Put a Cape on It

Donning Layers of Costumery May Reveal Layers of Secret Identities

Put a Cape on It

I sent my son to school last week with two red pox on his neck and no explanation. It simply did not occur to me that morning to warn his teachers he'd been bitten by a vampire. He'd also developed other markings all over his body – strategically placed to increase speed and replenish morphing power supply. That afternoon, his brown eyes twinkled as he proudly recounted the many concerned questions, and his undoubtedly tall tales in reply. He also spelled a new word.

Put a Cape on It
Photo by Devaki Knowles

More often than not, my son is dressed in what adults consider "costume," acting out the ultimate battle of an alternate universe. He's learning to power down at school, because even heroes must concentrate on their letters and numbers. He insists that he can work better in his "suits," so we compromise. It may mean a monochromatic shirt-shorts combo sans utility belt and throwing stars, but he still knows his bold blue strength – invisible to mere mortals – is supercharged. And we have strict rules about no laser beam shooters or mutant powers at the dinner table.

"Regular" clothes serve an alter-ego purpose now – undercover recon work, meetings with investors, and rest. He gets home and heads straight to the yard to act out the scenes he's been brewing all day. Many evenings I insist on a bath simply for the opportunity to peel off his beloved orange NASA jumpsuit, chef's hat, and cape combo to wash the lot of them. I don't remember if I've ever worn an outfit so many consecutive days that changing clothes felt like being temporarily stripped of my powers.

But he does.

Gearing up with makeshift nunchakus, slipping into a casual hoodie of wisdom, and peering through night goggles in search of dragons is just a normal Tuesday for a kid. Why is it so strange for adults to dress up when it isn't Halloween or Mardi Gras? Are we afraid of judgment? Rules of social conduct that often remain unknown until they're broken?

The idea that the millions who find their strengths in cosplay culture, for example, keep their version of power suits entirely relegated to free time, weekends, and, ahem, the bedroom, is ironic: For many, adhering to corporate dress code – chinos and polos, conservative gray lapels and arms-length wool skirts – is exactly costuming, minus the glitter and self-confidence. Adding a cape to those really boring costumes might be the key to nailing a presentation. Just ask Rihanna.

We're all in luck. The upcoming languid days of sun-drenched summer are intended as a treasure trove of playtime, if only in stolen one-hour lunch blocks. It's entirely possible, after all, to create shiny royal armor, a swooshing cloak of invisibility, or a hero's sleek lifesaving pantsuit in minutes, from household items.

The night of the red Sharpie incident, I watched my boy sleep, curled up with a whale and a dragon he named Stupor (really), and I thought about those secret wardrobe items that make me feel like I could rescue a herd of blind baby cats from a burning train track. Big earrings, jeans that fit just right, my favorite boots – those are my force-field bubble of protection.

The 5-year-olds are right: The simple act of donning an unusual piece of fabric doesn't make a person different. It makes a person feel powerful; like tackling the daily battles for justice in this strange galaxy is totally doable.

If wearing something crazy empowers a person to feel like a hero he or she envisions in the best possible storyline, it's essential. Who knows? That willingness to leap from tall buildings with a heart full of goodness and a stretchy spandex unitard might really be what the world needs.

Underoos for Congress might be worth consideration.

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