in financial security, my mother made up for in creativity. Purim and Halloween were occasions for my mother's daughter-of-immigrant-tailors persona to come alive. Sometimes she would make me a costume, the most memorable one being me as a giant Hamantaschen, my head popping out of the top corner. More often than not, though, she would assemble a costume from things already in our home. My parents were very eclectic dressers, so there was always an ample supply of costume-like stuff around: authentic tie-dye shirts, ethnic scarves, 1950s letterman sweaters, and loads of costume jewelry. It was a little girl's dress-up dream 24/7.
I was a gypsy (never a princess; it wasn't my thing), a 1950's "Greaser" (more than once), and sometimes my recent ballet recital costume or the Japanese kimono I wore as a robe every night was the start (and end) of my costume. And then there was the year I simply went in my Brownie costume--nothing wrong with that! My mom let me wear make-up for Purim, and I loved the special attention she paid to dressing me up.
The "greaser" look.
She always made it feel special, even if it was "just" my robe or last year's tutu. I don't recall ever feeling less-than for not having fancy Purim costumes, and if I did, I'm sure my mother just told me that everyone was secretly jealous of me and that I should just pipe down and step into that Hamantaschen costume so she could stitch me into it. And, yes, she needed to unstitch me every time I had to pee.
Although I can theoretically afford fancy store-bought costumes for our boys (Fred, 2 ½ and Miles, 5 ½ ), I have chosen to take the best parts of my frugal childhood and find the beauty, value, and simplicity in them for my own life. And so we come to the concept and execution of Frugal Purim. The rules for Frugal Purim are simple and elegant in their barest essence.
1. Dictate. Not unlike a suave dictator, I consciously "help" to suggest/choose a costume for my child. I value children's need for autonomy and self-determination. I also value my need for frugality. So let's make their needs and mine meet, shall we? I like to give a few choices that take my other rules into account. Read on.
2. Keep it simple. Think of costumes that can easily be assembled. You don't need to be a tailor or an artist to do this. Stay away from characters or things whose success relies on how close they look to the "real" character or thing. Examples of problematic choices your darling child might come up with without your wise guidance: Buzz Lightyear, SpongeBob, or any inanimate character anthropomorphized such as the cars from the CARS movies. If you have a flexible child who might find it amusing to have their God-given waist-length black curly hair atop their otherwise 100% authentic SpongeBob costume, you have some wiggle room for sure. If your kid's a stickler for details, I can guarantee that you will regret trying to make them look like anything authentic in particular.
3. Don't shoot down any idea. Miles decided last year to be a skeleton-witch. Have I ever heard of a skeleton-witch? No. Did I think it sounded sort of strange? Uh-huh. Did I ask more questions about what exactly skeleton-witches look like? You betcha. Here's what the costume entails: black turtleneck, black corduroy pants with white fabric bones glued on, black eyeshadow and lipstick, and a store-bought $3.99 witch's hat. Done.
4. Come out of the closet! Look in your closet before every Purim. Things that held no luster for your little one last year may all of a sudden be the inspiration for a costume you hadn't thought of. So your child wants to be Dora but you don't have orange short-shorts and a shocking pink baby-T on hand? Not a problem: the sparkly sequined pashmina you forgot to throw out last season could become "Dora the Explorer goes Bollywood." And that can be the start of a rockin' Frugal Purim.
5. Have an escape plan. If all else fails and you absolutely have to buy something to make this costume happen, for goodness sake: BUY SOMETHING YOU WILL USE AGAIN. Work with your child's desire and make it worth your dollar. This year, our boys need to be super-heroes, so we invested in good quality long johns a generous size up. I will temporarily stitch on the necessary emblems and once Purim is over, we will rock those blue (Superman for the elder) and grey (Batman for the younger) long johns for at least two more years.
6. Make it fun. This is not a contest (unless of course your shul is having a contest in which case, it is totally a contest). Purim should be creative, enjoyable, and an opportunity to show your child that their needs both matter and can fit into your choices for a frugal lifestyle, no matter what's in your bank account.
So this Frugal Purim, let's review what will be going on in our house:
Miles will be Superman: Blue long johns, cape I made out of the discarded red velvet curtains from my bachelorette apartment, red undies over the long johns, some random piece of yellow fabric for a belt (possibly an old yellow scarf?), and gel to make his blond hair look Superman black.
Little Freddie will be Batman: Grey long johns, a black cape made of "remnant" black fleece from the fabric store ($1!), black undies over the long johns, and rain boots covered in black fleece. Mask optional (masks tend to freak him out).
We have decided to do something we have never done before: full-on family costumes Frugal Purim-style: I will be (who else?) Wonder Woman, the modest version. I will be decorating a plain white ¾ T-shirt with Wonder Woman's signature bustier, and I will make golden wrist-cuffs from remnant fabric. There may be a tiara involved since I think I have one in my closet. I will not be wearing a bathing suit bottom (no need for me to explain why if you are either over 33 and/or have had at least one child and have looked at your behind in the mirror lately). I will wear my fitted denim pencil skirt and rain boots covered in more of the red velvet curtains.
As for my 6-foot broad-shouldered husband, he will be Toddler Batman Freddie's trusty teenage side-kick, Robin, complete with layered green T-shirt and a red sleeveless one over it, with a yellow cape made from remnant fabric. I am leaving the undies over the tights decision completely up to him. Don't get me wrong: my husband has great legs and a cute tush, but sometimes frugality needs to take a backseat to social etiquette, don't you agree?
I guess even Frugal Purim has its limits. Chag Sameach!
If DIY isn't your thing, you can always buy some great costumes on Amazon, and a portion of the proceeds will go to help support Kveller.