Years from now, when Nellee Rossi is looking through her family’s old photo albums, she’ll likely be drawn to Halloween 2016 — the year her dad spent $1,500 to turn her into Wonder Woman.
Now 3, the Salt Lake City toddler has awakened her parents every morning at dawn for the past three weeks to announce that it’s time to fetch her new Wonder Woman costume from its special place in the armoire so that she can get dressed for the day.
“She insists on wearing it from sunup to sundown, everywhere we go,” Josh Rossi, a 31-year-old commercial photographer, tells PEOPLE. “I suppose that’s what I get for coming up with the idea. My wife certainly hasn’t let me forget it.”
After dressing up his only daughter as Little Red Hiding Hood when she was 1, and Disney’s Mulan princess when she was 2, Rossi, also the father of a newborn son, decided that he wanted to do something special this Halloween.
“Because Nellee loves aggressive characters and is obsessed with Wonder Woman, I decided to go all out with it,” he says. “I started working on her costume on September 1, thinking, ‘This is going to be a once-in-a-lifetime outfit — something that she’ll never forget.’ “
It’s certainly something that Rossi won’t forget either, after he received the bill for Nellee’s handmade leather costume, props and a photoshoot to make it appear as though she’s flying and saving the world.
“‘Fifteen hundred dollars! Why did you do it?’ I hear that a lot,” he tells PEOPLE. “But it was worth it to get my message across that women are powerful.
“I wanted to showcase my daughter as a powerful character, instead of with a photoshoot where it’s about her looks or how cute she is. I want her to grow up knowing that there is more to life than beauty.”
“To get the best result possible,” he adds, “a lot of pre-production had to happen, and that costs money. But when I look at the end result and see Nellee’s joy, I think it was money well spent.”
Because the long-anticipated Wonder Woman movie starring Gal Gadot won’t be released until next summer, Rossi used the movie’s trailer as his guide and worked closely with McGrew’s Studio costume designers in Salt Lake City to create an authentic superhero costume from headband to boots.
With help from her mom, Roxana, 29, Nellee learned to mimic her favorite character’s facial expressions by watching old Wonder Woman television episodes from the 1970s. During the day-long photo shoot, five people held Nellee in the air to make it appear as though she was flying.
“Once the helpers were Photoshopped out of the pictures, we were left with a 3-year-old channeling her inner superhero,” Rossi tells PEOPLE. “It’s been a kick to see how much she loves running through the house as Wonder Woman.”
The photoshoot, done just before Nellee’s new baby brother, Josh, was born, “was fun because we were able to do one big thing just for her,” Roxana tells PEOPLE. “The best part was watching her imitate Gal Gadot’s scenes and telling her that she was doing a good job acting and being Wonder Woman. I loved spending time with Nellee, doing what she loves.”
Nellee, who plans to wear her costume trick-or-treating (“Fifteen hundred dollars of costume for $15 of candy,” jokes her dad), has refused to put on “street clothes” for weeks.
“She wears her Wonder Woman outfit to the grocery store, she wears it when we go to restaurants,” says Rossi. “People are blown away — it’s not exactly something you can miss.”
He purposely designed the costume so that his daughter can get at least two years’ of wear out of it before retiring it in the dresser for good.
“We’ll keep it in a special shrine, kind of like the place where Batman and Ironman store their suits,” he tells PEOPLE. “But the way things are going right now, there’s no way Nellee will let us leave it there for even a day. Not yet. She still has a lot of ‘saving’ to do.”