Dragon*Con 2013 – Costuming Lessons Learned

So, Dragon*Con happened.

For me, and for a large herd of costumers, it’s the defining event of the year. It’s like geek Christmas, Mardi Gras and class reunion all rolled into one. It’s a fantastic convention for costumes, probably one of the best, if not the best. Because of this, it turns perfectly normal human beings into costume tornadoes that lay waste to every bit of order their sewing area posessed, lose patience with loved ones and bleed, sweat and cry onto pieces of fabric that probably are wondering what they did wrong to end up in the hands of these people.

But it’s all worth it, because then the convention happens. It’s an intricately coordinated dance of quick costume changes and photo shoots, meeting up with friends you only see once a year, and watching panels full of celebrities, fans and skeptics be entertaining at you. It’s dances and parties and standing for hours in the Marriott posing because every time you try to move another photographer comes up. (Well, that and the fact that there are 10,000 people between you and your hotel room.)

Oh, and you get to see completely awesome groups like this:

Muppet Mayhem! I <3 the Beaker so very much.

The weeks after Dragon*Con are both a letdown and a sigh of relief. It’s a time to obsessively watch flickr and facebook for photos to show up, a time to tag and untag friends in all the amazing memories, oddball candids and (occasionally) embarrassing in-jokes.

It’s also a time to evaluate how your costume projects worked out. Did you end up swearing you’ll never wear another pair of high heels or wig again? Did you have to make a quick run back to your room for tape, or beg someone in the bathroom for a safety pin? What costumes will you be wearing again? What will you be hiding in the back of your closet and/or ripping apart for fabric?

In order to be good at something, you have to continually evaluate what you’re doing, and make changes based on what you see. I’ve been costuming for 10 years, but I’ve only been anywhere close to good at it for about 6 years. Every year I look at what I did and try to make improvements. Normally, this is an entirely private process, of me looking at pictures and thinking about my experiences and trying to figure out what to do better.

I know I’m not the only costumer combing over Dragon*Con pictures and trying to figure out how to improve for next year. So I thought I’d put my thoughts out in public, and maybe give a little insight into how I think about my costumes.


Wonder Woman Circe

Photo and manipulation by Bruce Press

Source Fandom: DC Comics, Wonder Woman
Okay, this costume was one of the most fun to wear, but I cringe at many of the pictures of it. Why? Well, see the wrinkles in the bodice? Those could have been fixed by adding proper boning, which I didn’t do. Also, the wrinkly bit on the belt never relaxed the way I thought it would. I’ll need to fix that if I wear this costume again.
A. Don’t take shortcuts when you know very well that something will be an easy addition. There are shortcuts that are okay (using safety pins in out of the way places to improve fit is a time-honored tradition!) and there are those that aren’t. Luckily I left the seam allowances unfinished in this corset for exactly that reason – I’ll be putting boning in for the next time I wear it.
B. Phototest your costumes. I would have noticed the wrinkling in the bodice had I taken more test pictures. However, the only pictures I took in it pre-con were so dark that the wrinkling wasn’t noticeable.



Idris, Ten and our new Companion (Katy)! Photo by Katy.

Source: Doctor Who, “The Doctor’s Wife”
This entire costume is going to be remade to be accurate. I made the original one *right after* the episode came out, and didn’t have great reference material. I love playing the character enough that I haven’t particularly cared that it’s not accurate, but now I’m ready to redo it.
A. Your costume doesn’t have to be perfect to be fun. This is something that many of my new-to-costuming friends don’t get. Sometimes attitude is everything. Can you own the character? Good, then ignore your costume’s shortcomings until you have a chance to fix them. You look awesome.
B. Sometimes, when you love something, you need to recognize when it’s time to let go. This poor wig has been through many, many costumes. It was originally a cheap “greek goddess” costume wig that I altered, and was not meant to be worn more than a couple times. Instead I’ve been wearing it for four+ years. It’s scratchy. It doesn’t hold a style. It becomes more and more in-character for Bellatrix Lestrange by the year. It needs to be replaced. *cries*


Scandal Savage

Photo by Sleepzilla/foodbyfax. With Terry Terman, who is my favorite Bane, even if he won’t let Scandal me have more than one ice cream. 🙁

Source: DC Comics: Secret Six
I love this costume. I love this character. I love the wig and the armor and the attitude. I love that I get to wear boots and jeans. It didn’t start this way. I was seriously not excited about this costume. I was doing it because Wiccy, costumer extraordinaire and photoshoot director goddess needed more baddies for her Birds of Prey/Secret Six shoot. I agreed but then procrastinated on making it, since Scandal’s outfit changes in minor but annoying ways in Every Single Issue.

Then I mentioned in a Mad Art Lab google hangout that I was planning on doing this costume, and fellow blogger Ryan said that he could do the armor bits.

Then I found the perfect wig.

And suddenly, I was excited about Scandal.
A. Figure out which details make the costume. Comic cosplay is about distilling the essence of the character. You’ll never get the costume exactly like it is in the comics because costumes don’t stay the same in comics. Also, they don’t have to obey laws of physics or Georgia’s public decency laws.
B. More obscure characters can be just as much fun as the recognizable ones. You won’t get the same number of people stopping you for pictures, but the ones who do will be much more excited to see you than the 50th Wonder Woman of the day.

Jessica 6

Photo by Russ Creech. With Liz Gaston as Buffy.

