Slave Leo

This year, for con season, I’m dressing as Slave Leia… sort of.

If you’ve been following this blog, you know that, over a year ago, I wrote a post somewhat condemning the wearing of the Slave Leia costume. And though I’ve revised my stance, it would seem somewhat hypocritical of me to wear the costume without some justification, so I want to explain why I’ll be trotting around nearly naked at the cons this year.

1: Jealousy
Last year at Dragon Con, much of the Skepchick and Mad Art Lab crew dressed in gender bent versions of Star wars characters.

Skepchick and friends gender-bent Star Wars - Photo by Adam Isaak
Skepchick and friends gender-bent Star Wars – Photo by Adam Isaak

It was awesome. They looked fantastic. I wanted to play, too. Myself and some of the other male MALers laughed that we wouldn’t be left out of such a fun game next year. We plotted as to what we could dress as… but there aren’t that many females in Star Wars, even fewer with iconic or even recognizable costumes if the genders were swapped… Somebody would have to find a way to gender-bend Slave Leia.

I drew the short, and mostly naked straw.

2: Cowardice
I will be honest, this costume is well outside my comfort zone. Normally, I’m a strong advocate for not doing things with which one is uncomfortable. There are often good reasons for the discomfort: questionable safety, social consequence, morality, lack of information, etc.

My reason, however, apart from a slight worry about being cold, is fear. Fear is not a reason, in itself, to not do something. Fear is a pretty useful heuristic tool for situations involving live tigers and such, but with time for rational and collected contemplation, it should give way to honest risk assessment and emotional reflection.

My fear is not well reasoned. I’m not afraid of injury or death or tigers in this situation. I’m not afraid of losing my job or my friends. I’m not even afraid of looking absurd or being laughed at, I have a whole webseries devoted to that. What I am afraid of is being judged, being scrutinized, being exposed.

I typically cosplay on the conservatively safe side. Last year I wore a jacket, tie, and overcoat and the nuances of my figure remained secreted away behind layers of fabric and tailoring.

Doctor Ryan circa 2012, Photo by Russ Creech
Doctor Ryan circa 2012, Photo by Russ Creech

Walking around with barely any clothes on, exposing my imperfect skin, my undefined chest and abs, my knobby knees and my unsightly body hair is, well, terrifying. But then again, if I, a guy just on the scrawny side of ordinary, can’t muster the courage to wear such a costume, how brave must the women that do wear it be? Moreover, how can I call for throwing off the media-induced self-conscious insecurities about our bodies if I’m incapable of doing it myself? I think I’ve painted myself into a corner containing a gold bikini costume.

3: Pride
This costume is a challenge.

I could just buy a Slave Leia Costume and wear it. In a lot of ways, that would be easier; It would be purposely comedic and absurd. Nobody could mistake me for trying to look good in it. It would be a joke.

But that is not at all the point.

The point here is to make a gender-bent Slave Leia, a Slave Leo. The outfit must capture the essence, the aesthetic, and the artistry of the original costume, and twist them to suit a man. This is a fun game for any character, in my mind, but Slave Leia presents a deeper challenge.

Slave Leia is a sexual icon. I am not.

She is a well constructed collection of forms that succeed at accentuating and flattering the form while tantalizing the viewer with the threat of exposing forbidden bits of flesh. It is, effectively, fetish lingerie. How the hell do I make that masculine without making it either indecent or absurd?

That, there, is a design challenge that I’m too obstinate to back down from.

Even more than just getting the design right, I couldn’t just make this out of cardboard and hot glue. My hubris demanded that this be better than that, in fact, better than real. The gold bikini in the film was probably resin cast and held in place with tape and careful editing. I couldn’t accept that. I wanted the metal bits to be made of metal, the leather bits to be made of leather, the buckles to be real buckles and the overabundance of exposed flesh to be real exposed flesh.


I spent most of my Christmas vacation and dozens of evenings sketching, sewing, beating brass, dying and stitching leather until I had a product of which I could be proud and proud of it, I am. I had to learn new skills to build it. I had to experiment and fail and try again.


