Cosplaying Confidence

I don’t know if it’s because I’m a Capricorn, because my childhood house was constantly full of chaotic siblings, or because I’m just an awkward nerd at heart, but I love a good routine. Once I find a way of doing things I like, I tend to fall very easily into a habit, and it takes a conscious effort to shift myself out again.

In terms of fashion and style, this means my entire wardrobe gets worn in the same way, with the same accessories, even the same makeup, over and over and over again. I’ve developed a rigid little box into which I put everything I deem “me”, and anything that’s “not me” doesn’t even get a look in. Unfortunately, because I’m not super confident,  the list of things that are “not me” is MUCH longer than the list of things that are “me.” Knee socks and skirts are very me, so I have lots of those. But crop tops and jeans? Hairbands, heeled boots, and oversized t-shirts? Definitely “not me,” and I have none of these items. Knowing what suits you is all well and good, but my wardrobe is, on the whole, far too repetitive and predictable.

I don’t WANT to have a predictable wardrobe – I see lots of things I’d love to try, but it’s so hard to convince myself to switch things up. For example, I noticed I wear WAY too much black, so I set myself a challenge to try and go a whole working week without wearing an all black outfit. That was six months ago, and I STILL haven’t been able to make it a whole week. Sheer willpower just doesn’t seem to have enough oomph to get me out of my nice comfy rut – I feel confined by the idea of “me” that I’ve settled on, and yet it’s almost impossible to shake.

But every now and then I get the opportunity to dress as someone else – then all bets are off.

CatwomanTardisMe in a Catwoman cosplay, attempting to take off with The TARDIS. You know Catwoman totally would.

Being a fan of pop culture, I’ve been attending what passes for a convention here in Australia for as long as there have been any conventions. It took me a couple of years of watching the cosplayers and building up my courage before I tried it myself, but from my very first cosplay, I was hooked.

Death CosplayMe as Death from the Neil Gaiman graphic novel series Sandman

The experience of cosplaying isn’t entirely sunshine, roses, and self expression – there are still a lot of people around who are quick to have a go if they think you’re too fat, too small in the bust, or too otherwise “unconvincing” as your chosen character. There are also those that think if you play your character well, it’s an invitation to behave inappropriately.

But on the whole, I have had more fun dressing up for cosplaying than I have dressing up for any other event – for the simple fact that it’s the only time I feel I have total freedom. I’m not dressing as “me,” so everything I’ve ever wanted to try is suddenly on the table. For example,  I put together a Catwoman costume a couple of years ago, that featured two things I would NEVER have considered wearing in public otherwise – thigh high spilts in my skirt, and heeled ankle boots. If I was dressing as “me”, these things would never get on my body because I feel like they’re probably too unflattering, even though there’s a part of me that’s always wanted to give them a shot anyway. But Catwoman wears them, and since I was dressed as Catwoman that day, the part of me that wanted to give them a shot was allowed to play.

CatwomanSultryMe in my interpretation of the late 60’s Catwoman costume

Cosplaying allows me the freedom to take apart the image I’ve constructed of “me,” and blend it together with things I’d like to try, what fits me, what I can afford, and what fits the character. This process of collage is enormous fun, and can have really exciting results.

There are so many different ways you can interpret the same character, and this process of interpretation and innovation is my favourite part of cosplaying. You can change a costume so it’s more suitable for your body type, or simpler so you can actually sew it. You can make it more or less revealing to suit your comfortableness with showing skin, and you can even change up a costume so it fits your gender rather than that of the original character. “Gender-bent” cosplay (cosplaying as an opposite gender version of a character, ie a female Batman) has become really huge in Sydney over the last couple of years, possibly because if you’re a woman, picking from a pool of male characters gives you WAY more variety. By stepping outside the traditional gender presentation of a character, “gender-bent” cosplay seems to really encourage people to just go nuts with the process of interpretation, and I think it’s brilliant. Let’s take, say, Captain America, who looks like this in the comics;

CaptainAmerica109Captain America #109 (Jan. 1969).
Cover art by Jack Kirby and Syd Shores.

Captain America can be cosplayed in a really femme, pinup sort of style, like this;

DSC_0105Cosplayer at Sydney Supanova 2014

Or in a more “accurate,” miltiaristic style like this;

FemmeCaptCosplayer at Sydney Supanova 2014

These are all recognisably the same character, but the cosplayers have adapted the original design to suit their different styles. It’s such a joyful experiment, taking all the elements of the character and mashing them together with your gender, budget, style, and shape, to make something totally unique.

