One of my favorite baseball games of the year to attend is the Detroit Tigers’ annual Star Wars Night which features members of fan clubs in movie accurate costumes interacting with people at the ballpark. Costumes aren’t just for Halloween fun anymore as people engaging in “Cosplay” has become a popular activity taking place throughout the year. There are many opportunities now to take a road trip or fly off on vacations which revolve around cosplay experiences. With this in mind, I spoke with three avid cosplay enthusiasts about the best ways for someone to get into character.
WHAT IS COSPLAY?
Gerald Weiss is a proud member of The Finest, a G.I. JOE themed costumed club, inspired by the Hasbro action figures that were popular toys in the 1980s, which has hundreds of members spread out across the United States, Canada, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. He and his son also like to dress up as their favorite super heroes and villains at comic conventions and pop culture exhibitions as well. “Cosplay is short for Costume Play,” Weiss said. “It is essentially taking your favorite character from any genre, video game, anime or toy line and bringing that character to life.”
Weiss, along with his fellow cosplay members of The Finest, focus on trying to make a positive difference in the world while having a good time. They build and wear highly-detailed costumes and props at conventions and other events to promote interest in the G.I. JOE brand to help make an occasion more interesting and support charitable causes. “We’ve raised over $45,000 for veterans’ charities since 2014,” he remarked.
Michael May is a member of the Michigan Chapter (also known as the Great Lakes Garrison) of the 501st Legion, a global Star Wars costuming club with over 12,000 active members living in more than 60 countries. According to May, members must be over 18 years old, have a movie accurate costume of a Stormtrooper or other Imperial character from the films to wear, and participate in at least one event per year in a club approved outfit. The 501st Legion is a volunteer organization that doesn’t charge for appearances but does encourage donations to charities such as Make-A-Wish, Gilda’s Club, and the Humane Society by organizers at the events they attend. “The characters we portray are the bad guys in the Star Wars movies,” May said. “We take pride in being known as the Bad Guys who Do Good!”
Members of fan clubs such as The Finest and the 501st Legion don’t buy their costumes. They actually create them, which for many people is a big part of the enjoyment of cosplay. “I find building my costume is half the fun and wearing it is the other half,” May remarked. “I also like to see how others build and the techniques they use in creating costumes which shows their passion for the character they are portraying.”
“Sewing, creating, fabricating and putting together a completely recognizable costume is very exciting,” Weiss expressed. “I love the challenge of creating a costume and when someone asks to have their picture taken with you that is the ultimate compliment.”
Both May and Weiss agreed that it is entertaining to take on the personality of a character they are portraying and also exciting to interact with people while in costume. Especially when it comes to children seeing these characters brought to life. “The reward of all the work you put into a costume is seeing the look of excitement on children’s faces when they see you in it,” Weiss reflected regarding his cosplay hobby.
“The most exciting and also often the hardest events I’ve participated in are a Children’s Hospital visits,” May noted. “It always amazes me when I walk into a sick child’s room in full Stormtrooper gear that regardless of the illness, he or she always perks up during the visit and forgets they are in the hospital for a moment in time. I am sure I’m not the only member of the 501st who has lost their composure a little hidden inside their bucket (stormtrooper helmet) during some of these visits.”
You don’t have to be a member of a fan club to enjoy a cosplay experience. More and more people are crafting costumes to wear for a variety of occasions including fun runs, book releases, movie showings, themed parties and pop culture conventions, among other special events. Scotty Schrier for example has his whole family dress up every year to attend MegaCon in Orlando, Florida in costumes they create themselves. Each year, this event attracts over 100,000 attendees, many in cosplay, for a four-day extravaganza about comics, sci-fi, horror, anime and gaming. You can check out many of Schrier’s MegaCon pictures on his Instagram account.
Schrier believes that more and more people are joining in on cosplay activities because they are seeing others having fun doing it through pictures posted on websites and through online social media. “You see pictures of some really impressive costumes and that inspires people to go out and create their own,” he said. “Also, the escapism aspect of pretending to be a fantastic character can be really attractive. Sometimes the world can be a little too much and you just need to get away from it for awhile.”
TIPS FOR COSPLAY BEGINNERS
Weiss, May and Schrier all agree that putting in time doing research before you begin working on a cosplay outfit is their number one tip for beginners. “Do as much research as you can,” Weiss recommends. “Collect pictures, buy toys, and visit resources like Pinterest and Youtube to help plan and design the most accurate look of what you want to replicate. Beware though that challenging yourself to make a costume identical to the subject matter you’ve researched becomes extremely addictive.”
“Making a very accurate costume can be much more expensive than many people initially expect,” May mentioned. “Create a budget and try to stick to it but don’t be surprised if the cost gets to be a bit higher as you make alterations and improvements. That is why researching everything you want to do is important before you start sinking money into a project.”
“Having an incredibly detailed costume though makes the money, sweat, and time you invest into it well worth the investment,” May added. “Don’t feel like you have to create an expensive outfit though to have a good time. Rather, focus on creating and wearing something you can actually afford and enjoy.”
“Make sure to create a costume that is COMFORTABLE to wear,” Schrier recommended. “I saw a guy dressed as Game of Throne’s Jon Snow rocking a giant fur cape and big wig at MegaCon who was having some serious heat and dehydration issues because that was a very hot costume to be wearing in Florida during the month of May.”
COSPLAY TRAVEL TIPS
“Plan ahead!” Schrier urges. “Know every aspect of your costume inside and out so you can easily check it for damage while out and about. Bring along extra supplies to assist with repairs in case your costume is damaged while traveling or at your destination.”
“Most conventions have an area that is set up for cosplayers to go and touch up makeup or get something fixed,” he continued. “Many of these setups provide this service for free, but make sure to have a few bucks on hand to tip them as that money usually goes back into buying more supplies for this costume triage area.”
“Know convention rules when it comes to replica weapons and other costume accessories before you go,” urges Weiss. “You don’t want to have a major part of your costume missing because it is prohibited from being brought into a place. Also, if your character uses some form of weaponry that may look realistic, make sure to have it properly packed away when traveling so it isn’t mistaken for the real thing by someone.”
“Make sure you are realistic about the storage space you need for transporting your costume,” May mentioned. “My costumes are stored in a 55-gallon rolling work box so storage space is a must. Sometimes creative packing is a necessity especially when it comes to flying across the country to attend an event. Don’t just think you can pack and go. Pre-planning when it comes to traveling with a costume can save a lot of headaches.”
COSPLAY IS ABOUT HAVING FUN
May also wanted to emphasize having fun when it comes to cosplay. “Just have fun!” he said. “No matter what level your costume is or where you are wearing it, have fun. Wherever I go with the 501st people yell ‘Oh look! Stormtroopers!’ It makes me feel like a rock star! Having fun is really what this is all about.”
And while cosplay makes wearing costumes fun beyond just Halloween it can also contribute to making that day extra special too. Schrier notes that his sons wanted him to be a character to go along with their store-bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles costumes one Halloween. The Master Splinter costume he made himself, to go out trick or treating with them, Schrier proclaimed as one of his proudest cosplay achievements.