There is no way anyone could think of this as a casual joke. Serious time and effort went into the creation of this costume. So… now I can’t laugh this off as being just an ill-considered lark… no more excuses… see section 2 for my resurgent feelings on this.


In order to get over my misplaced sense of shame and fear, I hereby expose myself to the internet. I’m going to go hide under my bed now while I deal with this.

Classic Leia Pose.

Photo: Angela Clafield and Julia Hall
Photo: Ange Clafield and Julia Hall

Don’t I look comfortable and confident in this next one? ALL LIES!

Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall
Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall

I actually looked like this for most of the shoot.

Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall
Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall

Classic super manly pose.

Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall
Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall

Obligatory Butt and Boobs Shot

Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall
Photo: Angela Clayfield and Julia Hall


Ryan is a professional nerd, teaching engineering in the frozen north. Somewhat less professionally, he is a costumer, author, blacksmith, juggler, gamer, serial enthusiast, and supporter of the Oxford comma. He can be found on twitter and instagram @studentofwhim. If you like what I do here, feel free to leave a tip in my tipjar.

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  1. You’ve summed up exactly why I’ve considered costuming as Slave Leia. The challenge, the body image issues, everything. I bow to your confidence and awesomeness, sir.

    Just so you know, I plan on following you around Dragon*Con with a video camera to capture the reactions. (Also, this really makes me want to do Slave Leia myself so I can catalogue the different reactions.)

  2. You’ve outdone yourself. Everything about the execution of this is impressive. Speaking as someone who was rather underwhelmed by the original 2011 post, I take my hat off to you.

  3. Hi, yes. Impressed and happy and doing a happy dance. You are brave and bold, that’s amazing stuff. Also, I’m struggling with how to remark upon your comments regarding your bodily put-downs but realize that any praise offered would wind up proving points around objectification.
    So…I’ll just say good job and that I wish I could be at the con…

  4. Excellent. Both the artistic, creative quality and the technical quality are amazing. I’m vaguely irritated that I’m not sure if I could ever do a male Slave Leia without unintentionally totally ripping you off.

    Incidentally, my wife thinks that you’re smoking hot. There are inappropriate cat-calls and everything.

  5. Christopher your wife and I agree. I wish that everyone could dress up more and play around with gender and roles and well…just play. That in and of itself is sexy, at least I think so. Boldness and playfulness and a willingness to take risks around something we usually find so fraught? It’s awesome.

  6. That is *amazing*, and I say that as a serious costumer myself. I love the design concept, the flawless execution, and the amazing translation of the concept of Slave Leia onto a male body. Bravo!!!!
    I’m working on some female versions of the Avengers, and I hope they look half as amazing as your costume here does.

  7. So, uh, I’m not a visual artist at all, but good god is this the best idea ever and I wish I could steal it. Any chance someone could commission one from you? 😀 (Considering my next few cons I’ll be going as a presenter, that could be a lot of fun.)

  8. This might be the best thing I have ever seen. Bravo both for the amazing costume and for overcoming your embarrassment to post these fantastic photos. The obligatory butt and boobs shot is just perfect.

  9. I have the sudden urge to paint a Caesar-esque portrait of Ryan: Silver platters. Palm fronds. Grapes. Is it warm in here? It’s warm in here, right?

  10. Ryan, this is just perfect. The effort you put into making it is outstanding, the look is superb, and you made a kick-ass gender-bending costume. So, um, basically…you ROCK!

  11. Oh, holy hell. This is FANTASTIC. Well done, Ryan. Not that one would ever expect you to do anything less.

    I still think a gender-bent Jabba would be hysterical. I’m not sure how, since the fat rolls kind of obscure anything that might resemble a sex characteristic, but still. Maybe just long eyelashes. That’s how they do it in Looney Tunes.

  12. Excellent craftsmanship. I am impressed that you did all your own metalsmithing. I also think you are a bit too modest – you actually are a very attractive man. Despite your own insecurities, I think you look masculine and sexy in your outfit, not to mention downright HOT. I know this was not the purpose but it is a byproduct. You should consider showing skin on a more regular basis 😉

  13. Oh my … I am impressed, in a deeply significant way. Not only did you make the mental leap across the Chasm of the Sexes (an imaginary thing that I hope you understand), but you did so in a skillful, artistic, thoughtful, and just plain sexy way. I hope you get mad props from the folk who see you in person, and I hope the trolls are so blinded by your sheer awesomeness that they give you a minimal amount of douchebaggery. I hope you do more projects that challenge barriers and make people think and bring your joy.

