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"Con"-ventional Rules for Being on Your Best Cosplay Behavior

There's enough fun to go around for everyone if we all follow these simple guidelines!

Photos of Star Trek cosplayers are arranged against a purple background.

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This article was originally published on July 13, 2019.

Cosplaying at conventions is tons of fun for many fans, but we’ve all heard about the occasional problems as well. Fortunately, there are guidelines that all convention attendees can follow while cosplaying and spectating that will keep the personal interactions pleasant for all involved!

The rules can be summed up neatly by remembering one simple thing: 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 Convention Attendees

  • Cosplay is not consent. 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 explicitly say “Yes” to your request, that means “No.”
  • In general, don’t take photos of a cosplayer that you wouldn’t take of your grandma. Don't take any risque shots of a person without their explicit 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, you should do a pose too.
  • Consider your timing. If the cosplayer is eating, drinking, talking on the phone, in the bathroom, sitting looking tired, or dealing with a wardrobe malfunction then they’re not “in character” and probably don’t want a picture taken of them.
  • Don’t be a jerk. If it’s not kind, don’t say it or do it. And remember 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 of introducing 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 having latex on your head doesn’t give you the right to do the same.
  • Celebrate, but 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • When people are photographing you, be sure to keep walkways clear. Don’t clog up an artist’s or vendor’s booth space. Know that you might not get pictures back from every attendee who snaps a shot of you. And if you want to leave a photo or group, you can take advantage of your character and say something like, “I’m a doctor, not a model,” “The Captain just called me to the bridge,” or “Time for me to regenerate.”
  • When people are taking a picture with you remember that 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.

Remember, kindness counts. It makes it more fun to play dress up.

Brooke Wilkins 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 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.