The Magic of Costumes

There is actually a very deep and positive magic in costume: by choosing to embody certain qualities, we call them forth from our inner selves and invite them into our lives in a very real way. A costume can become the gateway to greater self-understanding and empowerment. And besides, itís just plain fun to dress up! Our ancestors did it: mummers, costumed dancers, masques and masks, and German Fasching rites were all manifestations of the human love of disguise, of taking on the appearance of something other than the self, expanding the limits of the personality.

Here are some great tips for deciding which costume will help you to stretch and grow, forging a deep bond between the self you display to the world and the qualities of Self you want to strengthen and invite more fully into your life.

For our costume to take on any real significance, we need to feel an inner connection with the character or quality we decide to portray–the costume needs to have ďsoulĒ or spirit. We can give ourselves (and our children) a rich vocabulary of characters and images to draw upon, and encourage self-exploration in the form of inner journeys. The process of costuming with a sense of spirit is so much more deeply satisfying than just following the latest fad or trend.

So ask yourself: what are the qualities that you want to embody or strengthen in your life now? What characters from myth, fairy tale, films, or books resonate with you now? Check out Clarissa Pinkola Estesí Women Who Run with the Wolves, Grimmís fairy tales, or the myths of ancient civilizations. Archetypal stories are often so juicy that they speak to something in us that demands expression. Another way to go is to imagine what power animals, colors, or historical periods carry a charge or significance for you now. What does this information tell you about yourself?

Costume-making (or choosing) gains great depth from guided meditation; it is not surprising that this valuable technique for contacting the inner self is such a help to us at this inward-turning time of year. Relax and ground yourself and imagine walking in a beautiful place in nature until you come face to face with a character with whom you have a special connection, who has something to teach you, show you. Gradually return to ordinary reality. What did you learn?

One friend reports that, after a lifetime of being oh-so-quiet and well-behaved, she was suddenly called to embody Crow for a masked costumed event. Cawing raucously, she took great delight in being forceful, direct, and free: crows, after all, are social and seem to delight in fun. She has never been quite as quiet or well-behaved since!

Adapted from Celebrating the Great Mother, by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw (Inner Traditions, 1995). Copyright (c) 1995 by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw. Reprinted by permission of Inner Traditions.
Adapted from Celebrating the Great Mother, by Cait Johnson and Maura D. Shaw (Inner Traditions, 1995).


Robert O.
Robert O6 years ago

Very fun article, thanks Cait.

Olivia Samerdyke
Olivia S7 years ago

I always try to be something scary. My last costume was a female BeetleJuice or BeautyJuice.

Carlotta F.
Past Member 7 years ago

Oh, I love this topic. I have always loved dressing up since I was a little kid. I loved to do make up and costumes. And when I was in high school and college plays I put together my own costumes. I don't really sew, but I did part of the designs on costumes and animal character make for my mother's dance company. Also, in high school I entered every costume contest. Somewhere along the line, it started to stop. The holidays were for children, so I stopped dressing up. I just love this article.

Tekla Drakfrende
Tekla Drakfrende8 years ago

thanks for sharing!

Lesley H.
Lesley H8 years ago

lmao Egyptian plague! Wonderful! I love wearing my Father Christmas coat for the month of December. I feel different and people respond in amazing ways - telling me heart touching stories. The best is when their eyes just light up as they see me and you can tell they still believe in magic whether they realize it or not.

Adam R.
Past Member 8 years ago

I really agree with you. I personally think that people should have some good dressing sense. And one point that you have pointed out here is of out most important that you must have inner connection with the character you are going to portray.


Arlene Medder
Arlene Medder8 years ago

I have to admit, I often choose a costume based on what I have on hand. I put a bit more thought into this year's; I am dressing as Susan Sto Let (granddaughter of Death from the Discworld novels by Pratchett), in her governess mode. A woman who looks almost like a stereotypical governess, except...the lock of black hair amidst the blond/white....the omega brooch at her throat...and that certain sense of Other that only children and monsters pay attentionto.

Pamela C.
Pamela C8 years ago

I love costumes and costuming, but have not sewn anything in quite a while. A couple of weeks ago, though, I decided it was time to start with a muffin cap. Lacking the energy to go through all my old fabric, I had fun perusing through the local fabric store and looking at all the marvelous colors and textures. I ended up with a beautiful deep medium blue cotton velveteen. It wasn't the color I had thought I wanted, but its just the color I needed and the impetus to clean and oil my sewing machine.
Fun article, Cait -- thanks!

Samantha D.
Samantha Drennan8 years ago

hi cait, loved your article. we have another version of this lifework using what we call 'character coats'. putting on the various coats we have created in our imaginations enables us to work appropriately in whatever situation we are in. imagination is a wonderful thing. the exterior image is a wonderful statement but i enjoy feeling the character on the inside and letting it work it's way out. my 5 year old has found this a valuable tool towards handling her temper or other's behaviours towards her. and it takes almost no time to change even the most elaborate costume to suit the moment!!

Mary B.
Mary B8 years ago

I know someone who planned to attach a bunch of rubber frogs to her clothes for a costume. I asked her what she was supposed to be and she said..."One of the Seven Plagues of Egypt"