    Bravo, sir. This is an *epic win* for the ages.

  14. Brilliant and brave! You have actually loosened this old chip on my shoulder regarding that outfit.
    And I am pro-kilt/sporran…in just about any context.

  15. “Slave Leia is a sexual icon. I am not.”

    Not yet. I expect you’re about to become one. That is incredibly done, and you, sir are HOT.
    I am deeply impressed by the craftsmanship, the design, the willingness to learn new skills and your bravery in doing this.
    Thank you for sharing it.

  16. Best. Thing. Ever.
    You did a great job with the costume design, the execution and the poses. In a nutshell: you are awesome.

  17. First off, this is absolutely fantastic. Second, you also make a remarkably convincing Tenth Doctor, based on that picture up there. Third, how does one learn to do metalsmithing like that? Or at least, how did you learn?

    Oh, and @Smashley: The long eyelashes, but also a bow and some blush. OBVIOUSLY.

  18. Thank you for your amazing creative work on a cool project, your emotional work in publicly processing a challenging issue, and your personal gutsiness in defying the culture of body shame. Also, thank you for creating an effective piece of male fetish lingerie, and consenting to the inevitable objectification. You look extremely hot in a distinctly “presented for your delectation” way, and I am totally perving over these pictures. You will get so much play.

  19. I added the app to log in through facebook just to post a reaction to this.

    Dude, you rock. Seriously. I’m not sure you realize just how much you rock.

    Also, at the risk of sounding like the female version of Creepy MacHarassment, you’re hot. Stop worrying.

    I know for a fact I am not a “marginalized” portion of the female population, we are totally smitten by body hair and kilts. Lack of body hair is a stupid, media driven lie that makes men self conscious, just like the twiggy body shape makes us ladies all feel like crap.

  20. Love this; thanks so much for sharing with the world. It’s great to see people like you doing neat things, and keeping a thoughtful (yet lighthearted) perspective. Over the last couple years I have also used Dragon*Con to step out of my shell a little bit (and take a much needed break from grad school)–though I’ve yet to do anything this gutsy. Still, your post gets me thinking: How would Hanna Solo dress?

  21. Now post the pictures on a fetish web site and see how they rate you as a sexual icon! Oh, and like Rebecca wrote, hotpants!

  22. Bravo, sir- exceedingly well-[cross]played. I’d better get started on the PR for that Slave Leo Fan Club right now!

  23. This has me seriously wondering what other fantastic costumes/characters are out there to be (to steal Donna’s term) cross-played …

  24. I am really struggling to give you compliments without coming across as creepy. Let’s just say that I am carelessly jerking that neckchain as I do interstellar crime in my head right now. There is so little portrayal of men as submissive, masculine and sexy, which is a shame (because it works for me), but you’ve done an *amazing* job. More, please?

  25. Dude, that costume is *amazing*.

    I *knew* the brassiere was going to become pauldrons!

    I was totally wondering what you were going to do for the loincloth, but the maroon kilt with the “gold bikini” sporran is brilliant.

    Man, that’s just… damn. Frickin’ awesome is what it is.

    What’s the stuff under the brass sheet you’re doing the chasing work on? It looks like silly putty, almost… is it silly putty? That… might actually work.

    The only possible niggle I can come up with on the costume is I think you should have made the right side “wrist cuff” into more of a full forearm bracer. Shifting to pauldrons and a kilt-with-sporran (all fighting gear, generally) implies that Slave Leo’s purpose in the underworld of Tattooine is gladiatorial combat. Making the wrist cuff into more effective armor would seem like a logical shift at that point.

    But, you’ve clearly spent a ton of time and effort on this, and I don’t in any way wish to detract from that. All the work done here is fantastic. Zaphod Beeblebrox gives you three thumbs up. 😀

  26. Men are too often sure they aren’t sexy. Which I get; it doesn’t get applied to them like it does to women. Women grow up pretty much knowing how “sexy” is supposed to look, and men learn to consume it.

