A phrase you’ll hear tossed around with insistence and irritation among cosplayers is “screen accurate”. People will ask if you’re going for “screen accurate” with a costume, or one might bitch to another about getting “screen accurate” hair. Screen accuracy is just a way to talk about how much your costume and acoutrements look like the character’s as they appear on the screen (or page), and an important step in putting together your costume is deciding where you stand on the accuracy issue.
Some cosplayers are sticklers for accuracy, focusing on details and perfect replication. Other cosplayers, not so much. To help you decide which direction to lean, we’re going to talk about wearability, travel, recognition, and skill level and how these concerns can be impacted by accuracy. For each concern, we’ve presented a point-counterpoint argument, with the lovely Sabine arguing in favor of screen accuracy and Shadowen arguing against.
This debate can get rough, so gird your loins, fellow cosplayers. Unless, of course, your costume calls for nudity.
Shadowen: When putting together your costume, the fact should be foremost in your mind that you’re going to be wearing it all damn day. As we’ve discussed, what you plan to do at the con should factor into choosing a costume, and it should also factor into making the costume itself. Sometimes, that means sacrificing accuracy for the sake of wearability. I’m of the opinion that comfort and function are more important than strict screen accuracy.
Sabine: Wearability is essential for a costume that's going to con with you. However, wearability and screen accuracy don't have to be mutually exclusive; off the top of my head, here are some costumes that are comfortable and easily replicable: Han Solo, Indiana Jones, the Firefly crew, Dethklok, etc, etc.
Sabine: As previously mentioned, a screen accurate costume doesn't necessarily have to be hard to pack or travel with. Another question with travel: do you really want to travel with your costume? Being able to tote a costume around is great, but part of making a really screen accurate costume is having a showpiece. Do you need to carry it to con, or are you content with posting your pictures online or basking in the glow of the approval of your costumer friends?
Shadowen: Say you want to do this fantastic showpiece. You have a plan. It’ll be seven feet glorious feet of papier mache and will look exactly like it does on the show. You’ve got the skill, the money, the time, and the motivation. In theory, this is a great idea. If you’re driving to the con in a sedan with three other people, not so much. Likewise, if you have to take an especially delicate costume piece on an airplane. Adjusting your costuming with travel limitations in mind might make the end result less accurate, but it can also save you a lot of grief.
Shadowen: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Every costume has some aspect that makes it iconic and recognizable, whether it’s a particular jacket, a certain tattoo, or an especially fierce hat. As long as you hit those high points, you’ve got room to maneuver on everything else. Like these guys. You don’t need to get all the details right, just the right details.
Sabine: Even for those costumes, the process of creating that iconic element exactly as it appears in the source material can be incredibly rewarding. But why stop there? Let's take Rimmer from Red Dwarf, as an example. Anybody can be a hologram with a silver H on their head, but how much more awesome is it to make the full uniform (or a lovely gingham dress)?
Sabine: An accurate costume is really a chance to show off your skills. There's an incredible amount of joy in getting that one piece exactly like it's supposed to look. From armor to intricate beading, a screen accurate costume can show exactly what you're made of. However, a costume doesn't have to be hard or even entirely handmade to be screen accurate.
Shadowen: If you’ve got mad style skills, taking on the challenge of exact accuracy can be a thrill beyond measure. On the other hand, if you’re going to your first con and just learning to work your sewing machine, going for perfect screen accuracy might leave you with little more than bent needles and a broken spirit. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t challenge yourself or that you can’t have an accurate costume with minimal skills, but know what you’re able and willing to do. Say you’re hell bent, for instance, on cosplaying Padme Amidala - Let’s be honest, here, we’ve all fantasized about those costumes - but you’ve never made anything more complex than a flounced skirt and you have no idea how to make your hair defy gravity. Try going for a simpler version of one of those mind blowing dresses or the skin-tight white number from Attack of the Clones.
As always, it comes down to priorities. If what you want is a perfect, accurate costume, make it happen and find a way to manage the difficulties. If you’re looking for a more relaxed con experience, you might have to sacrifice a little on your costuming. Either way or anywhere in between, we wish you luck and remind you that this shit is supposed to be fun.