My friend Mindy and I have a tradition: on the drive home after the Las Vegas Star Trek convention, we decide on next year’s costume. It usually needs a few hours of debate because we take our dress-up games very seriously. By the end of the drive, we (usually) have a plan. And one year in which to accomplish it.
Here are some of the questions to ask yourself when deciding what to do for a cosplay.
What character or idea do you like?
Cosplays are most effective when you’re sharing something you love. That could be a specific character from a specific episode. I remember helping a young girl dress like Janeway from “Bride of Chaotica!.” I had asked my new friend what she wanted to be for Halloween, and she looked sheepish as she responded “You won’t know what it is. And my mom thinks I shouldn’t do it.”
“Try me,” I said.
“… Queen of the Spider People!” I said, completing the sentence with her. It was such a joy to see her eyes light up as we got her dressed up as a favorite character. Her mom learned a lesson that day.
But you don’t have to blindly copy another person’s costume design. Come up with your own ideas and variations. One of my favorites I’ve done is “Stuck in Transport” – with an insanely glittery DS9/Voyager Starfleet uniform, accented with Christmas lights and sound effects.
The point is to choose something that makes you smile. It’s your time and money, so you might as well put a little heart into it, too.
What is the desired effect?
Do you want to “Wow” people? Maybe group cosplay. Not only is it more fun to be with a group of cosplayers, you look more impressive when you’re all together. Or do a costume that may have never actually been on an actor. Striking versions of non-human characters like a Tholian or Species 8472 were recent winners in the Star Trek Las Vegas Cosplay Contest.
Seeking friends who share your particular geekitude? Do a super-specific costume from an episode you love, that only those who know/love that episode will ever recognize.
Want people to take your picture? Do something easily recognizable, but not seen in every episode. The Borg or Klingons, for example. Probably best not to dress in a regular Starfleet uniform, unless you’re in a group cosplay. Also, costume construction should be top-notch, or the costume idea super-clever.
Thinking about messing around with friends? Try a couple’s costume, or a group costume.
If you don’t care what anyone else thinks, then do whatever you want! However, there will be other people there, so it’s only polite to think of them. Keep it appropriate for the expected audience, particularly if there will be children around. Also, if it’s really crowded, a large, unwieldly cosplay may be a safety hazard if you don’t plan accordingly.
Myself, I like to make people laugh and put a little bit of story in the costume itself. So, I do things like the DS9 wormhole that appears and disappears from the skirt or the Star Trek/Star Wars crossover, Darth Borg.
Building or buying? What’s your budget in time and money?
These questions are closely connected. The more time you have, the more you can shop around and get good deals. The more creative you are in building, the less money you’ll pay someone else to make a thing.
You don’t have to sew to cosplay. There are good resources for reproduction costumes online. Anovos is the highest-quality, costs more and takes a bit more time. Poke around Google to find other resources of mid-range quality. If you’re short on time or money, there are mass-produced Starfleet costumes available online. The fabric and fit on these costumes is not the best, but will work if your goal is simply to have a good time cosplaying.
You can commission costumes from seamstresses near you. The advantage is the person building your costume can measure you and have you come in for fittings during the construction process, so the costume fits you well. You’ll also have more input/advice on material choices. It can take several weeks to months to have specialized clothing constructed, so this option only works if you have time.
Some cosplays can be pieced together from off-the-rack items. For instance, my DS9/Voyager Starfleet costume’s grey undershirt is a men’s workout shirt I bought on clearance. Some episodes take place during the 20th and 21st centuries, like TOS’s “A Piece of the Action” and Voyager’s “Future’s End.” For these cosplays, buy clothing that closely resembles the screen-used costumes. You can find items at secondhand stores, like water guns or audiotape cases, that with a bit of paint can become laser guns and Starfleet medical totes. Creativity and time allow for a wider variety in your cosplays without having to spend a lot of money.
If you're building, what is your skill level in designing and constructing?
If you choose a cosplay within your skill level, you’re more likely to achieve the desired effect with the final product, and so will be able to build upon success. However, sewing is not rocket science. Just start doing it. There is almost no sewing mistake that can’t be fixed. You may spend a lot of time unpicking at first, but don’t stress about that. Start simple, with something like a TOS officer’s shirt. You’re not going to be making Dax’s wedding dress right off the bat.
If you’re not sure if your cosplay idea is within your skill level, talk to cosplaying friends for their advice. Then go ahead and give it a try. If you get in over your head, you’ll learn a whole lot. There’s really nothing to lose. It’s just playing dress-up.