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Taking Control of Your Costuming Happiness (Part 3 of the Good Costume Manners Series)

This is Part 3 of a series! If you haven’t read them yet, Part 1 is “It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community” and Part 2 is “Good Intentions Don’t Excuse Bad Behavior.”

I’ve previously discussed good costuming manners towards others but with this post I’d like to discuss something a little more personal: approaching this hobby in a healthy way by taking personal responsibility for and control of your costuming happiness. This means shutting down the brain weasels of self-doubt and giving up on unrealistic expectations for yourself and others.

Please note, nothing in this post should be construed as encouragement to be unkind to others because you think “See, it’s their responsibility” and “They’re just whiners.” The point of this post is to encourage people to let go of some baggage and have a great time regardless of where they live or how experienced a cosplayer they are. More sewing, less crying!

Let’s Talk About FOMO

Social media makes it really easy to see what other people are doing and feel they are having fun at conventions and parties without you, resulting in FOMO (fear of missing out).  This feeling is natural and common and nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes I see beautiful event pictures and think “Wow, I wish I could have gone to that!” However, what is not healthy is to take your feelings to one of two extremes I’ve seen:

  1. Getting depressed because you think nobody likes you.
  2. Being angry because the event wasn’t public.

1.  Getting depressed because you think nobody likes you: If you were not invited to an event, it is quite possible that the venue had space restrictions, the hostess wanted an intimate event because she didn’t have the energy to wrangle a huge party, the organizer had a small budget, or this was just for members of a club. Please don’t take it as a judgement as to whether you were “good enough.” Think about which is more likely: someone didn’t have a big enough house to invite everyone, or they specifically singled you out for exclusion? When you say it out loud I hope the latter sounds silly and you understand there are many reasons why not everyone can be included, and they weren’t directed at you.

2. Being angry because the event wasn’t public: Imagine you had a pizza party at your house and your boss found out and was upset he wasn’t invited. Your response would probably be “Um, I wanted to have a party with my friends. I’m not obligated to have the whole town over for a BBQ.” Now think: why would that change if everyone was wearing funny clothes? Lately in the costume world I’ve seen a trend towards destination events, themed weekends, fancy dress birthday parties, and other intimate social gatherings. I’ve also seen some people get upset about private events and accuse the organizers or attendees of snobbery and exclusion. Not only is this often hurtful and untrue, it will not encourage people to invite you in the future. If you willfully misconstrue and misrepresent the neutral behavior of others as malicious, you are exhibiting the behavior you accuse others of.

No one can invite everyone to everything. Sharing a hobby does not entitle you to be included in every event your fellow hobbyists organize. If someone decides they want to have a small 1940s tea party or a casual evening get-together in their hotel room at a convention they can. It doesn’t mean that they are being mean. It means they had limited seating or they didn’t want to share a house rental with strangers. It is not personal, and not being included is not a judgement on you, your self-worth, or your skill as a costumer. You don’t have to feted at event to be a “real” costumer; just by trying to costume you are being brave and creative!

You Can Host Your Own Events

People in metropolitan areas may be blessed with more venues and opportunities, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have an event of your own where you live. Please consider that when you say “There’s nothing going on where I live” do you really mean “I want someone else to do the work and I can just show up”? Sometimes if you want something to happen, you have to get the ball rolling. An event doesn’t have to be elaborate to be fun. Pick a theme and make a restaurant reservation and post on Facebook with an open invite (and tell your friends to bring their friends). Your area may be too rural to attract a comic con, but it doesn’t mean you can’t host a picnic or a day at the beach for fellow fans of a movie, book, time period, style of clothing, or other interest.  Don’t underestimate the interest a simple picnic can generate! The recent 1830s event I went to sold 50 tickets in the first hour.

I’d also advise you to scale up slowly. For your first event choose something inexpensive that doesn’t require a lot of cash from you, so you don’t get stuck losing money if a few people drop out at the last minute. Have everyone buy their own movie tickets and collect money up front if you have to pay a deposit or reserve a block of seats somewhere. Once you’ve established a core group or gauged local interest you can dream bigger (but you don’t have to; small events are fun too because everyone gets a chance to know each other).

