When I was a kid, one of my favorite pastimes was dressing up in the treasures I found in the Costume Box. The Costume Box was a large cardboard box, about half as tall as I was, stuffed with dress-up clothes and the remnants and makings of past years’ costumes. There was a little bit of everything in that box.
Digging through the Costume Box was a lot like shopping at the thrift store; the clothing even had that same musty smell. There were rips and stains, broken zippers, missing buttons, and worn-out elastic. But that didn’t matter, because inside that box lay nearly infinite potential. Inside that box were dancers and witches and hobos and ghosts and loggers and eccentric old aunties; monsters and princesses and soldiers and cowboys and even the Devil himself. The only limit was our imagination.
One of my favorite finds in that box was an itchy crinoline slip with a torn seam. In their younger years, my parents had been members of a square dancing club, and my brother and eldest sister also danced. This was way before my time, but I’d seen photos of them in their finery, and I loved the look of the stand-out slips under the full skirts. I would shimmy into that crinoline and spin around until I was dizzy. It made me feel like a princess.
When my middle school gym teacher announced that we would be learning to square dance, I begged Mother to make me a square dance skirt. I pictured myself in a fancy skirt that swished as I swung through a do-si-do. I just knew I would be the best dancer in the whole class, because I would have the best outfit.
Mother made me a lovely circle skirt of blue gingham check. When I tried it on with the crinoline I was so happy! It was gorgeous, and I couldn’t wait to dance in it. I would have slept in it, if Mother had let me.
The day we were to begin square dancing in gym class, I proudly donned the skirt and crinoline and a white, peasant-style blouse. Mind you, I was probably eleven years old and not fully acquainted with what was ‘cool’ and what was not. (I’m still like that.) By the time I arrived at school, the kids on the bus had conveyed to me in no uncertain terms that my beautiful skirt and itchy slip were most definitely not cool. I tried to ignore their laughter, but they weren’t the only ones; many other kids were happy to inform me, as well.
I arrived in class with my spirit dampened and my enthusiasm trampled, but I still looked forward to dancing. My teacher, bless her heart, complimented me on my outfit, encouraging me to stand and twirl to show it off. She then had me demonstrate some of the moves we would be learning, which effectively silenced my critics and allowed me to salvage some tatters of my pride.
I never wore that skirt to school again. The memory of the ridicule still stings a little. Before long I outgrew it, and it was forgotten with the other clothes that were now too small for my awkward, adolescent body. I like to think the skirt made its way to the Costume Box to join the crinoline, but I don’t know for sure.
Perhaps it went to the Salvation Army so some other little girl could feel like a princess in an itchy crinoline and twirly skirt. I can only hope.
photo credit Pink Sherbet Photography (D Sharon Pruitt)