Do we use super hero costumes and princess outfits? NO and this is why...

A time to pause, ponder & consider!

In our Early Childhood provisions we have traditionally had a rails of secondhand dressing-up costumes, superhero outfits and princess dresses, kindly donated by families whose children have outgrown them. All synthetic in fabric and a bright array of colours and velcro fastenings.  

Children often clamber & gravitate to the same costume, they love to dress up as the latest character and sadly using commercial costumes can prove challenging and perhaps add more subliminal barriers to learning than ever initially realised?

The fastenings are potentially broken and children often struggle to get the jump suits, dresses or piece of clothing on independently.


These costumes are designed and manufactured for children, they are not designed to go over the top of clothing & children struggle to pull them on over trousers or current nursery attire. This causes upset, frustration & exasperation from our little ones as they feel hot and uncomfortable in layers of nylon or billowing princess dresses. 

Trouser lengths are either too long or too tight. Children also become upset & frustrated because there is  limited availability and a particular child won’t surrender the outfit, that they have been wearing all morning.

Have you noticed that a certain children spends their entire day zipped into an outfit & the majority of their play is dominated by the character they have morphed into, acting out scenes from the TV and movie screen. We most certainly DON’T want to dampen the joy & happiness of imaginary play and allowing them to follow their own interests, but is the shop purchased costume essential to this type of play?

At The Curiosity Approach® we have mindfully & consciously moved away from commercialised dressing up clothes and have replaced items with authentic clothing, hats and scarves and numerous open-ended resources. 


This is in a move to transform traditional educational practice & promote authentic play & creativity, we unleash ourselves & more importantly the children from the constraints of costumes and commercialised outfits.

Growing up in the 70s, roleplay and dress up time  always involved oversized clippy-cloppy shoes, handbags, shawls or a patterned scarf. Pieces of material were capes or window netting became a make shift wedding dress. As children dress up play, was all about the imagination and not dependent on the expensive costume we were wearing.

Sadly in the 2000 this traditional & authentic play opportunities for young children took a humungous shift it was in this year that Disney Princess merchandising was launched. Peggy Orenstein speaks about this in her book ‘Cinderella Ate My Daughter’:

“I spoke with Mooney [Andy Mooney, Disney executive] one day in his fittingly palatial office in Burbank California… he told me the now-legendary story; how about a month into his tenure, he had flown to Phoenix to check out a “Disney on Ice” show and found himself surrounded by little girls in princess costumes. Princess costumes that were – horrors! – homemade. How had such a massive branding opportunity been overlooked.” 


Also in a 2006 New York Times article entitled “What’s Wrong With Cinderella?”, examines just how much of an impact princesses have on young girls. A mother herself, Orenstein expresses her frustration with the princess-obsessed society that pushes princesses, glitter, and all things pink onto young girls. Largely because of the impact of the Disney Princess franchise, little girls seem to want nothing but to be princesses. She notes that “some psychologists say that until permanency sets in, kids embrace whatever stereotypes our culture presents,” meaning that companies like Disney are almost responsible, in a way, for girls’ obsessions with princesses (Orenstein). Although Orenstein struggles to embrace the characters that her young daughter so loves, she admits that “in the end, it’s not the Princesses that really bother me anyway. They’re just a trigger for the bigger question of how, over the years, I can help my daughter with the contradictions she will inevitably face as a girl, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female” (Orenstein). Are little girls’ fascinations with Disney Princesses as harmful as Orenstein makes them out to be?

So fast forward 20 years and childhood imaginations have been subliminally and consciously hijacked by TV cartoon characters & Disney or a Pixar icons. Children spend prolonged periods of time watching TV programs & movies & beyond the sofa this fantasy life spills out into their play too.


As we often discuss when it’s World Book Day, rails of supermarket dressing up clothes are marketed at our youngest consumers. As mentioned above Disney exclusives see our children as vehicles to sell merchandise and products.

Sandra Calvert explains that paid advertising to children primarily involves television spots that feature toys. Newer marketing approaches have led to online advertising and to so-called stealth marketing techniques, such as embedding products in the program content in films, online and in video games.

When dressed in a commercial costume, children no longer need to think, imagine or consider a character, persona or find resources for a make shift costume.

Sadly in today’s society boys and girls are now subconsciously influenced by the manufactured outfits, dresses or wealth of super hero costumes to choose

from. Marketing at our young consumers is everywhere & children are the biggest influencers on what parents buy. Children no longer want the home made

costume or outfit & their values are changing becoming drawn into a world of materialism & constant consumer society. The latest costume to go

with the latest movie or Disney princess.

Having worked in Early Years for over 30 years, it’s evident that children’s imagination is being pigeon holed by such outfits. Stifled by restraints of the costume available within the home corner that day.