Also check the costume policy for a venue in advance. Some places do not allow costumes because they don’t want guests to mistake you for an employee or paid performer, which is very reasonable.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Adventurer’s Meetup: Dress in steampunk or explorer costumes and have a scavenger hunt in your town.
  • Downton Abbey House Tour: Find a historical mansion in your area, get in touch with the docents, and ask if you can arrange a private tour for your group in exchange for a donation. Have everyone dress in Edwardian or 20s clothes.
  • Medieval Melee: Gather at a park dressed as a knight, princess, wizard, orc, etc. and bring a foam pool noodle as a weapon. Hold court, declare war, pick sides, and fight. Have a potluck feast celebrating the peace treaty afterwards.
  • Victorian Beach Day: Wear old-fashioned Victorian bathing suits and have fun at the ocean or lake, whether you actually go into the water or not.
  • Anime Breakfast Club: Dress up as your favorite anime character and visit a diner. If this becomes a regular event you could pick a movie to watch and discuss at monthly breakfasts.
  • Dapper Museum Visit: Find a museum with an exhibition for a particular artist and dress in the clothing of that time period.
  • Seafarers at the Aquarium: Dress as a pirate, sea captain, sailor, or Jacques Cousteau and marvel at the sea life.

There’s No Conspiracy Against You

There is no costuming Illuminati. There is also no global cabal of people who hold secret meetings to vote on who’s cool and who’s not. Most people are way too busy fretting over their own cosplay to worry about yours, and if they are a big enough jerk to say something they’re really saying something about themselves and not you. (See my comments about nitpicking).

I’ve been involved in sewing (historical costuming, cosplay, or vintage) for close to 17 years now, and the vast majority of people I’ve met have been nice and welcoming, and just so excited to meet another person with the same weird hobby. I’ve made so many great friends! If you are new please keep in mind that chances are you will also make friends if you are open to it. Put out good energy and you’ll get the same back. If you show up to an event expecting to have a bad time, you’re going to have a bad time. If you snub everyone because you’re expecting them to snub you, you’ve created a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is a fact of life that some people will not like you. (Many others will!) Sometimes someone will not like you for a silly reason, such as resembling an ex-boyfriend, your ability to wear a color they think they can’t, or because they misheard something you allegedly said. Why obsess over something you have no control over, from a tiny fraction of the people in the community? Hold your head high and carry on with your hobby.

That being said, there are some nasty corners of the internet. For your mental and emotional health, avoid wading in those cesspools. Don’t go looking to see if you’ve been posted to troll forums. Do you really need to know what a 13-year-old edgelord thinks of you, your body, or your costume? Block someone who’s being a jerk and move on.

The Internet is a Blessing and a Curse

In some ways costuming is easier now than when I first started. The internet and e-commerce websites have created a lot more indie companies selling historically accurate patterns, individuals offering 3D-printed props, specialty wig and cosplay suppliers, and small businesses selling niche items like reproduction shoes and jewelry. Museums are putting high resolution photos of their garment collections online. There are educational podcasts and tutorials and lots of inspiration available on Instagram and Pinterest.  All these readily available resources mean it’s a lot easier to put together a “good” costume. It has also increased the pressure to put together a “good” costume right from the start, and every time afterwards.

For people with savvy or resources their first attempts might not be the same as yours. We all start somewhere, but that starting point is different for everybody. The end point is also different for everyone, often by choice. (Remember not everyone wants to be screen or historically accurate!) It’s not a contest or a race. Use the internet as a resource, but not a rubric by which to judge yourself or others. Remember that Instagram is highly curated and people repost outfits, and not everyone posts the things that didn’t work out. Don’t let the algorithm fool you into thinking that everyone else is constantly making epic outfits all the time.

Have Reasonable Deadlines

It’s not fun for you to be crying the night before or morning of an event because you are still sewing. Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the time you have, and start early if you can. Remember:

  • Done is better than perfect.
  • Most people won’t notice the “flaws” you do. If they do, why are they that close to your personal space?!?
  • Machine sewing is ok. Polyester is not always bad. Glue can be used judiciously.
  • You don’t need something new for each event. You can change up an outfit with different accessories if you want a fresh look, but remember that in historical times clothes were costly and worn repeatedly. If anyone has the gall to sneer at you for “wearing that old thing” remind them that it is historically accurate to re-wear outfits, wear homemade items that varied in skill, and refashion older garments into newer ones.
  • Done. Is. Better. Than. Perfect.

It’s Okay To Take a Break

If your cosplay hobby does not make you happy, ask yourself why are you doing it? Are you doing it for your own fun or to impress others? Are you staging elaborate photoshoots you find exhausting in order to gain followers on Instagram? Don’t forget to have fun with your hobby. Self-validation is much more satisfying than validation from a fickle audience.

Even if you’re doing it for yourself, it’s easy to have burnout if you are constantly churning out costumes, or you have other things like family and school that need your attention too. It’s okay to take a break, whether it’s a brief time-out for a project that’s not working out, or a longer period of weeks or months to regroup and regain your joy. It’ll still be here when you return.

You’re not obligated to attend every event or make something new for every event. Consider this official permission to say no to yourself or others.

