#MadCostumeLab, A Survey

I have a conundrum. I am primarily here to talk about costuming and DIY geek culture. But where do I start? Do I start by talking about how to make Iron-Man armor out of some spandex, heat-activated plastic, a hair dryer and nail polish? (my current project)

Do I start by explaining why I, a grown woman, dress up like a superhero and allow it to be documented for the whole world to see?

Do I start by talking about my background as an anthropologist and a feminist and navel gaze about whether I am participating in my own oppression by wearing skintight spandex or a stomach-baring, mini-skirted outfit. Or whether I am participating in my oppression more when I dress up like Draco Malfoy and repress my more female characteristics?



All of these things have been running through my mind for the past couple weeks. I’ve started at least twenty posts talking about costumes and then trashed them just as quickly.

It’s a complicated story that makes a girl who dresses like this:

decide to dress like this:

Seelix as Dark Phoenix


However, it’s not a particularly unique story. I know many, many people who costume at different levels, and we all have some shared themes in our stories and we all have some differences.

So instead of focusing on me, I’m going ask questions of you. Yes, you. All of you. Costumer or not. Humor me. It will be worth it.

You can reply here, you can hashtag it on twitter or Google+ as #madcostumelab, you can write your own navel-gazing post and link to it in the comments. If you are interested in saying something, but you would prefer to not do so in public, it can be emailed to me at efinke@gmail.com. Any method you choose, I want to hear what you think. Send me your thoughts, your photos, your essays, your photo essays, so I can more fully represent the costuming world, and what the rest of the world thinks of it.


  1.  Are you a costumer? A cosplayer? A reenactor? I(f you aren’t, I still want you to answer the questions below! I’m as interested in the outside view of costuming as I am the inside view.)
  2.  If you are, how do you define that? How serious are you?
  3. What was the last costume you wore? Do you have a picture of it?
  4. How did it make you feel?
  5. If you could dress up like any person, fictional or historical, who would it be?
  6. Do you feel like you should/shouldn’t answer that question in a certain way because of society’s gender issues? (It sounds like a silly question, but it’s probably the biggest debate in all of the costuming world. Just put “Slave Leia debate” into Google and see what you find.)
  7. If you could see me write about anything related to costuming and cosplay, what would it be? Would you like to see more diversity of awesome cosplayers than are featured on other sites? Would you like to see how-tos for how to make everything? Would you like to see anthropological discussions of clothing, transgression and gender representation? What interests you about the world of people who dress up like superheroes?

The featured image in this post is the Birds of Prey group from Dragon*Con 2012, led by the indomitable Wiccy, and photographed by Paul Cory. My Black Canary is one of my favorites because of the nature of the directions Gail Simone has taken character and the whole Birds of Prey series. Strangely, it gets less derisive snark than most of my ‘typical geek girl costumes’, given that it’s a leotard, boots and a pair of fishnets.

The image of me as Draco was taken by Jamie Bernstein, (and the vaccine poster was  from the vaccine clinic she was running for the Women Thinking Free Foundation’s Hug Me! I’m Vaccinated! campaign).  


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.

Related Articles


  1. 1: Yes, all of the above.
    2: Midrange for all. I enjoy the craft and like to dress up, but I don’t schedule my time around it. I dress up for conventions when I can, but I don’t enter competitions. I do medieval recreationist rapier fencing, but I err on the side of safety and comfort rather than accurate costuming. I am a costumer in that I assemble my own costumes rather than buying them, mostly.
    3: The Tenth Doctor, yes.
    4: It made me feel like the doctor, you know… awesome.
    5: Person? Hells no. I’ve always wanted to do a really good Eva costume or a predator.
    6: That’s the subject for blog post, not a yes/no. Also, leading the witness.
    7: All of the things you listed plus crazy awesome costumes that you come across.

