Cosplaying at conventions is tons of fun for many, many fans, but we’ve all heard about the occasional problems as well. Fortunately, there are guidelines we can all follow while cosplaying at conventions that will keep the personal interactions pleasant for all involved and keep the problems to a minimum.
The rules can be summed up neatly by paraphrasing Wil Wheaton, “Don’t be a jerk.” Remember: a costume may cover a body, but it reveals a soul. So be kind to other people’s souls. Cosplay is not a competition — except in the competitions. Cosplay is play! We’re all just pretending here. The person in the costume or behind the camera is more important than the costume or camera.
The Ten Commandments of Cosplay Etiquette
All persons, whether great or small, costumed or non-costumed, veteran fan or newbie, shall observe with diligence these guidelines:
- Thou shalt shower, brush your teeth and wear deodorant. No one wants to actually smell a Klingon.
- Thou shalt not judge or be a hater.
- Thou shalt celebrate each other’s efforts and successes in costuming and photography.
- Thou shalt ask permission to touch anything - any person, including any person’s shoulder, or any person’s waist, or any person’s skin or any part of that person, or any person’s costume or prop. Even if the person is an Orion.
- Thou shalt not touch anything without explicit permission - any person, including any person’s shoulder, or any person’s waist, or any person’s skin or any part of that person, or any person’s costume or prop. Even if the person is an Orion.
- Thou shalt not take pictures of children without parental consent, and thou shalt not behave in an intrusive, rude or scary way toward or around children.
- Thou shalt be aware of thy step and shalt not step on costumes or bump people with thy extra-large costume or prop.
- Thou shalt be aware of people taking photos and shall not get in their way, or block artists’ and vendors’ booths with your own photographing behavior.
- Thou shalt remain hydrated.
- Thou shalt appropriately report problems to convention staff.
Guidelines for Photographers and Other Conventioneers
- Cosplay is not consent
- No touchy!!! Do not touch a cosplayer’s body, costume or prop. Ask before you put an arm around a waist or shoulders.
- If they don’t say “Yes” it means “No.”
- In general, don’t take photos of a cosplayer that you wouldn’t take of your grandma. If you want to uh - tilt the camera - ask if it’s ok. Basically, no panty or cleavage shots without permission.
- Ask permission to take pictures. Get your camera ready to take a picture before you ask to avoid wasting time. Make eye contact while asking to take their picture.
- Play with a cosplayer. If you’re in the picture with them, do a pose too: an action pose, thumbs up, peace sign, LLAP, hands in pocket, on hips, stuff like that.
- Consider your timing. If the cosplayer is eating, drinking, talking on the phone, in the bathroom, sitting looking tired, walking really fast, dealing with a wardrobe malfunction - they’re not “in character” and probably don’t want a picture taken of them. Wait until they’re done. BUT don’t be a stalker.
- Don’t be a jerk. If it’s not kind, don’t say it or do it. A cosplayer is not their character, so don’t treat a person playing your disfavored characters like you treat your disfavored characters, even if you think it’s a playful joke. Remember also that a cosplayer is not a puppet required to do what you demand.
- Don’t be a stalker. Don’t monopolize a cosplayer’s time or hang around at a distance looking at a cosplayer.
Guidelines for Those in Costume
- Represent your fandom. Don’t be upset with people who don’t know your character. Share the joy you find in the character instead. You have the honor to introduce someone to something you love.
- Know your character. Have fun being like the character, but remember you are not the character. Some things your character does are not appropriate to do at a convention. Klingons may find it glorious to headbutt an opponent, but the fact you have latex on your head doesn’t give you the right to do the same.
- Celebrate - don’t compete. Don’t mind if other people are in the same character as you, have fun with it. Don’t offer advice on someone else’s costume unless you’re asked for it. Ignore the haters. Allow all people their feelings, whatever they are. Here’s a subtle “competitive” thing: if a larger actor expresses some discomfort at playing a smaller character, allow the actor that feeling - it’s valid. You don’t need to bombard him or her with overly positive messages about “do whatever you want.”
- Your costume is awesome. But not to the people that it’s bugging. Try not to let your makeup rub off on to other people or furniture. If you’re in makeup, be extra careful of the “No touchy” rule. With wings or big costumes, have someone to help you and others around you so no one gets hurt. Your weapon or extra-large prop does not deserve its own seat.
- Use your own skin color for human characters. Changing your skin color to portray an Orion or Andorian is necessary. It is not necessary to change your skin color to play a human. You are human.
- When people are photographing you
- Keep walkways clear. Don’t clog up an artist’s or vendor’s booth space.
- Hide your name badge as best you can.
- Come up with as many poses as you can.
- Don’t expect pictures.
- You’re dressed up so people will look at you, so don’t be a jerk when people look at you.
- If you want to leave a photo or group, you can take advantage of your character: “I’m a doctor, not a model.” “The Captain just called me to the bridge.” “Time for me to regenerate.”
- When people are taking a picture with you
- You are not obligated to do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.
- Feel free to move their hands away from you or to a different place.
- Try not to freak out if someone does touch you in a way that is generally considered socially acceptable - for instance, shoulders, forearms etc.
Remember, kindness counts. It makes it more fun to play dress up.
Brooke Wilkins is a professional costumer at Evermore Park, a soon-to-open immersive story living experience, populated by dwarves, satyrs, fairies and other mythical creatures, where guests to the park can participate in the story happening around them. She is a Utah-based costumer, designing and constructing for 40-plus productions including Arsenic and Old Lace, A Christmas Carol and The Little Mermaid. She recently created motion-capture suits that don’t look like motion-capture suits to be used as part of a live VR technology demo. Brooke runs Garak’s Tailor Shop at Star Trek Las Vegas. When not creating costumes professionally, Brooke creates them for her own amusement and enjoys cosplaying at conventions, parties and at home with her nieces and nephews.