Thrifty Living: The Dress Up Chest

21 Nov

I am so excited to finally share this post with you. Building this dress up chest from thrifted and secondhand items has been so much fun, and once I tell you how cheap and easy it is to make, you are going to want to make one, too.

You don’t have to build a secondhand dress up chest, but I find that the best stuff, the cheapest stuff, and sometimes, the most realistic stuff, is found second hand. Additionally, the dress up chest helped me think of ways to repurpose items that I otherwise would donate or send to a landfill. And once my friends and family members heard about this dress up chest I was putting together they came forward with things from their closets to add to the bounty.

The best places to shop for dress up items that are new would be craft stores like Michael’s (they have hats, boas, and headbands), the dollar store (sometimes home to some pretty great finds) and the party supply store. Hear me out on that one! The party supply store has lies, hats, necklaces, sunglasses, and scarves,usually for really cheap. Pop-up Halloween costume stores are great, too–but skip the prepackaged costumes and go straight to the accessories. Wigs, hats, and gloves are a better investment than the costumes themselves, which won’t hold up to constant kid abuse.

Creating a kickass dress up chest is part of my life list, so I can consider this item mission accomplished.

(Poppy isn’t part of the dress up chest. She’s just acting as the showroom model. Thanks, Pops.)

By far, though, your best bet is to troll thrift stores and yard sales. Here are some of my favorite items from the chest:

This is something we call “the minky” because it just looks like a weird pile of brown fur if you can’t see how it’s used. It’s actually a large, wide scarf and it functions as a stole or a shawl. It looks and even feels like luxurious fur, but worry not, animal lovers: it’s actually a strange woven mohair-type yard that was knitted into shape. Strange. My Mom found it while thrifting and picked it up because she knew I was putting a dress up chest together.

My mom also found that black beaded purse and the white kitty hat secondhand and contributed the blue Heidi dress from her childhood as well. My Aunt Debbie added the pink-lined white stole plus these glasses.

The black ninja mask is actually a headsock that I saved from my one and only racing experience, and the gloves and mask were leftover from my Rogue costume and Anthony’s Nightwing costume. You might remember the witch hat from Target’s dollar bin, and the make up brushes we bought after having fun with our cousins. The necklaces were contributed by my mother-in-law, much to Zorro’s chagrin. You might remember the bunny ears? Coworkers gave us those. The wings were found while thrifting.

I saved the glasses from Yo Gabba Gabba Live and laminated them at work. They are still kicking! (Though admittedly a bit worse for wear.) We bought the giant magnifying glass when we visited the Children’s Museum and all the kids that come over just love it. What a great $3 purchase!  Isobel calls it her “Lookie Lookie”, but it usually comes out “Wookie Wookie!” Too cute.

That lanyard came from Anthony’s time at Borders. The cat key came from our very interesting time with the White Car. Long ago, before Isobel was even thought of, Anthony and I went on a date to an arcade where we won these Special Police badges and I kept them all this time.

This compass is one of my favorite finds. It’s real and it works and it’s satisfyingly larger than the palm of my hand, making the adventures we have with it extra-epic. It’s a thrift store find.

I bought this sparkle ball at Borders and later I found this stand while thrifting. I don’t know for sure that it’s for a crystal ball, but that was all I could think of when I looked at it.

Anthony found the bag with a moon on it while thrifting and thought it would make a great ‘magic pouch.’ This beaded clutch is one of Isobel’s favorite things, and also a thrift store score.

We also have a fantastic collection of thrifted dress up hats, which I’ll show you later, and besides that we’re adding to our collection all the time.  Whenever we have kids over to play they make a beeline for the dress up chest. It’s one of Kingston’s favorite things to do, and there’s nothing cuter than seeing the kids all dressed up. If you are thinking about giving this a go, I’d like to hearitly recommend it and would love to see pictures of what you find! Link back here in the comments so we can all see. Happy hunting!

12 Responses to “Thrifty Living: The Dress Up Chest”

  1. Bleu November 21, 2011 at 10:08 am #

    I LOVE it! What a great idea. It’s hard to entertain the munchkins when it’s raining outside especially during the winter.

    • LittleBig November 29, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

      Thank you! Definitely something I’m going to rely on more and more as the weather gets ugly.

  2. Bonnie November 21, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    I never had a costume chest when I was little, but my best friend did and so did our neighbours and they were my favourite things to play with. My favourite of my friend’s was the cowgirl outfit and we always fought over the “princess” costume, which was actually just an old light pink nightie and house coat. We also had old clip-on earrings we could wear. My SIL made a tutu for her daughter like this, which could work for a dress up chest:

    • LittleBig November 29, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

      LOVE that the princess costume was a pink nightie and housecoat! Stealing this idea. And the tutu.

      You’d better get crackin’ on making one yourself.

  3. TheBlackStar (@TheBlackStar) November 21, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    Kingston is a big fan of the witch hat and the wings, and lots of other things, but I have seen him wear that witches hat and grab those wings on numerous occasions.
    [as seen here: ]

    • LittleBig November 29, 2011 at 4:04 pm #


  4. Amber November 21, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    LOVE LOVE LOVE all of this. I’ve started Alexa’s dress-up bin this Fall and she loves it. I really need to get something to keep everything organized. How are you storing everything? Right now it’s currently taking up 2 of Alexa’s canvas toy bin things that we keep on the shelf. It’s not working for me.

    • LittleBig November 29, 2011 at 4:04 pm #

      Giant tub, though we are going to have to graduate to the next level of storage soon.

  5. Kelly November 22, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    DYING. DYYYYING right now! In love with this idea!!! But dude, the best part of this whole thing? THE DAMN CRYSTAL BALL! I have to make one stat!

    I want to do this so hard. Kyle and I have a storage box and every year we just put whatever we made or bought for our costumes in it, so we have a pretty good little collection started. But that’s Halloween. An every day dress up chest is way more fun.

    When I was younger, my friend Rachael’s mom had this huge trash bag full of old clothes, a lot of them from the 70s and I can remember us going through this bag to put together costumes. The thing is, it feels like we did that every year, but when I think about it, it must have really only been 1 or 2 years. It just made that big of an impression on me.

    What a lucky daughter you have 😀

    • LittleBig November 29, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

      Aw, thank you!

      So I was totally convinced that stand was for a real crystal ball. “What else could this possibly be?!” I asked Anthony. I was con.vinced.

      “A candleholder stand.”


      Probably! But my mind is fixated on crystal ball stand.

  6. Anne the Librarian (@anneheathen) November 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm #

    I’m late to comment here, but I have to say that I love this!! We had what we called “the dress up clothes” when I was a kid. It consisted of former Halloween costumes, hand-me-downs from my mom’s closet and neighborhood garage sales, and — best of all — squares of fabric! There were a couple of big squares (probably a couple yards each) of shiny lame-esque fabric in shimmery blue and shimmery pink, and a piece of navy knit with gold moons and stars printed on it. Those pieces of cloth became head scarves, toga dresses, and probably a thousand other things. The fact that we could use them to make whatever we wanted meant that they held a million possibilities – so much more fun than the “fixed” clothing items in the basket (the dress-up clothes lived in an old laundry basket, and later in an old suitcase). I’m sure that Isobel will have loads of fun with her dress up clothes!

    • LittleBig November 29, 2011 at 4:06 pm #

      How funny that you said this! We have something similar that I was going to post on, but with vintage scarves! It’s like we’re on the same wavelength.

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