Don’t Smoke Your Claws Off (Safe & Sane Cosplay Tips)

There are a few things which we keep coming back to, which we can’t – and don’t want to – get rid of. For me, high among them, rank cosplay and costuming.

So, while I’m trying to squeeze vest-sewing time in the middle of intense Astra planning, enjoy this roundup of the sanest cosplay advice I’ve read over the years and experienced firsthand. Although I’m more of a costumer than cosplayer – concentrating on the outfits, not the characters, and not always recreating an already existing design – cosplay seems to have become the all-encompassing word for both, at least at my local sci-fi conventions. This list of tips definitely applies to both. (Also, non-costume larps? It’s totally a thing.)

#1 Own your character. Never choose a character or costume you don’t feel comfortable wearing and posing in. If cosplaying, you don’t have to mimic the character’s signature poses to the letter, but you can’t be afraid of your own guns or cleavage, either. Choose a character you can relate to on some level, and don’t be afraid to get cocky if the role deserves it. People will see the character, not the cosplayer – and that’s part of the fun!

#2 Don’t smoke in costume where kids can see you. And yes – this is even more important than whether to wear your glasses or contact lenses when in a non-bespectacled costume. When you wear the outfit of a familiar character, or a well-beloved genre, you’re joining the fandom on a bigger scale, connecting to other fans on a greater level. You sure you want to disappoint that avid 9-year-old X-men fan by acting like their parents, cursing your way through a cloud of smoke, nevermind how awesome your claws are? Don’t break other people’s dreams… because we were all that kid, at some moment of our lives. (To stay with the claws analogy – there’s definitely nothing wrong with carrying a cigar as a prop; matter of fact, some people would probably be disappointed if you don’t. Know your lore.)

#3 Always be kind when asked for a photo. Pose, smile, act the part at least a little bit – people will appreciate it (and maybe dress up themselves, next year, seeing there’s a ton of friendly cosplayers and costumers around.) If people don’t approach you for whatever reason, grab a friend for a quick photo session, and let your ego have its fill afterwards, when the cloak comes off. If cosplaying or getting into costume at an event with lots of kids, be sure to focus on them and overcome your deep inner misanthropist. Hey, you’re wearing an awesome costume. Who cares if you failed math in highschool or burnt your breakfast last week?

#4 Never expect to be the only person who knows what you’re cosplaying – no matter how obscure. Decades-old webcomic? I have a friend who’s fifteen and currently on the search for red-lensed glasses. Geeky podcast you’re sure no one listens to but you? Get in the line when people start screaming in delight… Cosplaying in geeky surroundings (say, sci-fi conventions, my favourite) can be a thrill just for seeing who’ll recognize the first local female alpinist, or the clone of one of the lesser superheroes, or someone from a fic, or…

#5 As with everything, effort counts more than money. It may be a personal quirk, but most of my costumes take weeks, sometimes even months, and I’m not above sewing gowns from shiny tablecloth fabric – if it looks awesome. Also, real materials win every time, even if it takes a bit more time to get them. Plastic is – well, plastic. You really want your props to be as light as a feather?

#6 Don’t sweat all the details. Your hair is not the right shade of brown for your character? You sure you’d rather have plastic hairs on your head than bend reality a little? Also, if you’ve ever tried to recreate some of the Oscar-winning costume designs, you’ll know as well as I do that there’s no way in hell for us mortals to find the exact underskirt fabric for, say, this one. (It also turns out that the right shade of red velvet for the gown is almost impossible to find nowadays, when the red velvets tend to be more on the orange than pink side. Blame my early Tolkien obsession for the choice of examples – or supply me with a couple of yards of pink red silk velvet and I shall be silent forever, thank you very much.)

#7 Don’t be afraid to add your own little twist and meta knowledge into the costume. For my next cosplay project (just a tiny one – one piece to sew, the aforementioned vest) I’ll switch the character’s gender and wear trousers that are just a tiny bit too long for him to wear. And if I happen to wear a couple of dog tags along with the die and the poker chip, I’m sure no one will mind. (Even though Nolan never specifically stated they met in the army or anything similar, the fandom will know. The fandom always knows.)

After all, a thousand fans, a thousand reasons to love a character or a setting, and a thousand ways to cosplay them.

A note on pics: Featured (taken by Marko Šolić in 2010) and top (taken by a lovely member of the info desk staff at Rikon, Rijeka, somewhere in the last couple of years) are two examples of private twists on costumes. The featured one (costume completely by me) is a bottom layer of said tablecloth fabric for my version of this, and my all-time favourite larping cloak. (The pic’s here mostly for the pose – definitely not for the details.) The tentacle monster is Rikon’s mascot, a tiny Cthuhlu, worn by an anonymous member of the staff. (And it’s stayed anonymous for years!) Talk about cosplaying options…