Playing Dress-Up: A Purim Guide

The East Village Mamele

By Marjorie Ingall

Published March 04, 2009, issue of March 13, 2009.
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When I was 11, we were in Israel for Purim. I was shocked at the number of non-Esther, non-Mordechai costumes. There was a Karate Kid, a Darth Vader, various zombies and ninjas, a spandex-clad, gum-chomping Sandy from Grease.

But most of my friends who do Purim in the States tend to stick to the Megillah all-stars. And that’s fine. Since so many of us live a multi-culti life and also celebrate Halloween, keeping Purim Jewy seems appropriate. But what if you want to branch out a little? To inspire you, I conducted a woefully unscientific e-mail and Facebook survey: What’s the most creative Purim and/or Halloween costume you’ve seen? After culling out the porny answers, I give you this list of favorites. Proving, once again, that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to come up with something winsome, memorable and clever.

Family Costumes

In a Boston suburb, several members of a family came to shul in full Red Sox regalia, while one wore a twirly villain moustache and a Yankees uniform. Haman.

Back in the late ’80s when people watched commercials, my friend Michelle and three of her friends wore white lab coats with a pack of sugar-free gum sticking out of the pocket. They were the four out of five dentists who recommend Trident.

One chromatically delightful, high impact, and very easy group costume: “The Clue Family.” Colonel Mustard, Professor Plum, Miss Scarlet, Mrs. White, Mrs. Peacock and Mr. Green, with a candlestick, rope, lead pipe, wrench, revolver (squirt gun) and knife (plastic).

My cousin Elie Kaunfer and his lovely wife Lisa combined forces as a lulav. Elie was the tall palm in the middle, with green construction paper fronds attached to his head; Lisa stood behind him in a green sweater with her arms raised on either side of him, one adorned with small paper myrtle leaves and the other with larger willow leaves. Baby Maytal, in a yellow sleeper and cap, held by Elie, was a cute little etrog. This kind of outside-the-etrog-box thinking is why Elie is one of the Forward 50.

The most important thing about a group costume is making sure the rest of the group shows up. Thanks to a miscommunication, my friend Cynthia once wound up a lone Pip, sans Gladys Knight and fellow bell-bottomed harmonizers. Tragic.

Kids Dress as the Darndest Things

My wee friend Emily was a princess-doctor two years in a row: Cinderella dress, surgeon’s cap, latex gloves. Very post-feminist. Reminds me of when I saw the creators of Free to Be… You and Me on a panel at the JCC, and someone complained that today’s parents don’t work hard enough to make their daughters play with trucks, and then my idol Francine Klagsbrun offered proof that we’d gained at least some ground since the ’70s: her own grandson, whose mother is a doctor, heard someone use the pronoun “him” about another doctor and gasped, “Wait a minute, boys can be doctors?!” (And a few months ago, a friend’s child had his tiny mind blown when he learned that “Hillary Clinton’s husband” had once been president.)

If you do want to go in a more classically gendered direction, boys enjoy dressing up as knights. To take it to the next level, stand behind your child holding coconut shells, making the clip-clop horsie sounds of the Knights of the Holy Grail. Monty Python fans will thank you.

And for a real portrayal of a powerful woman, you can always rely on the monsters of Greek mythology. My pal Zoe has a picture of a perfect little Medusa on her flickr page: toga, gray eyeshadow encircling her eyes and an updo filled with dozens of brightly colored plastic snakes. (Plan ahead for next Purim: You can get 48 snakes for $6 online from the Oriental Trading Company.) Bonus: can be recycled into a “Snakes on a Plane” costume.

Defenseless Babies

Babies are good because they are little blank canvases for grownup humor. You should totally get one.

My friends Lynn Harris Adelson and David Adelson’s daughter Bess was an adorable Frida Kahlo a couple of years ago; festive Mexican blouse or bib, some bright paper flowers to attach to a headband or ponytail holder, and the use of an eyebrow pencil for instant unibrow.

Last year my cousin Oren (Elie’s equally clever brother), a producer at MTV, dressed his baby Layla in a Red Sox uniform; on the back where the player’s name should be, he wrote “Big Mun.” As a baseball non-maven, I needed an explanation: A player named David Ortiz has the nickname Big Papi. Pronounced Poppy. As in poppy-seed filling. Which is “mun” in Yiddish. (Oren should definitely make the Forward 50 for this.)

For cheap no-plan-ahead fun, put a toddler boy in a white collared shirt, sunglasses and no pants: Tom Cruise in Risky Business.

Conceptual Humor

Proof that cleverness trumps cash: Two years ago I was doing a story for a travel magazine about a sailing trip. One night, we were all instructed to dress in costume for a party; the repeat customers had packed ornate and fabulous garb. The rest of us had to scramble. One poor woman’s luggage had gotten lost; she couldn’t even cobble together a pirate costume out of a floaty blouse and black rolled-up pants. So she put a pillow under her T-shirt, pinned a piece of paper over her belly saying, “can’t, won’t, shouldn’t”… and announced that she was a pregnant woman “with contractions.”

One of Josie’s classmates, inspired by a New Yorker cartoon (gotta love an elementary schooler who reads the New Yorker) dressed as Death — robe, homemade sickle, ghoulish makeup — and hung a sign around his neck: “Don’t worry; I’m just a cold.”

My friend Andrea’s daughter’s classmate wore a black shirt and pants, a hard hat and safety glasses, and Barbie dolls wired all over his body. He was a babe magnet.

One year, the principal of the high school where a friend of mine teaches informed students before Halloween that sexually inappropriate wardrobe would not be tolerated. One kid wore a big box cut open to make doors, with articles of clothing drawn on the inside on hangers, and an arrow taped to his shirt pointing down to his crotch. He was, of course, “a sexually inappropriate wardrobe.” Adaptable for an adult-themed Purim bash, if you’re sick of dressing up as a slutty Vashti.

Finally, Mamele reader Sherri Jacobs e-mailed about her own awesome costume for Purim, following the 2000 presidential election. She was very pregnant, and went as a Pregnant Chad.  

Happy Purim!

Write to Marjorie at

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