The Costume Counselor: An Introduction and Picking a Character

Convention season is creeping up on us and maybe you want to venture into the great wild world of costuming… but you don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’ve been dipping your toe in the costume world but aren’t sure how to take it further. I’ll be honest with you: cosplay can be an incredibly intimidating community to look at from the outside especially if you’ve walked around a convention like Dragon Con where some of the costumes there are literal works of art. The good news though is that anyone can cosplay! Yes, anyone. It doesn’t matter what your skill level is or what you look like or how much effort you want to put into the costume: you can join this world of elaborate dress up too.  Just think of me as your Cosplay Camp Counselor 😉

That’s me!

Let’s pause though because I’m sure that at least some of you are asking yourselves, “Okay so why should I listen to what this woman has to say?” My name is Bria and I’ve been going to conventions and cosplaying since 2008 and was sewing and making costumes for years before I even knew what a convention was. Since then, I dived head first into the cosplay world and have since made… a heck of a lot of costumes including 15+ in 2015 alone. I’ve done a little bit of everything over the years from buy-all-the-pieces to make-it-all-from-scratch to spandex superheroes to easing into the world of armor. I’ve learned a heck of a lot over those seven years and I’m hoping that I can help some of you and maybe save you from the more painful and hard learned lessons.

This series is going to cover essentially… whatever you want to know! I’ve got a list of topics that I’m planning to cover but I’m also happy to take questions from you! We’re going to start with the most basic of all basic characters: how do you pick a character to costume as?

There’s no right answer to this question because it depends entirely on each individual. Personally, I have three criteria that tend to guide my costume choices:

  1. Do I like the character?
  2. Do I like the costume and want it on my body?
  3. Is it a character that I think I can pull off?

For me, really liking the character and the franchise is super key because a good 70% of the costumes I do require a lot effort and/or money and I don’t particularly care to waste either of those if I’m not invested. I’m also someone who gets very self-conscious about how I look as a blonde so I tend to veer away from characters that involve blonde wigs.

BUT. (And this is a big but.) This is far from the only way to do it! For some people, liking the character is all that matters and for others, liking a costume design is all that matters. Other folks get clotheslined into doing costumes to help fill out their planned groups or just want to do a costume to hang out with their friends and match. And that’s all okay!

If you are a person of color or if you’re not comic book skinny, please do not let other bully you out of costuming as a character that speaks to you. Heck, don’t let gender bring you down either! Costuming has a proud tradition of both crossplay and gender swapped costumes. Cosplay should be an inclusive community and not an exclusive one. At the end of the day, this should be a hobby that makes you happy and that is fun so make whatever costume you want.  There is no Cosplay Police.

With that said, I do have one slight caveat. I will not draw a line in the sand but I will issue a word of caution to those of you reading this who are white. When you’re picking a character and you’re looking at a character of color, please be conscious that you are not doing so in a vacuum. Fans of color tend to have fewer choices and some of those characters such as Storm of the X-men, have become icons. You are certainly able to costume as one of these characters of color and I will not speak for the entire POC costume community but just… be aware of what you’re doing. And I don’t care what character you’re doing, never ever ever use make up to do blackface, brownface, or whatever face to portray a character of color. Do the costume as a person of your own race and don’t do use race as a costume accessory.  (Caveat over!)

This is probably the definition of too ambitious for a first costume. (Picture from Dragon*Con via Superhero Hype.)

When picking your first costume, I cannot emphasize the following two points enough: pick a character or a fandom that you really like and don’t be too ambitious. The first part is self-explanatory. If you’re working on a project that you’re excited about, you’re more likely to stay enthusiastic about it and see it through until the end. The second is also to ensure that you see the project through. We’ll get into this more in future installments but be realistic about your personal creation skills or what your budget is for commissioning a costume. For your first few costumes, it’s probably best to not be overly ambitious and to not go for one of the crazy complicated anime ones. The world is your oyster and you’ve got plenty of time to work towards one of those works of art costumes if that’s your goal.

To recap: pick a character or costume that you feel strongly about and really want to wear, don’t be too ambitious with your first costume, and wear whatever costume you want to wear and don’t ever let the haters or the gate keepers get you down. Remember: this is supposed to be a fun albeit occasionally stressful hobby. 😉

We’ll be back next week with a look at commissioning versus making it yourself. Have a general costume related question that you’d like me to cover in depth? Leave it in the comments, send me a tweet, or send me an email and I’ll do my best to help out!

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