Saturday, February 19, 2011

Step 2: Who Are You?

Once you know where you’re going, you’re ready for the most crucial step in preparing for your con experience: Figuring out who the hell you’re going to be. This is not a decision to be undertaken lightly, so here are some questions to consider when finding the character that’s right for you.

Who do you love?
First and foremost, know your fandoms and stick to them. A Federation uniform is a quick, easy, and highly recognizable costume that most people can assemble and wear without too many problems, but if you don’t know a tribble from a tricorder, then it’s probably not the costume you want. This is not to say that you should only do characters from fandoms that you know everything about ever, but you’ll have more fun with characters that you love. Also, you want to avoid the awkward moment when you are inevitably waylaid by fans of your character and must confess that you just thought the costume looked cool.

So think about your favorite characters. If you’re as much of a media whore as I am, this should give you a good long list to choose from.

How badass are your skills?
It is a sad and inescapable fact that, unless you are a professional tailor or have years of costuming experience, some costumes will be beyond the reach of your skill set. I consider myself a reasonably accomplished seamstress, and there are many projects that I simply don’t have the means to undertake. Now, I’m of the opinion that a challenge is always good for the soul, and the only way to get better is to push yourself a little. Knowing your limitations is just a way to keep yourself from getting unnecessarily frustrated with your costume and to make sure that you actually end up with something wearable.

If this is the first garment you’ve ever made, you probably don’t want to go for full-on Victoriana steampunk. I’m just sayin’.

Where are you going and what are you doing?
At this point, you probably know what con you’re going to, so you can factor that into your costuming decisions. Big cons are likely to have a greater variety of costumes, but also a lot of the same thing. If you go to a big con dressed as, say, Wonder Woman, you’ll be one of about 80. While this might feel like going to the prom and seeing someone else in the same dress, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you picked the same costume as someone else, chances are you have something in common and, at the very least, have something to talk about. While recognizable, oft-repeated costumes can be a great way to make friends at big cons, it’s just as likely to get you scornful looks from people who’ve already seen 57 Wonder Womans by 10am, and there’s the fact that, no matter how great you look, someone else looks better. In general, repetition is less of an issue at smaller cons, but really obscure characters are less likely to be recognized.

The size of the con can also be an important factor when it comes to the size and mobility of your costume, but this is mostly a concern for showpiece costumes and those with large props, both of which will be discussed in detail in later entries. Just in case you’re considering something really massive, remember that big costumes can be highly rewarding, but they come with a price. For an example, watch this epic Gundam cosplayer wipe out.

Another thing to think about is what you want to do at the con. If you plan on spending a lot of time on the floor or just walking around, you want a costume that you’ll be okay to walk in, which means something that’s not overly complex and has reasonable shoes. If, on the other hand, you’re like me and live for the panels, you want something you can sit comfortably in for long periods of time. This may not seem like a concern, but sitting can become a problem if you’re wearing something like a corset or stiff belt or a very short skirt or shorts. For panels, you’ll also want to avoid super tall costumes or those that take up a lot of room. There are, of course, ways of coping if you’ve just got your heart set on dressing as Galactus and hitting that slash writers panel, but it’s generally easier to just find something else.

What can you pull off?
Some people are fortunate enough to be super hot and look exactly like So-and-so from their favorite show. If you’re one of those people, you can go away now. The rest of us are going to talk about looks and body type.

Hair and coloring are things that can be altered and adjusted with relative ease, but, honestly, you don’t want to give yourself more work than you have to. If you want to actually look like your character, choose someone who already has a similar look or one that’s easily imitable. It’s also totally fine to say ‘Fuck it’ and just not look like them at all, especially if you’re of a different ethnicity. Because, let’s face it, there’s a whole lot of white people in SF, and, if you’re a person of color, finding a recognizable character who looks like you is all but impossible. Whatever you choose to do, do it and rock it hard.

You can be flexible when it comes to actually looking like your character, but costuming to fit your body type can be a little trickier.

I feel like I shouldn’t have to say this, but I’ve seen enough to know that I do: Spandex is a privilege, not a right. If you have a measurable percentage of body fat, you cannot wear spandex. And no, sticking those fake foam muscles under it will not help you. Those are NEVER okay.