  2. 1.I have worn costumes, but I haven’t taught myself to sew yet. I have mixed feelings about the attention I would get while in costume, but I love the idea of combining dress up with craftsmanship while emulating the characters I love.
    2. Not all costumes are on the same scale as far as quality and commitment. Some manage to compensate for lack of skill by being hilarious. (Such as the cardboard clone troopers or those goofy hippies who came to Dragon*con as the double rainbow.)I think you’ve got to have some focus and ambition to achieve a quality costume, with clear similarities to the costume attempted. As such, I am not terribly serious as yet. I don’t have the skill or money to invest at the moment.
    3. My last costume was for Halloween. I went as Delight, who became Delirium in The Sandman. It was ridiculous and nothing like the pictures. I pretty much just dressed as a fairy princess.
    4. My friends are awesome, so I definitely had a wonderful time in that outfit. But the costume itself, as an intention to fit into the Sandman universe was, in my opinion, a complete failure. It was sweet and silly and fun to wear, but it wasn’t what it should have been.
    5. Toss up between a Confessor, from Legend of the Seeker, and a Star Trek:TOS lady uniform. Also, I’ve been wanting to costume as Tara from Buffy’s Once More With Feeling episode since it aired.
    6. Yes. I felt like my favorite costuming preferences are very specific in their girliness, especially as they are often of understated, somewhat passive characters. It doesn’t reflect my usual feminist agenda in an obvious way. And so I led with Confessor. She’s got mad powers. Costuming seems like it could be a expression of your personality, experiences, memories or hopes and dreams, as well as a hobby where you make something cool and unlikely to wear in public. It can have layers beyond the visual. I don’t have to explain it if I don’t want! 😛
    7. Yes. All of it. I, personally, could use some costuming info with an eye toward plus-sizing. You see a lot of luscious xl ladies at con but we often aren’t in costume, and I think it’s a shame.

  3. 1. Not at all.
    2. Doesn’t apply.
    3. Halloween gala, 1999. I dressed as Trinity. I had brown hair then… and the hilarious thing was that I didn’t have to buy anything. My date, of course, was Neo.
    4. It was very fun.
    5. If there were any way I could pull it off, it would be Daenerys Targaryen. Or a gladiator.
    6. No. Not at all.
    7. Since this is not a sea I normally swim in, I would be delighted to read anything you write from whatever angle you choose!

  4. 1. No
    2. NA
    3. I borrowed a lab coat, safety glasses and an Erlenmeyer flask from school. Combed my hair into a mess, drank red wine from the flask and went as a mad scientist to a halloween party nearly 4 years ago. No pictures online.
    4. I rawked.
    5. At the moment I’m stuck thinking Harry Potter. I’d have to either have the wrong glasses or be near blind though…
    6. Maybe, I feel I shouldn’t mention the Harry/Draco possibilities I envision because of your picture and the costume choice made in 5., but society’s gender issues is only a small part of the reason. I see it more as a pro than a con actually. I think society would benefit from more Draco/Harry make-out-sessions in public.
    7. I might not make a costume again for the rest of my life (I hope I do, though), but how-tos are cool. The Dr Who angel how-to page is one of my favourite sites on the web.

  5. 1 Nope.


    3 Mrs. Fishy and I went to a fundraiser for the local opera company. They had advertised it as a Belle Epoch French market so we dressed up in our best attempt at period costume. I’ve owned an English morning since I was a pointed haired snot nosed punk rocker, I wore that and I can’t remember what else.

    We do have a picture of us from that evening. It’s a prized possession that hangs over our bed. It was painted by an impressionist portrait painter who had been hired by the fundraisers. The idea was she would do a quick watercolour sketch for a donation. She wasn’t very busy and tried to entice us into a donation. We told her quietly that we’re not really the sort of people you usually find at these things, a friend’s company had paid for our table. Our season’s tickets to the opera was all we could afford. She whispered back that she wasn’t of this crowd either and painted us for free. Which of course meant that I had to run out to a bank machine to make a comparatively pitiful donation.

    4 It made me feel more self-conscious than I usually did at opera functions. I was a music student in uni and had long since gotten used to being one of the least economically advantaged people in the hall. But being costumed made me feel that I was being observed more closely than usual. I was very conscious that my beloved morning coat was a little too small across the shoulders and a couple of cm’s too short in the sleeves.

    5 A medieval noble in period accurate full plate armour. Preferably at the opening of a blown glass art exhibition.

    6 Not really. I’m a cis, hetero male who’s so comfortable in his cosy privilege that sexual costumes or cross dressing wouldn’t bother me. Mind you, I’ve never done either and probably wouldn’t.

    7 I would like to hear about the internal experience of cosplay. I played a lot of RPG’s back in the day and I was rubbish at it. The whole roleplaying aspect of it was almost impossible for me. I never got into character and the rare times I put on a costume I’m just me in different clothes.

    Is it common to get into character mentally and/or emotionally?

Leave a Reply

Check Also
Back to top button