    Anyhoo! All that to say: sorry, you are indeed hot, and hot in that outfit. Stomach, body hair, legs and all. Yep. I like all of those bits.

    Also, @RedPeril, you really failed in not being creepy since you went with a reference to rape. I also lean towards dominant but I’ll stick with a happily consenting submissive man.

  27. This is super awesome! I love your redesign of the costume, and you look great! I hope it’s not too forward of me to say you are both sexy and adorable, and that grin is fabulous and you make me want to hug you.The kilt is inspired! Great work.

  28. I would also love to hear more about the details of crafting this costume – like the particulars about the metalworking setup you have there. I’m guessing that that’s a bowling ball cut in half with plumber’s putty as the support behind the metal. Am I right? How well did that work, and what sorts of tools did you use besides the hammer I see there?

  29. Jesus, Maggie, I made a reference to rape? No such reference intended! I was trying to make a reference to Star Wars, (for obvious reasons), and I’m sorry if that was clumsily or offensively done.

  30. Ryan, fantastic job in the craftsmanship, courage, and thought behind it all. Looking at the various comments on io9 and other referring sites, I’d love to hear more about the reactions you are getting and your experience post-posting, if you’re willing to share.

  31. Here via Pharyngula. You’ve done a fantastic job with the creation of this costume. Your craftsmanship is excellent and I’m extremely impressed. And you look fabulous. 🙂 Congratulations and great work!

  32. That is utterly awesome! You look fantastic. I hope I see you in Atlanta in September.

    (And I hope you didn’t sprain anything doing that last pose! 🙂

  33. Holy hells! So I’ve spent a good chunk of this week hiding under my bed as this got WAY more exposure than I expected. I’m coping better with it now. Thank you all for the positive feedback. I have to admit, I didn’t expect the internet to be so civil.

    Due to popular demand, I’ll do a post on how I made the metal bits in a little while.

  34. This is really, really well done. When I saw a link talking about a genderbent slave Leia costume, I thought it meant the obviously ridiculous, stick-a-guy-in-Leia’s-actual-costume thing. But you bravely took a fetishized female costume that would itself look ridiculous on a man and made a perfectly straight, genuinely sexy male version. You’re going to be turning heads for the same reason the female slave Leias are – because it’s a hot costume and you look great in it, not just because it’s an amusing subversion.

    Serious hats off to you for going through with this and the amazing design work on it. Hope you don’t get too cold at those cons.

  35. You may not have been a sexual icon. You certainly are now in my book. Mmmmmm. However, as has been mentioned before, Leia’s skirt was a bit more revealing what with the slits. I vote for working those in to your kilt, somehow.

  36. Wow, what an effort! You look great! I’d do you! (not that that is the point, but still.)

    You don’t have to be ashamed for this! The costume is amazingly done, you look good, you have a nice face and there’s nothing wrong with being on the thin side or having body hair. It’s your body! It can’t be wrong, that’s just how you look, and I think it looks great.

    Wonderful choice of costume, well done, you look great, great point for gender equality, I love it. Cheers / Skeptical Richard

  37. And oh yes, definitely more slits. Everywhere! Not only the women will be after you now, sir. I know a lot of male gay/bi nerds that loved the Leia costume but not what was underneath. You’re a dream come true for us ^^D.

  38. wonderful work!! And, your photograph will be all over the internet and I suspect more than a few women will be doing some computer wallpaper….terrific, it’s not a parody, it’s truly “What would a male slave look like?” well, that!

  39. oh my heavens!!! You’re beautiful!! And an engineer… Likely a mechie. They’re a little crazy…. And the WORK you put into everything! just wow. And your body hair is NOT unsightly!! It’s sexy as hell, and the reason I’m still staring at your pictures. So there. You just need a significant other so you’ll know what it feels like to be ogled regularly; that will clear some of your unfounded body issues! 😉

  40. Somewhat late to the party, I just want to join the admiration: Awesome cosplay idea. You’re a talented, beautiful man.

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