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).