My Not-So-Secret Life as an Amateur Cosplayer

jen cosplay feature
Copyright Jen Pruitt

I was recently showing off some of my cosplaying photos, and someone made a comment of “not really expecting me to be into that.” I wasn’t offended; I understood what he meant. My normal everyday clothes are not particularly flashy. I’m not really into makeup. But for some reason, give me an excuse to dress up in a costume, and I am all over it.

I think the love for costumes starts in childhood, and especially with Halloween. You get to dress up as a princess, as a ballerina, as a witch, and then people give you candy. Best day ever! I remember dressing up as a witch in elementary school and my mom letting me spray my hair green. It turned the inside of my witch hat green too, and I’m sure my mom regretted her decision. But I thought it was completely awesome.

When I was a few years older, I got to attend the Texas Renaissance Festival with my best friend and her family. We were in middle school, and just starting to discover the books of Terry Brooks, David Eddings, and J.R.R. Tolkien. We decided we wanted to go in costume, and my friend and I put together the costumes with her mom’s help. We weren’t trying to look like any one character, just “general fantasy character.” My tunic was made out of burlap cloth, which was worn over a turtleneck and several pairs of leggings. My “boots” were black Keds with the white parts darkened with a Sharpie and with strips of leather covering the tops of them and then going up my legs.

Our costumes looked so good that people assumed were worked at the Festival and would come up to up and ask us where the restrooms were. This was the early ’90s, so there probably weren’t as many guests that dress up as there are now. Now you can rent costumes right outside the front gate of the Festival. We thought being mistaken for the workers was so cool. Another costume-related incident that would give me and my friend the giggles: an actual worker coming up to her, taking her rabbit-fur pouch in his hands, and exclaiming, “Fluffy! What have you done to Fluffy!”

In high school, I was in theatre all four years. Oh yeah, the girl who could barely speak in front of a class did theatre. Actually, I loved theatre. I was perfectly fine as long as I couldn’t see the faces of the audience. And I’m great at memorizing lines. In theatre I learned how to do stage makeup, which is part of why I have an aversion to makeup to this day. I live in fear that if I try to wear makeup I will cake it on like stage makeup and look like a clown. Also, at my high school, we–NO JOKE–used Crisco to remove stage makeup. Something about having to use Crisco to take makeup made me not want to wear makeup at all.

In theatre I learned how to sit in a hoop skirt. I learned about different costume styles when I helped another student organize the entire costume closet according to time period. I dressed up as everything from a hippie to a USO show dancer to a baby spider.

Some time after college, I moved to San Diego, and was fortunate enough to go to San Diego Comic-Con. There I discovered the true awesomeness that is cosplay. Cosplay, in case you’ve never heard of it, is a contraction of the words “costume” and “play.” People were dressing up as their favorite video game or movie characters, and it wasn’t even Halloween. Even better were mash-ups, where a single costume combined two or more characters.

The next day, I desperately wanted to dress up, but what costume could I put together in no time flat? I brainstormed with my then-boyfriend-now-husband. We were both very into watching anime at the time, and I had a white button down shirt and a plaid skirt that could be turned into a generic anime school girl costume. I added white knee-high socks, ribbons in my hair, and a matching bag to complete the look. I wasn’t trying to look like a specific character; I just wanted to look like I could be an anime character. And it worked! I was thrilled when I overheard two people asking each other what character I was. I got what I was going for.

Several years and several cross-country moves later, my husband and I found ourselves back in Southern California. A new anime convention was being held at the Anaheim convention center and we went to check it out. As people who had been to the LAX anime convention in Los Angeles several times, we were disappointed in the size of the convention in Anaheim. The expo floor was tiny, but it was there I found a delightful seller of cosplay pinafores. The seller is Darling Army and I was immediately drawn to her booth of cute aprons displaying various geek designs. There were so many to choose from! But when I saw the one with the Heartless symbol from the video game Kingdom Hearts, I knew I had to have that one, even if I didn’t quite know what to do with it.

After talking to the seller, who suggested adding a corset underneath and tights and some sort of head wear, I had the beginnings of a costume. I knitted myself some lacy arm-warmers, added a red wig, and a fascinator, and had a costume that could be described as Heartless Lolita. It’s not instantly recognizable if you don’t know the symbol is from Kingdom Hearts, but I get positive reactions from other Kingdom Hearts fans when I wear. I’ve taken to calling my costume “Pretty Heartless.”

After buying that apron, I definitely had the cosplay bug. The next time I found myself at San Diego Comic-Con, I found a wonderful booth for Pendragon Costumes.  They create quality costumes, and have a wide range, from Renaissance to Sci-Fi to Fantasy to Steampunk to Neo-Victorian. I found a green steampunk dress and thought of so many ideas for costumes I knew I had to buy it: Steampunk Louise from Bob’s Burgers, Steampunk Ariel, Steampunk Poison Ivy!

Steampunk Louise from Bob’s Burgers was the first costume I put together using my green dress. I found the iconic pink bunny ear hat on Etsy and added some steampunk accessories like goggles, earrings made from gears, and a steampunk choker.  I found some fun ketchup and mustard bottles from a magic shop that shoot strings when squeezed. I wore the one-of-a kind costume to Nerdtacular, a convention in Utah that celebrates the Frogpants podcast network community. I entered the costume contest and even won third place!  I wore it again a few weeks later at San Diego Comic-Con.

The following year we attended Nerdtacular again, and that year I decided to go as Steampunk Ariel. I only wore the skirt part and for the top I wore the top half of an Ariel bikini over a tan bodysuit with a brown corset. My accessories included an Ariel wig, steampunk earrings, and steampunk hat. That year I also had a new accessory–my three-month son in a Flounder costume.

Now that I have my son, I’ve been doing a lot more thinking of family cosplay. I think he’d make a cute Captain Mal from Firefly, or maybe one of the Doctors from Doctor Who. I’m sure at some point he will roll his eye at me, and not want to dress up, but for now, I’m going to start looking for the geekiest toddler costumes I can find. And if I can’t find what I’m looking for, I imagine I’ll be able to throw something together to get the look I’m going for.