Tight, sexy costumes can be fantastic, but know how tight and how revealing you can go. As a curvy woman, I fully appreciate the trials and tribulations of loving your body and learning to be comfortable showing it off, but no one wants to see your back fat rolling over the edge of a leotard that’s three sizes too small.

Everyone has their own unique sexiness, and, in my opinion, where a lot of costumes go wrong is when people try to put on someone else’s sexiness. This is your costume. Make it work for you.

Or you could just put on a cardboard box and call yourself a Gundam, which is universally sexy.

Now, these are just the most basic questions to address when you’re deciding on a costume, and you probably have tons more. What if I want to dress with a group? What if my character wears generic clothes? What if the costume I want defies the laws of physics? These questions and more will be addressed in subsequent posts, but, for now, you have a foundation from which to start your diabolical plotting.

In the end, your costume is about you and what you want to be. What makes a great costume, though, is knowing who you are and going from there. Your costume is as much about showing off yourself as it is about showing off your fandom, so pick something that will let you have fun, be creative, and be yourself (even if you’re someone else).


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Step 1A: Comic-Con vs. Dragon*Con

Hello, internet. It is I, Sabine. If you're anything like me, you have just enough money and time in your budget for one big con every year. If you're also like me, you're a generalist, looking to go to a con where there's a mix of sci-fi, comics, movies, and TV. Let's take a look at two of the most popular cons that fit this particular bill: Dragon*Con and Comic-Con.

Bottom Up vs. Top Down

Like many cons, the content at Dragon*Con is organized into tracks. These tracks are organized around a theme, whether that be Stargate, dark fantasy, or skepticism. What makes it different than other large cons and similar to smaller cons is that these tracks are primarily fan-run. When you go to most panels at Dragon*Con, the panelists you're going to see will be other fans. This is not always the case; the thing to remember is that some of these tracks are able to organize really freaking huge (or not so huge- Adam Savage and Doc Hammer both sat on small panels last year, in addition to huge ones) panels featuring the people you paid your seventy bucks to see.

While Comic-Con is also run by fans, it's got a whole different sensibility. Don't get me wrong, you're going to go to small panels and see lots of nerds talk, but those nerds won't just be people off the street who happen to like Star Wars and volunteered. You're going to see writers, artists, actors, costumers, you name it. You're also going to see bigger panels than those offered at Dragon*Con, with bigger stars, many of whom are not nerds. The trade off here is like most of those between Dragon*Con and Comic-Con: do you want to hang out with nerds, or do you want to see celebrities? Do you want to gossip about the new season, or do you want to see first-run trailers?

This top down/bottom up phenomenon also impacts the merch available. If you're really super into action figures and collectibles of that type, Comic-Con is the place for you, with its large exhibitors and con exclusives. Comic-Con is also the place for, you guessed it, comics. While Dragon*Con also hosts many comic book artists, both new and established, there are just way, way more at Comic*Con. Also, if you're looking to make your break into comics, there are more industry types who are more accessible at Comic-Con.

As a general rule, Dragon*Con just has less stuff to buy in general. The dealer rooms are smaller and spaces available for much cheaper, so the stuff you can buy is more eclectic, but there's just less of it. This is a double edged sword- you won't spend as much money there, but that one thing you really want may not be available for you.

Food and Drink

If you go to Comic-Con and don't plan wisely, food will end up being one of your biggest expenses. It is seriously hard to get yourself fed without spending a lot of money if you don't bring your own food. The food sold at the convention center is very expensive for what it is (think baseball stadium food), and the cheaper restaurants near the convention center are constantly slammed during the con. Luckily, I've never experienced a problem bringing in outside food to the convention center; I'm not sure it's a real rule, but nobody seems to care about bringing in food or beverages.

At Dragon*Con, however, it is much, much easier to eat on the cheap. In the complex that encases the Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton, there is a small mall with a food court; this means cheap food without ever leaving the building. Seating has always been a problem there, but they seem pretty chill about people sitting on the floor. It's also a great place to people/costume-watch. Also, if you managed to get a room in a con hotel, you can easily bring your own food and eat in the room without having to carry your food around with you.

Drinking, of the alcoholic variety, is another huge concern (for me, at least). In my experience, nobody drinks at Comic-Con. It's just not part of the culture. The convention center doesn't sell booze. The panels end (relatively) early at night and start early in the morning. It's just a more sober con.