Source: Logan’s Run
I don’t have much to say about this costume. It’s a costume from one of the campiest bad movies out there. I made it several years ago, but only wore it once because I had decided that it was too short for me to be comfortable in it. Apparently my standards for skirt length and my comfort with my body have changed this year.
A. Gluing plastics together isn’t particularly effective if there is any stress on them. The necklace used to have the requisite Ankh, but that fell off and refused to reattach. I’ll use a jump ring next time. Once again, short cuts don’t always make things easier.
B. Flip flop kitten heels are not practical footwear for escorting drunk friends back to their hotels at 2am in Atlanta.
C. Sometimes you need to not wear a costume. I put this costume aside for years because I wasn’t comfortable in it. This year I finally was, and it made all the difference. I look actively awkward in older pictures of it. This year I look like I’m having fun. That made all the difference.


Star Trek Science Officer

Photo by Bruce Press

Source: Fairly Obvious
I have been wanting to do a classic Star Trek costume for years, in spite of my issues with Captain Kirk and some of the gender politics on the show. It’s still a classic and one of my favorite rewatches.
A. Sometimes you don’t *need* to make something yourself. I know that I *could* make a good Star Trek dress, but as soon as I saw Anovos’s Star Trek dress, I knew that the time and effort it would take to get the same level of quality would be prohibitive. This dress is beautiful, and well worth every cent I paid for it. I only had to do minimal tailoring to make it fit perfectly.
B. Sometime the simplest costumes are the best. Good tailoring and the perfect makeup and hair can do more to make a costume stunning than the most skimpy metal bikini or suggestive leather getup.


Slytherin Student

Photo by Russ Creech

Source: Harry Potter
This is my oldest costume, and the most screen accurate. Yes, I’m a 30 year old playing a school girl. I don’t really care. I only ever bring this costume out when I want something comfortable to wear. However, this year my friends in The Colonial Fleet organized a Harry Potter photoshoot, so I decided to bring it.
A. Having a break from wigs is nice.
B. Having fun with a group of friends is the best part of costuming. We had a fabulous group of Death Eaters, a terrifying Voldemort and even an adorable infant Dobby. We also hammed it up like crazy, as only a group of longtime friends can do.


Dark Phoenix

Photo by Paul Cory

Source: Marvel Comics” Dark Phoenix Saga

I have been wearing this costume for 6 years now. I mad it in 2006, and I’ve taken it to cons off and on since then. I’ve also changed every single part of it except for the body suit.
A. Every costume has *something* you can make better. That’s part of the fun of costuming. I have changed something about this costume every time I’ve worn it. It’s been through two pairs of boots, two chest emblems, four wigs and several changes of makeup styles. And it will be completely updated next year.
B. Find a good photographer, and even your old costume will look fantastic.
C. Find a character you love, and you’ll still feel fantastic in your old costume.


Pink Snowtrooper

Photo by Adam Isaak

Source: Again, Obvious

This was for the gender bent Star Wars group that various skeptics were involved with. I borrowed armor from Topher and we went on a last minute field trip to TJ Maxx to buy hideous pink clothing.
A. Stormtrooper armor is a pain. It looks fantastic, but it’s definitely a pain. Much respect to the people who wear this stuff for parades and day long events.
B. Sometimes the silly costumes are the most fun. This group keeps expanding and I look forward to our new additions next year!


Seelix, aka Emily, is a Science Communicator, Forensic Anthropologist, Costumer and QA Analyst, sometimes, but not usually, all at once. Emily can usually be found lurking in dark corners of the internet as Seelix on Twitter, on Google+ and even occasionally at her blog This View of Life.

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  1. I’m already trying to figure out how to make the costumes I promised to wear for next year.

  2. A completely AWESOME set of costumes! I especially liked the one of Jessica 6, since that was one of the first scifi films I remember watching as a kid. I had a total crush on Jenny Agutter for years after that. Old school, yet iconic, which is always a good costume choice in my book.

    Going to my second con ever next summer (Convergence in MN) and still trying to decide if I can manage some kind of costume. I’m not in the least bit “crafty”, so that makes it tougher. Have you ever died your hair as part of a costume?

  3. I’ve never dyed my hair for a costume because I have an ever-expanding collection of wigs!

    You don’t necessarily need to be “crafty” to assemble a good costume. Many of the people in the Muppet group in this post swear up and down that they can’t make costumes, and yet they made a great group that was not only recognizable, but fun!

    I went to my first Convergence this past summer and was pleasantly surprised by the costuming. There are all different levels, from beginners and store bought costumes to some pretty impressive works of art!

  4. I was thinking of going to Convergence as Cmdr. Straker from Gerry Anderson’s old UFO series, which would either require me to dye my hair to a very light blonde, or get a wig (like Ed Bishop wore in the series). Do you have any recommendations for potential sources of wigs for men?

  5. That will be a pretty easy wig to find, since it’s currently a popular women’s style! In fact, I think I own one already. I’ll look and see if it has the label with the brand.

    Stay away from men’s costume wigs. You’ll look ridiculous. I would recommend going to a local wig shop with a picture and explain what you need. You might get some strange looks, but that’s okay. My shop refers to me as their “little white scientist”, but they order all of the wigs I need, plus they pick out extra ones they think I would be interested in! (I think I’m the entire reason they stock a large variety of long platinum blonde wigs.

  6. I have yet to do any costuming of my own at D*C, but the last two years I’ve put things together for my oldest son. Last year he was an Empty Child all put together from thrift store clothing and one army/navy surplus store gas mask.

    This year he was Prince Komali from Legend of Zelda: Windwaker and it require far more work than I expected as the only thing I didn’t have to make was his shoes. I realized far too late that even though I’ve spent hundreds of hours on my sewing machine this year (puppets!), I’ve very little clue about sewing for people. I have already been plotting what I’m going to change for that costume so he can re-use it.

    I also had my inspiration for a bit of costuming myself next year: Frank Oz. I’m a balding bespectacled puppeteer (not professionally, but still I’ve come to claim it), so really I just need to find some nice 70s/80s era clothing from reference shots, and make a grover/cookie monster/miss piggy/yoda puppet.

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