Conventional Dress

London Comic Com opens its doors at the weekend. What better time for Gabby Hutchinson Crouch to step into the weird, wonderful and pretty expensive world of cosplay?

When London Comic Con open at Excel, for many visitors it will be the culmination of many weeks or months of difficult, time and money-consuming work, as they prepare to cosplay.

Cosplay is the creation of a costume, with which you ‘play’ a favourite character, usually at a convention. Like other subsections of fanwork – such as fan art, fan fiction and online roleplay – it’s a part of the great movement of do-it-yourself creative enthusiasm enjoyed by many fans of fictional universes.

As a proud fan fiction writer, cosplay is a branch of fan work I have always marveled at from afar, considering the levels of skill required to pull it off.

Lexie is a Los Angeles-based fan artist and cosplayer whose work I’ve admired for some time. In recent years, she’s appeared at conventions as the TARDIS, R2D2 and, in a move both delightfully niche and original, the ‘travelling lemon’ from the Radio 4 sitcom Cabin Pressure.

Cosplay was a concept she fell immediately in love with at her first convention. After a few years, she tried making herself a costume.

“It was fun,” Lexie told me. “I kept having ideas for costumes I would love to see. I decided to try to make them myself. Cosplay’s not just dressing up – often you ‘become’ the character. It’s so much fun to do and interact with people. The acting is a big part of the experience.”

Lexie, dressed as the travelling lemon from Cabin Pressure.

Her ideas for costumes come from anywhere – a piece of fabric, a moment in a film or TV show, even a conversation with friends.

“When it comes to design, I’ve only recently started drawing them out for my personal costumes. Before that, I would construct costumes out of already existing pieces and just put them together.

“I’ve noticed the cosplay community is a bit divided on ‘make or buy?’ but you can make great costumes by combining the two. There’s plenty out there for those of us who aren’t that crafty or have construction restrictions. Either way, it can be VERY time consuming and VERY expensive.

We all want to show off our skills a bit. There are some bitter cosplayer feuds out there, but rarely any confrontations at the cons themselves.

“With the TARDIS dress, I was able to go online and pay to have special fabric made. However, it was a different thing altogether when I made my R2D2 dress. I knew there was no way to find what I wanted: I had to make it from scratch. So, I found a pattern I liked, researched on YouTube how to alter the pattern to fit my needs, went out of the fabric district of LA. It took me about three months to construct from beginning to end.”

I asked Lexie about the atmosphere at a convention when you’re in cosplay.

“The ‘play’ aspect of cosplay comes in when interacting with others in costume. Most cosplayers I’ve encountered are very into this part, and will engage with total strangers in play acting on the con floor or walking around on the outside. It’s all part of the fun.

“I’ve actually made some great and lasting friendships from this. That’s not to say there’s not a level of competitiveness. We all want to show off our skills a bit. There are some bitter cosplayer feuds out there, but rarely any confrontations at the cons themselves.

Cosplayers at Comic Con London in 2013

“Generally, most cosplayers will admire each other’s talents in a gracious sort of way. You do get stopped for photos a lot. It’s been my experience this tends to happen most when you’re in a group. You have to be prepared to stop for almost every single photo request, because, really, you are performing. There are exceptions to this, of course.”

The “exception” being that conventions, like anywhere, come with their fair share of dicks. There is a problem with harassment of cosplayers, especially female ones. Some conventions, such as Emerald City Comicon, have taken to ‘Costume is not Consent’ campaigns in the hope of getting through to unpleasant souls that people in cosplay are still people.

“Unfortunately, there is a very real level of harassment,” says Lexie. “Sometimes people want to stick their cameras under your skirt. There’s the ‘interview crew’ – guys with big professional TV cameras that ask really inappropriate questions. People want you to hug or kiss them, or take an innocent pose and Photoshop it into something disgusting.

“My rule of thumb is, if it makes me uncomfortable, I say no and walk away. They’re the exception to the rule, though. Most people are really nice.”

In spite of the efforts of some, the positives of this hugely immersive and creative fan expression still outweigh the negatives for Lexie who, like other cosplayers, is full of original ideas for directions to take costumes in.

“One year, I dressed up as the Telephone box from Inspector Spacetime (from the NBC sitcom Community). I have a friend who made a Victorian dress to match Ten’s outfit from Doctor Who, and another friend who made a long gold dress and also handmade a dragon to wear on her shoulder to play as Smaug’s hoard from The Hobbit.

“There’s always so many people that come up not just with beautiful costumes, but really brilliant twists on well established characters. Maybe I’ll make a Steampunk Edna Mode next!”

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Written by Gabby Hutchinson Crouch

Gabby Hutchinson Crouch is a comedy writer, mum & nerd. She writes for BBC Radio Comedy and Huffington Post UK, and once saw Dawn French coming out of a toilet.