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Quickstart Guide for Costuming

2 September 2010 by

Christopher Hall, courtesy of Alexa O'Neill and mysticrealms.comCrisis! T-minus two days to Awesomesaucecon and you have nothing to wear. And your budget’s already stretched thin for gas, tolls, hotel, admission and all the incidentals that add up so fast. What’s a geeky fashionista to do?

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek, generally your everyday clothes are just fine for conventions, but if you’re like me, you relish the chance to dress up. Cons can be like nerd prom: you want to see and be seen. Full cosplay is expensive and time-consuming, but fabulousness is easily achieved. You can assemble something in an afternoon in three easy steps.

Step 1: Theme and Tone

What’s the convention’s theme? Horror, sci-fi, fantasy, anime, all of that and more? Are you going to see Klingons, Imperial Stormtroopers or Batmen running around? What’s the tone of the convention? You’ll see fewer people in costume at a small literary sci-fi con than you would at Dragon*Con, and just about anything goes at a gaming convention. In my experience, attendees at a convention with a single theme like Star Wars Celebration will be mostly dressed as Star Wars-related characters or not in costume at all, so it’s not the kind of place to bring out your steampunk gear.

Of course none of this matters if you don’t mind standing out: the guy dressed in the Star Trek uniform at Star Wars Celebration is my hero, and I love time travel weekends at Renaissance faires. But if you want to match the tone of the con, don’t wear cyberpunk to a steampunk event.

2. Examine Your Closet

What do you already own? Start with the basics and build a costume on top of them: black pants or skirt, white dress shirt. Add a vest and it’s Victorian enough for steampunk, wear a belt over the shirt and you’ve got a base for a fantasy costume. Add wings and boom, you’re the accounting fairy.

I highly recommend owning a corset. They’re versatile, turning store-bought clothes into fantasy or steampunk costume. A good corset is not cheap and you don’t want a flimsy one, so consider saving your nickels.

Consider the con’s theme. If it’s sci-fi, a tinfoil hat, your regular clothes and a sign that says “THE END IS NIGH” may get you more attention than dressing like you’re going to the club. Zombie makeup is usually appropriate and can be cheap depending on when you’re shopping. Pro tip: November 1st is LARPer day, when all savvy LARPers converge on the Halloween stores for discounted props, costumes and paint.

3. Thrift Stores and Dollar Stores

You have the basics and an idea of what you want to convey. Hit the thrift stores for whatever you’re missing. Broomstick skirts can be improvised petticoats, a scarf or six tied around the waist can make your ragged fairy gear more eye-catching. A brooch can turn your white buttondown shirt into something more Victorian-looking.

Also, hats. Say it with me: cover your head! A cheap Halloween wig will change your look, a bowler hat turns basic clothes into a costume. A couple scarves can make a turban or veil, a newsboy cap is costumey but normal enough to wear on a daily basis. Hats bring the eyes up and change your most recognizable features. You can never have too many and depending on the time of year, they can be just a couple dollars at the thrift store.

In short, you don’t have to spend much money to look awesome. Don’t take it too seriously and remember to have fun.

Got a costuming war story? Tell it in the comments.

Photo: Christopher Hall, courtesy of Alexa O’Neill and mysticrealms.com

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