Storytelling Costumes - Friend or Foe?

Originally published in Capitales, newsletter of the ACT Storytellers Guild in March 2018.

When I started storytelling, I was looking for something to set me apart from other tellers. I needed a calling card. I tried a hat. ‘When I put on this hat, it means it’s time to be quiet for storytime.’ The hat did not excite me. The hat did not make the children quiet. I thought that carrying a ceramic toadstool seat around would create an air of magic wherever I went. But carrying a ceramic toadstool seat around is heavy and cumbersome and gave me a numb bum! Finally, I thought it would be fun to wear costumes to match the themes of my stories. It would be something to catch the children’s eyes, it would help them to guess my theme of the week and it would give me an excuse to buy wacky dresses that could be worn at other times (fabric with native birds AND iconic Australia biscuits? Yes please!)

My very first ‘costume’ was a simple t-shirt with a bear on it for bear stories (the same t-shirt that I wore the day I met my husband). I then had a perfect excuse to buy a cow onesie for farm stories. I took out my sewing machine and taught myself some basic sewing to create a Very Hungry Caterpillar print skirt. Then I bought a clownfish beanie to go ‘under the sea.’ This dressing up malarkey was addictive. A pair of monkey pyjamas took me into the jungle, I invoked family with a ridiculous Matryoshka doll apron I created with felt.

Some weeks my costumes are a simple skirt (pirate print, the characters from Frozen for winter tales, a map of the world for a multicultural theme) while others are more involved. I nearly broke my sewing machine creating a Gruffalo costume, I have to keep switching off my inflatable rainbow butterfly wings when the motor gets too noisy and I look like an absolute doofus in my husband’s beekeeping suit when playing an astronaut. When the dry heat of December rolls around I long for the holidays as I slowly lose the will to live in my Santa suit.

Close up of glittery Cinderella dress

This week I popped open the packaging on my latest costume: a Cinderella dress inspired by the 2015 Kenneth Branagh film. It is covered in butterflies and crackles as I move, but it is so PRETTY. I left a trail of glitter at my first booking and my leather car seats now appear to be embossed with the stuff but the kids were pretty excited. ‘YOU’RE A PRINCESS!’ they yelled when they saw me. ‘YOU LOOK FABULOUS!” yelled a staff member. It was a warm day and having three bookings in quick succession meant I had to drive between jobs with my dress on. It was not a comfortable drive in synthetics and scratchy tuille. I desperately needed to pop into SupaExpress for vegies on the way home but I didn’t quite have the guts to pop in with my princess garb on. The school mums might see me!

For older children and adult audiences, I'll usually wear a nice dress or something semi-professional, but mostly I try to find a way to make my outfit for the theme. Some weeks I’ll curse that I ever created the expectation of ‘what will Holly be wearing today?’ But mostly I LOVE dressing up. I may be on the wrong side of 35 now, but I’m going to keep dressing up for as long as I can. The looks on the children’s faces and squeals of delight are well worth the fuss.

Now to finish crocheting my mermaid tail!