Let’s consider the lone Spiderman outfit in your role play area? Once that costume is worn by a child, they are then reluctant to swop outfits & look to automatically re-enact scenes from episodes seen on the TV or movie screen. Replaying and re-en-acting the actions of their favourite cartoon hero. They are programmed to take on that character & their imagination rarely wavers. Can we offer more?

Maria Montessori tells us that "imagination relies on a solid foundation of real-life experiences, accompanied by ample opportunity for exploration and experimentation - this includes exploration and experimentation through pretending or imagining alternative outcomes" - Sarah Werner Andrews, “The Development of Imagination and the Role of Pretend Play”, 27th International Montessori Congress

But in these modern times are our children and their play being influenced by commercialisation?

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, says, "A crucial question raised by the Bailey review is whether childhood should be a space where developing minds are free from concentrated sales techniques?".

'As adults we have to take responsibility for the current level of marketing to children. To accuse children of being materialistic in such a culture is a cop-out. Unless we question our own behaviour as a society, we risk creating a generation who are left unfulfilled through chasing unattainable lifestyles.'

The progress report of the Bailey Review.

Bailey’s 2011 review, Letting Children be Children, set out a number of recommendations for businesses, regulators and the Government, to protect children from excessive commercialisation

Yes most certainly roleplay and dress up of any form, is incredible in childhood, “if you cannot wear a super hero or princess outfit when you are a child, when can you?

However at Curiosity Approach settings we bring forth new opportunities beyond limitation & offer a wealth of authentic items which open up endless possibilities to play and imaginary experience, which may be stifled due to the abundance of commercialised costumes & synthetic outfits.

As Early Years Educators and school we also have a teaching and upbringing mission that supports a pupil’s growth into an ethically responsible, humane member of society, by providing the information and skills needed in life. To help children with fundamental skills of:

  • Brain development & those essential skills for creativity, cognitive development & creating narratives of storytelling, language & communication, beyond that of the latest cartoon they watched.
  • Emotional intelligence is developed as children act out real life scenarios, show empathy and kindness, nurturing and respect as they hold or feed a baby doll and negotiate ideas & thinking. Social skills and cooperation between peers and all important language & communication.




Physical development through the development of fine motor skills, fastening of buttons, zips and dressing and undressing. Children are developing dexterity, crossing the midline & dual manipulation. All these skills are needed to support future learning. Through the use of authentic clothing children have watched their families dress and undress. They are more inclined to have a go at buttons and fastenings than the well meaning Velcro strip always positioned up the back of a purchased costume & requires adult assistance to do up !! Let’s promote independence and self actualisation when achieving a self help skill. Empower our children to be independent & not reliant on an adult.

Gender exploration through the use of authentic items and removal of gender driven or commercialised costumes, children have the freedom to explore, discover & be curious about dressing up in non gender specific outfits. Children no longer feel inclined to ‘self police’ each other & barriers are removed regarding the pink and blue divide of costumes specifically directed and marketed at boys or girls. Freedom and autonomy to choose is reinstated and sub-conscience restraints unleashed. It becomes a conscious awareness and understanding of WHY.

Imagination and creativity is like a muscle, the more opportunity children have to develop, the more this grows & children become absorbed & engaged in REAL authentic play. Undirected & unscripted. Children are in charge of the own imaginations and they become engaged in UN-ADULTERATED play. They still act out their favourite TV character but now instantaneously they can switch from goody to baddy without being restricted by the costume they adorn.

Here are some easy and budget friendly ways to bring authentic dress up into children’s play:

Variety of Scarves

Ask at the opticians for sample glasses frames

Costume jewellery beads and bangles


Hats & gloves


Handbags & cluch bags, brief cases and vanity cases

Shoes, clogs and kitty heels.

All variety of textures, patterns & beaded items

Belts and ties

Flat caps, helmets

Hats of all descriptions

Remote controls 

Diverse items of clothing,

sari, Punjabi suits etc

Ballet slippers, clogs and clippy cloppy shoes or kitty heels


Bridesmaid dresses

Dicky bowties

Material for making costumes & outfits, a great loose part

Wedding veil or fascinators

Knee & shin pads


Curtain netting

Small adult clothing, sparkly top or shirt

Extend the play with:

Perfume bottles

Vanity set, brush and mirror

Hair dryer

Long full length mirror, safety or shatterproof glass


Loose parts

Wicker shopping baskets


Food packaging & tins

Ceramic tea sets & authentic items 

The list is endless...

Watch the video below to see the wealth of opportunity for play & the treasures found at a car boot ! Gathering these items won’t cost lots of money & will help finances & prevent huge amounts being spent on one manufactured items

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