Hi there! This is your friendly neighborhood cosplay kid here, Always Adriel Cosplay. I'm not in the game so much anymore, but before I was a world-renowned television commentator/reviewer for Bleeding Cool? I was super active in it not so long ago and still hold costuming, conventions, and the culture close to my heart.
For the most part, the interactions with other con goers, cosplayers, and the "civilians" are positive, but there's always those few groups who just leave a really creepy taste in everyone's mouth.
Afraid you have to ask if you're one of them?
That's okay; we can't start to change behavior until we're aware it's a problem.
And for those of you who are shocked to learn that not everything in this community is positive?
Well, my sweet summer child, you are in for a nasty shock.
● Yes, the trope of "creepy photographer" exists for a reason…
I hate to start off this list with a warning, but if you've been to conventions with a cosplay element, more often than not you've seen photographers stopping cosplayers in the lanes or hallways to take photos. Great! As a cosplayer, it's fantastic to be recognized and have people want to take a picture to show all their friends or post to Insta.
The issue here is the "pro photographers" – the (mostly men) who want to take pictures of women they find attractive. Inherently, not an issue. However, it's when they start being a creeper that things turn into an "after-school special" about the dangers of modeling agencies.
What am I talking about? Photographers who will take "sneaky" upskirt or down blouse shots, ones who take photos unsolicited then try to get the model to pay to get the photos in either a date or money. Or worse yet, ones who will try and lure you away from your friends and the convention to shoot in their room or another place without people. Giant red flags on that one. So much so that there are many articles of tips on how to stay safe from predators at conventions.
● Some "cosplayers" are just out to offend (and no, they're not OK)…
Now, this one is a little tricky, but every convention usually has at least one person who dresses up in an entirely inappropriate costume just for the shock and outrage. What do I mean? One year I saw a couple dressed as the World Trade Center towers… in flames… after 9/11. There are guys who dress up in full Nazi regalia. Also people (I do believe the reenacting term is "farbs") who come in a mishmash of real military uniform pieces and very real medals of honor they bought off Ebay and call it a costume. No, the medals that soldiers sacrifice for are not a "cool looking accessory" for your costume, Ethan from Ohio. All of these are offensive.
At conventions, Halloween costume rules of general consumption still apply: if it's an outfit of a real culture, profession, or something/someone who caused people pain and suffering… probably don't wear it in public (or better yet, at all).
This goes hand-in-hand with the "debate" of "going blackface" or painting your skin a different color to match the skin color of another character. Hard-and-fast rule? Stick to your skin color – unless you're cosplaying "The Tie Dye Warrior of Alpha-23."
If you're still in doubt, just ask yourself, "If I were to run for public office and this photo got out, would it destroy my campaign?" If the answer is yes, put down whatever insulting thing it is you're about to put on and find another costume.
● If a cosplayer says "no", they're not being rude…
This should go without saying, but I've actually gotten this one a lot. Say you see someone dressed as a great character you love out on the convention floor. By all means, go up and say you love their costume – even ask for a picture, if you like! We love that. What we don't love is being ambushed while we're eating lunch, taking a break with costume pieces off, or in a hurry to get somewhere.
If you stop a cosplayer and ask for a photo, but they tell you they're too busy to stop right now or are in the middle of eating or just say no without giving a reason, remember: they are human. They have full rights to say "no" for whatever reason. Now, most cosplayers (just like most celebs) will give you a reason if they refuse you a picture… like if you see Neil Patrick Harris eating a nice dinner with his family, it's totally understandable that he would tell you that he's eating with his family and doesn't want any hoopla. You don't want a meal interrupted by one photo that multiplies into 7 or 15 or 50, and now your lo mein is cold. Nobody wants that, so please be respectful of their lives. Reminder, friend: they don't owe you anything.
● Cosplay exists on a number of different levels…
As a former competitive cosplayer and costumer, I understand how much of a slippery slope this can be. Cosplay can be made of duct tape and cardboard the morning of the convention, or it can be elaborately crafted, sewn, molded and sanded for months prior to the event. Neither one is better than the other, unless they willingly enter a contest in which they will be judged on craftsmanship. But that's beside the point.
Unless you are a judge in a craftsmanship competition that participants have knowingly and willingly entered, YOU CANNOT JUDGE THEIR COSTUME. And if you do, you're a d*ck – especially if you tell the cosplayer something like, "your costume's okay, but it would be really great if you put more time into sanding the armor" or something like that. No! That is not how you compliment someone. They don't want your unsolicited advice, they are here to have fun.
Cosplaying can be really stressful for some, especially those with anxiety or social issues. So just be a nice human and keep it supportive. For those who don't remember or have joined the convention community in the past 10 years or so, cosplay used to be done out of passion with what we could scrape together. We didn't have mass produced patterns for comic characters or thermoplastics or readily available custom masks and Bat cowls. We used Halloween costumes and craft foam and creativity and imagination; it wasn't about who had the most money to put into the hobby or who looks the most like the character, it was about passion and love for the books, shows, and games that brought us all together.
TL;DR: Don't judge people's cosplay. It's a jerk move.
● Cosplay does not equal sex… one more time? COSPLAY DOES NOT EQUAL SEX!
This also encompasses "Cosplay is not consent", but I like this better because it reminds everyone that it doesn't take being groped, propositioned, or worse for someone to make you feel uncomfortable in cosplay. Not everyone who dresses in a costume you may think to be revealing wants to be seen as a sex icon, just like not every character who has a revealing outfit is a sex icon.
In the immortal words of Jessica Rabbit, "It's not my fault, I was drawn this way."
Sure, there are a plethora of sexy cosplays and people who have made a name for themselves within the community for doing sexy versions of costumes and owning their status as a sexy cosplay icon, which is great! It does not mean that just because they dress that way they are going to sleep with you, skeevy neckbeard who lives in your mom's basement (especially if they are an adult film star, nude model, or stripper – because for some reason, people think the rules of human decency don't apply to them). Cosplay is also not to be confused with those who are into costume or role-playing fetish, though many seem to conflate the two – while that's not the aim or intent of 99% of people who dress in costumes at conventions.
So why do we do it? We pour hours, weeks, months, of work into recreating a costume and a character that speaks to us and we love – so why put up with all the nonsense? For me, the point all the blood sweat and swearing really pay off is when you're on the convention floor or out in a crowd and someone spots you – someone who loves the character just as much as you – and their eyes light up with pure happiness at seeing a beloved character in the wild.
It's the exact same reason why dressing up as a loved and recognizable children's character (like a Disney Princess) is so rewarding: seeing a child all but explode with happiness at seeing a character that means so much to them come to life is one of the most rewarding experiences ever.
It means as much to them (or more) as it does to you, and it makes it all worth it, despite all the creepers (though we'd prefer there not be any).
At the end of the day, we're all at conventions to hang out and meet other people who are into the same weird stuff, and cosplay is just an extention of that. So next time you see someone dressed up at a convention or on the internet, remember that they're doing this because they love the character and want to share the love with other people who love the character too. So be kind, be respectful, and enjoy the art.