Keep cons safe and fun for everyone!
I have a confession to make: I was once that critical cosplay douche-bag; the one who tut-tutted at improperly sewn Star Trek uniforms and unfinished Doctor Whos. One of the reasons I fought against cosplaying for so long was that I didn't think I could recreate the characters well enough, and didn’t see the point in doing so if I couldn’t. I wanted perfection, to embody the characters I loved as closely as humanly possible: which, as it turns out, is a nigh impossible ideal and not the point of cosplay.
Cosplay is a celebration of the things we love, by shedding our everyday appearance and taking on a new look and/or persona. It's an excuse to dress up, a great way to spend a day and so much more. Cosplay has become a time-honoured tradition that emboldens the shy and socially awkward to become someone unburdened by those stigmas or fears. It’s a way to step outside of yourself, be someone different for a while. That being said, the reasons behind cosplay are as unique and varied as the individuals who participate, so don’t assume any of the aforementioned apply to the next cosplayer you meet. You can, however, keep these etiquette tips in mind for upcoming conventions.
First and foremost… Don't be a dick. It’s Wheaton’s Law, and it’s a good one. Every one of the following tips branches off from this rule, but it’s good to start off broadly. Don’t be rude, crass or mean to people you’ve just met, whether they’re cosplaying or not. That’s just a good approach to life in general!
Cosplay is not consent. They may be dressed like characters you love (or to be very candid, have fantasized about), but that doesn't mean they're your fantasy come to life. They're people that you don't know, so be friendly but not familiar. They’re at the convention to enjoy themselves and don’t owe anyone anything for having dressed up as a particular character.
Respect people, their space and their costumes. Don’t invade someone’s personal space and don’t touch them or their costumes. They probably spent a lot of time and energy putting everything together, so be nice and look with your eyes, not with your hands. Beyond the inappropriateness of touching a stranger without their consent, some costumes have very fragile pieces that can break easily if mishandled. Gender bending costumes have become more popular, but they shouldn’t impact how you approach that cosplayer. Respect is respect, regardless of gender; so don’t be any more forward towards a man cosplaying a female character or vice versa.
Ask before taking a photo . This seems simple but is often overlooked. Keeping in mind that some costumes can limit vision, move into the cosplayer’s line of sight and get their attention verbally by politely asking them to take a photo. Most cosplayers are more than happy to have their photo taken, especially if they have specific poses for the character, but if they say no, respect that and move on. They might be in a rush, need to fix part of their costume or just might not feel like it. That’s ok, and there’s lots more to see at the show so don’t take it personally. Remember to take timing into account: don’t approach a cosplayer for a photo who is on their way into the bathroom or eating lunch. More importantly, don’t take sneaky far-away or backside photos of cosplayers. That’s just creepy.
Keep it brief and on topic. Connecting with a cosplayer over a shared interest is great! But bear in mind that they’ve probably been stopped dozens of times before they met you. Be polite, watch for signs they’d like to move on, and don’t get offended if you’re interrupted by other fans who would like to take photos.
Don't offer unsolicited advice. Not everyone who is guilty of this is trying to be mean. In fact, most probably think they’re helping, but as my good friend Sunny says, “Unsolicited advice is always unsolicited.” You may think you’re being helpful when you tell a female cosplayer that her skirt is a little too short (even though its screen accurate, but more importantly, absolutely none of your business) but you're not. You're pointing out something that a) she may already be paranoid about as cosplaying can be a way to step outside your comfort zone and wear/act a way you wouldn't normally, b) could make her self-conscious instead of self-assured in her cosplay, neither of which are great options. On top of that, you’ll probably just come across as creepy or a dick because, once again, it’s none of your business. If you absolutely must give someone advice about their costume, ask yourself whether it’s complimentary, a legitimate question or suggestion about their process, and worth potentially upsetting a stranger. In the unlikely event that the answer to all those questions is “Yes,” ask them if they mind talking about their costume first before providing them with feedback.
If you see something, say something. Security at conventions can’t catch everything that goes on, so if you see someone being harassed, either find a security guard or convention representative to help, or if you feel comfortable doing so, say something. Ask the cosplayer if they’re uncomfortable and if they would like assistance. Don’t be aggressive and try to resolve the situation calmly. It takes a community to make a safe space.
Conventions and cosplaying are supposed to be fun, and taking a moment to think before you act, ensures they stay that way for everyone. Happy costuming my friends!