Dress the Part| February 28, 2023
Whenever I asked about their childhoods, my siblings gave me a “you had to be there” look. But on Purim I could pretend I knew something about it
t’s almost Purim. I sit down to make a list. Mishloach manos theme — check. Invite ourselves to a seudah — check. Look up women’s Megillah times — not released yet. Costumes — oh.
I have a deep love of (read: obsession with) Purim costumes. As a kid, I had a different costume for Purim night, Purim day, the school party, and any other opportunity I could claim I was getting in the Purim spirit. I would never be caught in the same costume as someone else. (I once found out a classmate planned to come to the Purim party as an Indian — my getup — and I regrouped overnight.) My favorite Hebrew month is Adar — and it’s not because I was born then.
My costumes were not bought. Instead, each year, I would rummage around in the unoccupied bedrooms upstairs in our house, telling my mother I’d put everything back (20 years later, I haven’t). Then I’d deliberate: Should I make an 80s costume out of my sister’s high school outfits? Or maybe I could be a little schoolboy, in my brother’s old sweaters and socks. A Math Teacher — with a broken calculator, an outdated pair of glasses, and a textbook that belonged to I-don’t-know-who.
One year I went as a bride, wearing my mom’s wedding gown (which thankfully she had no real desire to preserve because it tore halfway through the day). There was the time I was a little old lady; I bought the cane but everything else was homemade, including my short gray wig made of plastic pre-curled locks. And I can’t forget the year I made myself into a mishloach manos (I couldn’t sit for the entire carnival but it was worth it).
I’m the youngest of five, a bas zekunim, and as I’d search through boxes of accessories, dusty suitcases, and garbage bags filled with clothing, I touched something of a past I didn’t know. When you’re raised in a family where the childhood experiences happened so long ago, where everyone moves on to their own new homes and families before you’ve had a chance to grow up, you’re cheated out of the rich history your siblings are blessed with. I treasured those yearly forages into my siblings’ lives as kids and teens. I loved the old yearbooks, my siblings’ school projects from nursery school, my mom’s handwritten letters from her camp days.
Whenever I asked about their childhoods, my siblings would give me a “you had to be there” look. But on Purim I could pretend I knew something about it; I wore their stuff to school and proudly walked around, telling everyone, “You know where I got this?!”
I earned myself a reputation as the best-dressed costume girl anyone knew. I’d get into character, change my voice, hairstyle, and makeup; I had all the right touches. I became my character, and that was the best part: it wasn’t a costume — it was authentic.
Nowadays I don’t dress up, at least not anywhere you’d see me. Most of the women in my chareidi community in Jerusalem wear Shabbos clothing on Purim; I like standing out, but I have enough self-respect to stick to societal norms.
Instead, I work in an American girls’ seminary where I can feed my fantasies by pulling out some odd items on occasion. If the staff are playing shtick, I’ll go into school even on a day I’m not teaching to bask in those few minutes of glory — the laughter, the shock, the “Where did you get that stuff?”
I’ll tell you where I got it. I save things from high school, elementary school, even my kindergarten days. And even now, whenever I come across an item that’s a bit out of the ordinary for my own conservative wardrobe, but has costume potential, I’ll take a good look at it and ask myself whether in my little apartment in Jerusalem, where storage space is severely limited, I can afford to keep it. If it makes the cut, I’ll put that odd wig or sweatshirt or necklace somewhere safe. So that just in case I need a costume as a hippie/rebel/chassid/doll, I’ll have stuff to work with.
So next time you come across something you know you’d never wear and are about to get rid of, well — I can be contacted through Mishpacha.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 833)
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