Cosplay, Conformity, and Funky Tights

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Rebecca Angel and nieces with their tights! Image by Rebecca Angel

I recently attended a local con and thought about cosplaying, but ultimately rejected the idea because the attendees were mostly college-age, and I felt…awkward. I’m stepping towards forty. Maybe if my daughter had joined me, but she wasn’t feeling it (despite having an adorable hand-made Totoro costume.)

When I first got into the fandom scene, I was a young mom excited to find a group of people just as geeky as I was, and my kids were happy to go along for the ride. My first time cosplaying was with a Yoruichi outfit my own mother helped me create. I had such a good time posing for pictures and hugging other Bleach characters I met. I was proud of the outfit, I looked good, and was part of something bigger than ordinary life. Even if just for the day.

Something changed as we all got older, and I’m still trying to figure it out. When my kids became teenagers, I tried to balance not embarrassing them with modeling the behavior to always be yourself. Is there an age when cosplay is not appropriate? Or just not visually appealing? Does this have to do with being conscious about getting older in a young fan scene, or about my body not looking like a magazine cover?

I admire the women who couldn’t care less, and let it all hang out, but I’m not one of them. But do I want to be? What cosplay would I feel comfortable with? And what does my “normal” clothing say about me?

Several years ago, a friend of mine got me an interview at her work. She bluntly stated what kind of clothes I should wear, instead of the usual jeans and anime t-shirt. Although I had been planning on dressing “nicer,” I was annoyed that I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. Another geek friend advised me to think of it as a costume for a role. That made it more fun. And I got the job.

All of us dress in costume to fit in, or stand out, depending on what role we are playing. Looking at billboards, watching TV, and reading magazines tells us what costume is expected. That’s why I find it ridiculous when regular folks laugh or put down cosplayers. When I really think about it, I’ve always been cosplaying.

Before my late teens, I wore what my mom bought for me because it fit and was usually clean. She liked the “Upper Middle Class Child” look. Then senior year in high school I realized that I didn’t have much time left to exercise my “get out of normal free” card that society gives teenagers. I went somewhat goth since that was the mode of dress at the dance clubs I frequented in the early ’90s. Showing a lot of skin was also acceptable. It wasn’t so much rebellion as conforming to a different group.

Suddenly I was a teen mom, and tried to fit in with other moms by looking like them: mono-tone nursing shirts, flower dresses, sensible shoes. Yet another costume. Amusingly, it was my mom that visited and dragged me shopping to buy a couple of pairs of pants that were form fitting, stating that I was young and pretty and should show it off! I wore them when I started performing at open mics. The “Sexy Musician” role.

A few years after that I attended my first con and felt so BORING. I realized I had some more interesting clothing I could wear, and still be on the tamer side of this crowd. The next con I had fun with weird outfits. The following year was my Yoruichi cosplay. Then a steampunk year. Always something different from my everyday.

Except recently. Maybe I’m having an identity crisis, and if I don’t know what role I’m playing, how do I know what costume to wear? I’m talking about both at cons and in everyday life. For the first time, I want to express who I really am, not dress up just to fit in. But what does that mean?

Looking back over the years of costumes, the only common thread is tights: My favorite part of being goth was the fishnets and lacy stockings I found to wear with skirts and ripped jeans. I fell in love with Hanna Andersson‘s bright striped wool tights while doing the “mom” role (they don’t sell adult tights anymore–darn). I have purchased a dozen or so funky tights from a shop in Penn Station, NYC, that I wear at cons, on stage as a musician, and on happy days. 🙂

This past Halloween, my older sister decided she wanted to be She-Ra Princess of Power, and our mother created a fantastic costume for her. I am toying with the idea of borrowing it to wear at ConnectiCon over the summer. Am I just conforming again? Only older people who grew up with ’80s cartoons will even recognize me. I like that thought. I’m not trying to fit in with the younger crowd; I’m having fun with childhood memories. Both my kids told me they really don’t care either way. (And my daughter said she might break out her Totoro…)

Or maybe I’ll just wear my favorite funky tights.

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