Well, That’s Easy for You To Say

You might be reading this thinking, “Well it’s easy for you to feel confident when you have a big wardrobe and a group of friends to do cool stuff with.” I am not Athena who sprang full-grown from the head of Zeus. I had to start out knowing just a few people and having very little sewing experience at my first events. Here’s a few of my early costumes compared to my more recent ones.B207D332-8271-4A75-8AF5-D2ECF40802EB.JPG

(I wish I could find a photo of my first costume: a “medieval” dress made of tablecloth fabric with shiny Christmas trim on it. It was off-white with ill-placed red embroidery and more than one woman offered me a tampon).

Compared to now, some of the earlier outfits have questionable fit or materials and styling issues, but back then I didn’t let a lack of polish stop me from having a good time! I have nice memories from every event represented above. It took me a long time to get to where I am now (and I still have room to improve) and some people get there faster, and that’s okay. (Shout out to those amazing high school and college students that sew like pros; I see you and I’m proud of you!)

My comfort with costuming didn’t occur naturally; I wasn’t a “cool kid” growing up. I’ve had glasses, braces, severe eczema, corrective shoes, speech problems, and a limp. I was, and still am rather clumsy.  (I am sitting here writing this while drinking a chocolate shake that may or may not have ended up where I intended). But I believe in “fake it until you make it,” not giving up because someone else is “doing it better,” and surrounding yourself with awesome, encouraging friends. (You ladies know who you are and I love you!)

I believe in self-fulling prophecies, and I am determined to have a good time. And so can you.

People like you and admire your costumes more than you know, and your “weird hobby” makes you interesting.

And remember what RuPaul says: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

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Good Intentions Don’t Excuse Bad Behavior (Sequel to “It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community”)

About a year ago I wrote a blog post called “It’s Not Necessary to Be Mean: Snark in the Costuming and Cosplay Community” and was meaning to follow up with a part two post on the anniversary, before the holidays buried me. No time like the present! If you haven’t done so, please read that previous post first; it goes over some tips and general manners for both newcomers and veterans to treat themselves and each other kindly. Consider this post a slightly more advanced primer about how good intentions don’t excuse bad behavior! I hope to get people to think about what they have been doing and whether it is unintentionally unkind.

Are your “helpful” comments really helpful?

You may think you’re giving constructive criticism, but please consider carefully if it is 1) wanted by the recipient and 2) whether it could be interpreted as condescending. Here are a few comments I’ve seen that the speaker probably thought were benign or even helpful, but a newcomer or sensitive person could find very hurtful:

  • “I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to take a little extra time to look so much better by doing XYZ.”
  • “Oh yeah, I used to wear stuff like that too when I was new. You’ll learn.”
  • “I prefer to costume at a higher caliber but I guess you can do what you want.”
  • “If you care what others think you should do XYZ.”

To be clear, those can sound judgmental and are not okay to say to someone! Well, what’s okay then?

  • DO: “Do you want to know where I buy my shoes?”
  • DON’T: “Instead of boots like that, you could get accurate ones at this company.”

The first example takes into consideration what the other person wants, and gives them the option to decline. The second example assumes the other person needs and wishes to “improve” and doesn’t have health or funding issues that require them to wear certain footwear.

  • DO: “I’ve had a really good time at that particular costume event, and feel free to ask me if you have questions about going one day.”
  • DON’T: “Costume tourism is the best! You’re missing out on the most amazing experience by not doing a fully immersive week in a castle!”

The first one is a topic of conversation about one’s own experiences and is framed with an offer of help. The second makes the other person feel bad if they haven’t had the opportunity to put together a wardrobe and the financial privilege to travel.

It’s great to be helpful! But be mindful that your suggestions don’t imply that you are judging someone, or that person will be judged by others.


Don’t put yourself down.

Some of you reading this may not realize it, but there are others that look up to you. They may be brand new or established in the hobby but admire your work. Perhaps you are a friend of theirs, or someone they follow on Instagram, or write a blog they follow, but you have more influence than you know.  Many of us are our own harshest critics and may joke about our work being “trash” but others are listening. Imagine how disheartening it would be to think that something you admire and aspire to is “not good enough” for someone you see as a role model, and thus worry your role model may be judging you too. Please be kind to others by being kind to yourself first. We all start somewhere.

I understand that some people make negative comments about their own projects to avoid seeming snobby, or to keep others from making the same mistakes. There is nothing wrong with taking a compliment gracefully with a simple “Thank you.” If your goal is to be helpful, spin your self-critiques positively.

