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It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community 

I have been sewing for 15 years, and the vast majority of people I’ve met in the costuming and cosplay community have been kind, enthusiastic, and helpful, so for the most part I may be “preaching to the choir.” This post is directed at the small minority of people who might need a little help recognizing that some of their behaviors may have been unintentionally unkind, and to offer suggestions to people who want ideas on how to be more welcoming. This post is also directed at newcomers; I hope you will not be too intimidated to join us and have fun!

IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCED:

You can always find something nice to say:
Even if it’s not an outfit you’d wear yourself, you can say “What beautiful fabric!” or “That’s a lovely color on you!” If you can’t think of a compliment, ask a question, such as “Did you use a pattern?” or “Have you been here before?” Show an interest in someone you don’t know because . . .

We need fresh blood:
Communities and hobbies die without new members. Don’t scare anyone away; it will ultimately hurt you in the end. Socializing exclusively with a small elite group might sound appealing, but it’s hard to rent an event hall or host a convention on your own.

Authenticity goals vary:
You may only hand-sew everything in period-correct fabrics such as silk and wool. That is great! I am genuinely impressed! However, some people may machine-sew in natural fibers or synthetic ones due to time, budget, or personal preference. Someone might have hot-glued an outfit together because they heard about a Halloween party last-minute. None of this is “wrong.” Everyone has a different goal, and don’t assume theirs is the same as yours.

Recognize the difference between individuals and entities:
Costuming snark for educational reasons, directed at movies put out by big-budget studios, such as that done by the hilarious ladies at Frock Flicks, is fine! Snarking at an individual person just to be exclusive is not fine; it’s snobbery.

Don’t offer unsolicited advice:
Would you approach a stranger on the street and tell them their shoes don’t go with their outfit, or that their jewelry is wrong? Hopefully not. So, why would you do that at a convention? (Telling someone nicely that their skirt is flipped up and their petticoat is showing is a different matter; that should be welcomed because it is something that can be fixed right away).

IF YOU ARE NEW:

Nitpicking is not about you:
Some people like to nitpick, and it reflects more on themselves than your work. Don’t take it personally. Turn a negative into a positive! For example, I once had someone criticize a 1 cm-wide area on the back of an elaborate outfit, and I took it as a compliment. If that person had to dig that deeply to find something negative to say, I must have done a good job.

Shyness is not snubbing:
There are a lot of introverts in the community. Someone may be aloof because they are shy, or experiencing sensory overload. They may also be “famous” and overwhelmed by the number of people they’ve had to meet and greet that day. Just because someone doesn’t engage you in conversation does not mean that they’re trying to be rude. If people aren’t being obviously mean, don’t take it personally.

Photos are not real life:
Just remember, most people don’t post bad pictures of themselves. Photos are carefully curated to show the best angles and flattering light, with nothing out of place, or even photoshopped. Don’t feel down if you have wrinkles in your sewing because everyone else looks “perfect.” In real life, fabric wrinkles because we have to be able to move.

Photos are not always representative of an event:
I’ve seen comments along the lines of “I can’t go to (random event)! Every single person there is dressed incredibly well!” It’s normal for flashy costumes to be photographed and posted more. An “epic” costume going viral doesn’t mean the rest of the crowd is dressed on the same level. Most wedding pictures feature the bride. Does that mean all the guests were wearing big white dresses?

Not everything has to be silk:
Don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed for using polyester. Even though I make and love silk dresses, some of my best-received costumes have been made from dead dinosaur. Sometimes it’s just the right fabric for what you’re trying to make. Fit and styling are just as important as materials.

FOR EVERYONE:

Cosplay is not consent!
Don’t touch anyone or their stuff without permission. It’s a violation of personal space, and props and fabrics may be delicate. Many people will be obliging and let you pet their pretty fabric if you ask first! Costumers are makers and many are happy to discuss their project with you. Also remember, just because someone is willing to pose for a photo with you does not mean they have agreed to let you put your arm around them, or touch another part of their body. Always ask!

The bottom line is don’t be a jerk! We all had to start somewhere.image1-3.jpeg
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23 responses »

  1. Wonderfully said and advice that is relevant to many communities (dance, writing, etc) – not just costuming and cosplay.

    Reply
  2. Beautifully put! Your point about people having different authenticity goals is very important. I think it’s natural for people to feel a bit smug about the choices they have made. That’s great- it means their choices align with their personal goals. but we all need to keep in mind that everyone has different goals and different reasons for playing!

    Reply
  3. YES!!!! BRAVA, BRAVA ENCORE!!!! I am a longtime seamstress, who has SUCH A FEAR of being criticized at events that I dont go! If everyone knew and applied this wonderful information Im sure everyone would be happier!!!!

    Reply
  4. Thank you. Good reminders and pointers for all of us.

    Reply
  5. Thank you so much for writing this. I’m new to historical sewing and find this very encouraging. I feel intimidated when people complain about dupuoni silk or drapery fabric but it’s cheap and in abundance!

    Reply
  6. Chantel McSkimming

    How very classy! I really liked your pictures at the end — such an inspiration. I fell happy an encouraged after reading this post! thank you 🙂

    Reply
  7. Yes, this!! So much better to always be kind, and I love it when newcomers join into the costuming world, whether they sew now or are starting from scratch, this is all about self expression, learning together and having fun! – and we all started at one point. 😉

    Reply
  8. This shouldn’t have to be said [written]. Obviously you’ve either heard or been told stories or experienced these types of incidents and that made it necessary. I’m sorry to hear it .

    Reply
  9. I think so often those snarky commenters have the best of intentions, but that doesn’t excuse being mean. When you’ve been sewing for 20 years it can feel a little cringey to see someone making the same newbie mistakes you once struggled with. Especially mistakes that are so easy to correct! The urge to give out unsolicited “helpful” critiques feels logical. Your post is a good reminder to just not do it.

    Reply
    • I definitely feel like most of the constructive criticism people are offering is done out of wanting to help, not bully. You’re right, the impulse may be “Let me save you!” But we have to remember some people are new and sensitive.

      Reply
  10. I love this post. It seems like there has been a lot of snobby, mean comments of late. This is a very classy way to treat people. Thank you so much for writing this!!

    Reply
  11. There are ‘well meant’ people who suffer from a bit of ‘well actually…” syndrome, there is snobbery and snarkiness by those that feel the need to prove how knowledgeable they are, and there is meanness and thoughtlessness too. These problems can be very pervasive in some social circles and almost non-existent in others. This is the best article I have ever seen written on addressing the issue.
    I have to agree that Frock Flicks is funny, but is it fine? I would have to disagree as it encourages/normalises snarky behavior and that’s not cool, the costumers for those ‘big budget’ movies are often struggling with not nearly enough budget for the costume department to deliver properly, they are people too and it is just as unpleasant for them to be told their costumes were not good enough as it is for any of us, although maybe they only had 1 hour and a glue gun. In the end I unfollowed and stopped reading because I felt like a hypocrite and I would read the facebook comments and see the attitude flow over to individuals.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your honest perspective on Frock Flicks. It is a fine line between educational satire and mean girl mocking. I admit I haven’t had time to read all of their blog posts so there may be some that crossed the line and I didn’t notice, but I do enjoy their podcast, where they are enthusiastic about praising those who did it right.

      Reply

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