For myself, I find the experimental delight doesn’t always wear off once the convention is over – once I’ve convinced myself to get something “outrageous” into my wardrobe, then I’m more likely to wear it again. For example, I’ve always wanted some brightly coloured wigs – I love the look of coloured hair, but I have a job where it’s not acceptable, so wigs seem like the perfect solution. Only I could never convince myself to actually take the step of getting any. But for my Borderlands Siren cosplay, I needed a pink and red wig to fit the character. Once I had that wig, I managed to convince myself to “get another wear out of it” at a party, and since then it’s officially become my “party hair.”

Pink HairMe cosplaying as a Siren from the video game Borderlands – this wig has now been worn so much I actually need to replace it

I’ve been trying to make a concious effort to translate more of the experimental aspects of cosplay into my everyday wardrobe recently, and while researching ideas I came across a wonderful project called Disneybound. It’s essentially a group of Disney fanatics putting together “everyday cosplay” – outfits that are an interpretation of a Disney character, but still subtle enough to pass in the street as just plain cute.

tumblr_n3bfebeH2p1qjir3uo1_1280Tumblr user thepathweshare cosplaying as Ariel from The Little Mermaid, via the DisneyBound tumblr

This is precisely the sort of subtle boundary pushing that I want to get better at, and cosplay is my favourite way (so far) of convincing myself to actually take a chance once in a while. What about you? Have you ever cosplayed? Would you try it in the future? Do you prefer full costume cosplaying, or the Disneybound route?


Photos of the author taken by the author

Captain America cover 109 by Jack Kirby and Syd Shores, image courtesy of Wikipedia

Photos of Sydney Supanova cosplayers taken with permission by the author – please contact us if you can assist us in naming these talented cosplayers

Ariel Disneybound outfit photo from thepathweshare tumblr, via the DisneyBound tumblr

_ _ _ _ _

The author of Reluctant Femme, Cassie is a queer thirty-something Australian who thinks too much, reads too much, and has way too many pretty things. Her writing revolves around exploring concepts of femme and femininity, feminism, and just how much glitter you really can fit into a polish before it’s unusable. You can catch up with her in shorter bursts on Twitter , look at pictures of her favourite pretty things on her Tumblr, and browse her shiny accessory creations at her Etsy store 

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4 Responses to “Cosplaying Confidence”

  1. Trystan L. Bass

    Welcome to my world! I discovered cosplay back when it was just called “costuming” in the late ’70s / early ’80s & never looked back. I’ve done recreation characters & original costumes, fantasy, media, & historical costumes, subtle & explicit cross-dressing, you name it. I can’t get enough 🙂 I even did a DisneyBound outfit last February –

    The rest of my costumes are at

    Yay for dressing up in crazy awesome anything! It’s an amazing ego boost & let’s you get outside your everyday self like nothing else really can. I often feel like I’m my better, higher self in some of my costumes, a more refined, essential me than in my workaday CorpGoth gear (even tho that’s very “me” it’s not as fully realized because I have to tone down certain things to fit into corporate culture). Costuming allows my creativity to fly free.

    Another bonus with historical costuming is that non-21st-century fashions don’t have the same body hangups. There’s no such thing as skinny jeans or spanx, & a properly fitted historical corset is more comfortable & flattering on a plus-size gal than a generic bra. Make your own costumes, & you’re released from vanity sizing too.

  2. Jennifer L.

    Awesome, I have friends who cosplay, but I never thought of it in terms of experimenting with fashion! I really like the everyday cosplaying idea too – just a little something extra that others might not even recognize but that makes you feel special and ‘dressed up’!

  3. Ginger

    This isn’t my thing, but I find that I do have events, at least once a year -Halloween, St. Patty’s day, Opening night, the Preakness, the Widder’s Ball- sometimes more often, where themed attire is needed.
    I have been know to check out Pinterest for ideas. If this kind of thing is a part of your life you are ahead if you own and can use a sewing machine. Overall I think it’s a good thing as it forces you to look over things with an eye to what they can be, not what they are.

  4. Carolyn @ At Least I Will

    Something I guess I (naively) didn’t expect the first time I cosplayed how to handle the attention I received. My costume was fairly obscure (Mara Jade from the Star Wars Expanded Universe) so a lot of people didn’t know who I was supposed to be. People would comment as I walked past that I must have been trying to be someone from Assassin’s Creed or something EVEN THOUGH I WAS CARRYING A LIGHT SABER. Yet, no one stopped me and asked who I was. And I didn’t have the courage to stop them and correct them.

    My point is that when you cosplay, especially as a woman, you not only need to be your character, you need to stand up for it. Whatever your reasons for choosing that character or how you interpret the character, you don’t need to justify it. Explain it maybe, but no one else’s opinion matters but your own.