Dragon*Con, on the other hand, is where the booze flows freely. All the hotels serve alcohol pretty much all the time, and there seems too be a very high tolerance for tipsy behavior. The hotels also clearly don't care about outside alcohol (or else that bellhop wouldn't have carted that case of Bud to the room for me). The panels start late and end very late, so there's plenty of time to drink yourself stupid and still feel refreshed in the morning. I've never encountered a problem with drunk people doing stupid things there, possibly because I often have been one, but you'll want to keep this in mind, especially if you have small children and intend to bring them. And, hey, if you don't drink and find yourself tempted, there are meetings for friends of Bill W at Dragon*Con too.

Accessibility Concerns

Both Comic-Con and Dragon*Con do their best to keep their guests comfortable and to accommodate guests with disabilities. However, because of the locations these cons are held in, there are different health and safety concerns.

At both of these cons, expect to have to wait outside for registration and larger panels; this is a little nicer at Comic-Con, because it's not held in Atlanta in the summer. Both cons allow guests with disabilities to skip lines and wait indoors or in shaded areas; from what I've seen, Dragon*Con seems to be a little better about providing these waiting areas with chairs. Both the convention center and the hotels in Atlanta feature a lot of escalators, but the elevators are way more accessible at Dragon*Con; last year, some hotels actually blocked off elevators specifically for the use of disabled guests.

It's going to be harder to walk on a cane or push a wheelchair around at Comic-Con (ask Shadowen, she's done it) simply because there are more people there. However, the dealer rooms at Dragon*Con are much smaller and much more tightly packed than the floor at Comic-Con, which is its own problem. This is also important to remember if you're prone to panic attacks. If you do have problems with large crowds, also remember that it is easier to get outside at Dragon*Con and reenter the building without having to check out and in. In the end, though, you're going to be dealing  with huge groups of people either way. Both cons will offer you solutions, but that only goes so far.


Comic-Con, whether you love or hate it, is starting to feel more like a trade show than ever. Tickets are getting harder to get, more programming is becoming more and more mainstream, and the atmosphere has an overall tension that wasn't there several years ago. For a fan of Dragon*Con, Comic-Con can feel uptight. Despite all this, it remains a really awesome experience.

The primary objective of Dragon*Con is to let your freak flag fly. Overall, it's a funkier con with funkier people. Expect to get gawked at by locals, and resolve yourself to not care (because, really, you're having so much more fun). Like Comic-Con, it's experiencing growing pains, but in my experience, it's not handling them as well, which can lead fans of Comic-Con to think it feels sloppy.

In the end, it's up to you which con sounds better. I won't tell you my favorite, if it's not already clear; only you can decide what kind of experience you want to have.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Step 1: Choose Your Con Wisely

Yes, this is mostly a costuming blog, but different cons place very different demands on people in costume. So the first thing you need to figure out is: Where the hell am I going?

Now, if you've already got your four-day pass for San Diego Comic-Con (haha, just kidding) and you just need to decide on a costume, you can skip this one. If, however, you're looking for a place to bond with your geeky brethren, the three things you should consider are location, cost, and tone.


The most important question to keep in mind as far as location is: How far are you willing to go?

If you're fortunate enough to live in or near a major city, chances are there's at least one con happening annually in your backyard. On the other hand, if you live a little farther from civilization, some research and planning will be necessary. The good news is that, no matter where you live, the nearest urban center probably hosts a con of some kind. For instance, I live near Memphis, TN, which hosts MidSouthCon. The other news (not necessarily bad, just something to consider) is that a lot of these cons are smaller, which means fewer events, less prominent guests, and a whole lot of downtime (unless you're a gamer).

If you're not sure what's close by, the best thing to do is run a search and see what comes up. Once you've found a con that looks promising, find out what other people (on the internet or *gasp* in real life) have to say about it. A con might have a great webpage but not actually be somewhere you want to be. For another real-world example: CoastCon, in Biloxi, MS, is near by, but I've heard too many horror stories about creepers and harassment to feel comfortable going.

Establish your radius, find out what your options are, and research the hell out of them.


The big question here is obvious: How much are you willing to spend?

