I was asked a question at Dragon Con this year that I have been puzzling over for the past two weeks:
“Why are mashup costumes a thing?”
What puzzled me was not the answer, I know the reason in the very core of my being. What puzzled me is how someone could not know. I couldn’t conceive of how someone could be uncertain about something so obvious. Also, given that at least one person doesn’t know, there are very likely others. So how can I explain it? How do describe breathing to a fish?
Let us start with why we, the costumers, costume. There isn’t one reason. It varies from one person to another, but it is usually a combination of a few things: it is a way to celebrate your fandom, it allows you to learn and master skills as a craftsman, it gives you an opportunity to perform, and it’s a wonderful creative exercise.
However, the world of “traditional” or “straight” cosplay can be daunting. There will be dozens, if not hundreds other cosplayers with iterations of the same popular characters. If you are going to make a replica costume, you will always be evaluated against the others that have tried the same.
Also, faithful recreations can often be incredibly expensive. You might need specialty tools, hard to find materials, and workspace that you just don’t have access to. It can be disappointing to be unable to make a good costume because of a lack of resources.
You also might just not look right. Characters from popular media have a pretty narrow field of representation. Finding a character that you can “pull off” can be both challenging and disheartening.
The “best” replica costumes tend to be expensive to build, time consuming to create, and worn by the most beautiful among us. It is, unfortunately, a game for the fortunate and the obsessed. Mashups provide another avenue for costuming. It allows us to play the same game by different rules. The goal of a mashup isn’t fidelity, it’s cleverness and clarity. That means thrift-store and closet costuming is a more available option.
It’s also a much more creative enterprise. A “perfect” replica costume is just a copy. There’s nothing new. Mashups give you the opportunity to imagine whole new props, designs, and characters. It lets you make something new, experiment, and play, but without sacrificing that opiate of cosplay: recognition.
Also, mashups provide an opportunity for comedy and storytelling. Many are visual puns, like the now famous Freddy Sailor Mercury. Some force us to imagine a new narrative for our favorite characters, like Emily’s Imperator Peachiosa. A great mashup makes observers think, feel, and often laugh.
If you want a much shorter answer, it’s fun.
If you want proof, I offer up a mashup roundup from my visit to Dragon Con this year (apologies for them being mostly Jedi. My costume sort of attracted a certain crowd). If you know of others, please add them in the comments below.
Cover image by Themed Shots