Halloween Is Not About Cosplay
I remember what happened like it was yesterday. I’d decided to up my cosplay game and even enter a couple of Halloween costume contests. That year, I decided to cosplay Hellboy. I sat in my living room for 2 weeks with a block of green plant Styrofoam, carving it into the forearm of the Right Hand of Doom. I wanted the fingers to move, so I fashioned a glove with individual pieces of Styrofoam attached to it. I made little Styrofoam discs to glue on my face. I taught myself about spirit gum. I hand-painted the hand cuz I wasn’t that hip to spray paint yet. Then I learned how to paint my face and how adhesives don't work on pained skin. My initial cosplay was based on the female version of Hellboy I’d seen Riddle cosplay, so I wore a plaid skirt and tank top. I even picked up a real cigar.
The day of the contest, I woke up 2 hours early to get dressed. I looked great. I felt great. Everything was great. Then I went to work and nobody knew who I was. I entered he cosplay contest and lost to a man dressed as Mrs. Claus and a guy dressed as a pimp, complete with dollar store accessories and a huge, phallic plastic cigar. In addition to that, I had less votes than someone who hadn’t even entered the contest - a white guy who put on a huge afro wig for shits and giggles. Apparently, people voted for him cuz he was funny.
Did I mention that nobody, and I mean NOBODY knew who HellBoy was, even though the movie was out 2 months prior. But that’s cool. I was angry but I rolled with it. I went to another Halloween party that night, where, again, nobody knew who I was. I was a “random demon” or a “red school girl.” Whatever. I chalked that up to my poor clothing choice and me being in the wrong crowd.
The next year, I wrangled an invitation to a Halloween party at a local cosplayer’s house. I just KNEW that there would be some fantastic costumes there. I donned a revamped version of my Hellboy cosplay, this time movie accurate. Big gun, trench coat, yellow and red contacts…I looked amazing. I got there and the host was wearing pony ears and rainbow legwarmers. Another person I knew from DragonCon had on a Green Lantern bathrobe…he was casual Guy Gardner. There was a pirate. Some witches. Some pajama onesies. And me, fully decked out and completely over-dressed in my Hellboy outfit.
That was the last time I went all out for Halloween.
A couple of years back, I went to a Halloween party with another cosplayer friend. I decided to make up some silly costume with inflatable wings and a cute multi-color wig I’d bought impulsively. She decided to wear her Guild Wars 2 armor set she’d made. I warned her not to go all out, but she wanted a reason to finish the armor, so I let it go. Needless to say, she felt extremely overdressed and unnecessarily uncomfortable as the party turnout was…less than stellar. Regardless, she made the best of it and decided that Halloween was not about cosplay.
I’ve spoken with many cosplayers and almost everyone has some version of this experience. They’ve either overdressed for a party, pulling out all the stops with their cosplay – full armor, face paint, contacts, props, and accessories only to find that everyone is wearing something simple and very low-key. Or they wore something fandom specific only to have people call them everything except what they dressed as, even after giving them the correct character or name. Because I’m not a quitter, I tried various environments to see if Halloween was the diet Coke of cosplay and I can say, unless explicitly stated otherwise, it is. Halloween is the “dial it in” cosplay event. And while I do have some “dial it in” cosplay, even that is a little too much for Halloween, because cosplay is about more than dressing up. It’s about expressing a love of a fandom in a tangible and visible way. Even if the costume is simple, it references a specific property that resonated with you and this is your homage to that property. And while fandom is not exclusive to geek spaces, cosplay is. In a lot of cases, people seek out geek spaces specifically to cosplay; it feels safer to do it in those spaces. Plus, it feels kinda crappy to be the only Hellboy in a sea of sexy cops, sexy nurses, sexy maids, sexy M&Ms, sexy ketchup bottles, sexy goldfish, sexy corn on the cob…you get the idea. Sexy. Sexy everything. And I felt invisible.
A lot of cosplay is about attention. If any cosplayer says this isn’t part of why they engage in this hobby, they are full of shit. It’s not the ONLY reason, but it’s part of it. And while that attention may be from the one person who gets your cosplay, it still someone who gets that part of you. Almost every cosplay I’ve done at a convention was months of thought. Months of planning. They aren’t all the same amount of effort, but there was a plan in place and sometimes those plans are years in the making…To go to work or a party and realize you didn’t need to put in the effort you did? That’s a lot. So, I don’t. Not anymore.
Now my Halloweens are low key. I still dress up, but the costume is light. I may experiment with new materials, make something out of puffy paint, play around with face paint and contacts. Or I might wear all black and buy a $5 witch hat that won’t stay on my head. It may be fandom related or it may not. But it definitely won’t have the gravitas of my convention cosplay. Halloween ain’t quite right for all that.