Ultimately, your con budget is going to break down into a few basic expenses: the con badge, travel, lodging, food, and swag. We'll talk about budgeting for food and swag in a later entry, since those are generally post-registration concerns. Cost for con passes varies wildly, and you can pay anywhere from $20 to $300, depending on where you're going and how many days you sign up for. Smaller cons are usually cheaper where big cons typically cost more, which is kind of intuitive, but there you go.

Likewise, hotels in, say, San Diego are going to be hella more expensive than hotels in, say, Memphis. Most cons have sponsored hotels that are in the immediate area and sometimes offer discounts for con-goers. The downside to this is that cons are typically held in the part of town that has the most expensive hotels to begin with. Depending on the public transit situation in the city in question, you can stay farther out an commute in, which has its own expenses and will definitely get you and your costume some strange looks.

You should also factor in travel expenses and whether you'll be flying or driving, which comes back to the question of how far you're willing to travel. Also remember that, if your income is limited, more money spent on getting to the con means less to spend on costuming.

Establish your budget, find out what your options are, and do your research.


The question: What kind of geek are you?

Though is a slightly less pressing concern than those of location and cost, it's still something you should consider and will probably have the greatest impact on your costuming choices. Even ff you're severely restricted by mobility and income and can only make it to whatever con is closest and/or cheapest, you should still keep the tone of the con in mind when choosing and designing your costume.

See, while all cons contain high levels of geekery, the kind of geekery can vary wildly. Some cons are geared specifically toward certain types of fans. Otakon in Baltimore, MD, for instance, caters to fans of anime and other Asian ephemera while Yaoi-Con in San Francisco, CA is for -you guessed it- yaoi fans (If you don't know what that means, I'm not explaining it.) and Gen Con focuses on gaming.

Other cons, while not as specific, have their own pace and feel and will certainly appeal more to certain types of fans than others. A major example of this is the difference between SDCC and Dragon*Con, which we'll get into in a later post. In any case, research is your friend. Look at the programming and guest info on the con website. If there are a lot of panels about Tolkien and fantasy fiction, there will probably be a lot of fantasy readers hanging around. If the programming seems to focus on SF television and movies, you're more likely to run into an SG-1 gate team. If Leonard Nimoy is on the guest list... well, you get the picture.

You should also think about what size con you want to go to. If you want to go to lots of panels and see celebrities, check out the bigger cons. If you want to hang out with other fans and have lots of time to chill out, stay small. If you're looking for a combination, hit somewhere in between. This isn't a hard and fast rule, but it's a decent frame of reference.

Know your geek, and do your research.

Deciding which of these three factors is the most important to you will go a long way toward helping you find the con for you. Once you've made you choice (and booked your hotel. Seriously, don't wait on this.), then the really hard part begins. Now it's time to make what is ultimately the most crucial question of your con experience: What the fuck do I wear?

Gods help you.


Introduction: Cosplay is your Friend... and your Enemy.

Greetings, salutations, and welcome to Frenemy Cosplay, where we tell you the truth about cons and cosplay and answer all the questions you never thought to ask.

Conventions can be a lot of fun, and the right costume done well can make for a truly epic con experience. That being said, the fact of the matter is that costuming is often stressful, labor-intensive, and an all-around pain in the ass. Once you've answered all the basic questions (What costume should you choose? How accurate does it have to be? Is it okay if you don't make everything yourself? Should you and your friends dress as a group? Will people know who you are? How expensive will it be? etc.) there's still the actual process of making the costume itself, which can take anywhere from a matter of hours to several months and result in pricked fingers, high blood pressure, and a fractured bank account. Even then, there's no guarantee that the clusterfuck of fabric and facing you end up with will be something you'd ever want to wear in public.

That's where we come in.

On this blog, you'll find tips and suggestions for choosing and making costumes for conventions, parties, and anything else you feel like dressing up for. We'll talk about how to find and prepare for a con, how to figure out what costumes will work best for you, and ways to get the most out of what you've got. We'll show you costumes done right and how to get good results, and we'll show you costumes done horribly, horribly wrong and how to learn from our fail. In addition to making costumes from the ground up, we've got advice on hair and make-up, packing and travel, making plans for con, and what to do when you need a costume in 10 mintues.

If you have any questions, suggestions, or tips and resources of your own -or just want to share your own examples of costume fail- feel free to email us at, and remember: Costuming is fun... except for the parts that aren't.

We're Shadowen and Sabine, avid costumers and con-goers, and we're here to make your con experience just a little more painless.