  • DO: “Oh thanks! It’s a good pattern but watch out for the fit on the collar; I found it a little tricky.”
  • DON’T: “Oh I can’t believe you like this! My collar looks horrible!”
  • DO: “I’m glad you like my cape! I was afraid it wasn’t going to turn out right because I picked a really inexpensive fur that sheds a lot.”
  • DON’T: “This cape? Ugh, it is so cheap-looking I’m putting it in the trash when I get home.”


Don’t touch people without permission.

Good intentions don’t excuse bad behavior, especially when it comes to physical contact. Wanting to compliment someone or take a closer look at their costume does not mean you can touch someone without permission. Because you are at a convention or a fellow costumer does not mean you are automatically entitled to permission. No means no!

You would think these are obvious rules, but I am listing these out because of incidents that have actually happened to me or my friends:

  • If you are allowed to touch some fabric on a person’s body, touch their arm and not their butt.
  • If you get permission to examine someone’s corsetry, do not squeeze their breast.
  • Do not approach a gentleman and try to lift his kilt.
  • If you are in a noisy area and trying to get someone’s attention, it may be appropriate to gently tap the person on the shoulder. It is definitely not appropriate to grab their wrist and pull them towards you.
  • Keep hugs (ask permission!) gentle so you don’t break anything.

Please do the following:

  • Remember to ask permission. Ask. Really, ask.
  • Ask yourself if it’s really necessary to touch a costume, prop, wig, or person to have an understanding of it.
  • Consider whether your comment is meant to make the other person feel nice about their work, or fulfill your need to get attention from them.
  • Don’t get mad when someone says no, or try to guilt them into changing their mind.
  • Don’t assume that because you saw someone else (who may be a close friend) touch a particular cosplayer that you should be allowed to as well.


Don’t talk about a stranger’s race.

I’ve sometimes encountered individuals who said things like “Oh, it’s so nice to see a POC in the hobby!” I know they mean well or are trying to demonstrate how “woke” they are, but really the message they are sending is that regardless of my friendliness or skill in costuming, the very first thing they noticed and thought was important to comment on was the color of my skin.

If a particular ethnic group is underrepresented in your circle, a great way to make them to feel welcome is to treat them like everyone else. Specifically pointing out what makes them different may alienate someone.

Don’t assume that just because someone is a POC that their costume is ethnic in some way. If you assume wrong you may make someone very uncomfortable. One year I was at a convention wearing a Game of Thrones costume, along with a dozen other women using the same pattern. I’m pretty sure not everyone was asked questions like “Is that a kimono?”  “Are you Korean?” “Is your hairstyle part of your culture?” “Are you supposed to be a geisha?”

And please never tell someone it’s “not historically accurate” for someone of their ethnicity/ gender/ disability/ age to participate in or be present at a particular event or time period. If you’re a dentist 40 hours a week and pretending to be a Civil War soldier on the weekends, you have no business telling someone who they can’t pretend to be for fun. If you’re into fantasy stuff and cool with orcs and elves but you’re weirded out by the idea of black people in medieval Europe, maybe you should find another hobby.

What if you are an organization?

Note: If you are a reenactment group, living history site, or museum you have the right (or even an obligation) to set your own rules and educate the public about historical facts. My comments are directed at casual costuming groups such as sewing clubs, cosplay conventions, theme parties, etc. to prevent feelings of exclusion and gatekeeping.

Mentor newcomers! Host workshops, have resource lists, create an online forum where they can ask questions, etc. Write out a defined non-bullying policy and make it clear that derogatory comments about a cosplayer’s body shape, culturally insensitive costumes, etc. are not permitted. Allow for beginners to explore their interest in the club without requiring costumes that require a lot of upfront investment in time and money.

Don’t have an intentional or unintentional hierarchy with “elite” club members; encourage everyone equally. For an example of doing it right: my local costume guild had a fashion show this past week. Calls for models were public and open to all skill levels; they were not just friends of the president or “the best of the best.” There were no applications, auditions, lengthy rehearsals, or onerous requirements to enter that would scare off newcomers. The models were all ages, genders, and body types, and wore self-made and store-bought costumes, or even literally artfully wrapped bedsheets, and no one was turned away. There were other activities so that the fashion show was not the main focus, and the organizers made it clear they did not want anyone to feel left out.

Depending on the size of your organization you may require more formality to herd the squirrels. But if you don’t need to, don’t add layers of complexity that scare away shy or new people.

If you are a visitor to an educationally-minded group like a living history site, do remember the distinction between trained employees/volunteers and members of the public.  If your idea of playing along is to dress up in a historical costume that is correct for the time and area that site portrays, great! That does not give you the right to shame others that don’t or make snide comments about how someone’s clothes are off by a decade.

Just remember, time travel should be fun. Enjoy and don’t take yourself too seriously.

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About to drop the hottest album of the 18th century.