Capes. Bright colors. Symbols. Spandex.
Superhero costumes are ingrained into our cultural landscape, as much a part of pop art as Campbell’s Soup and spray paint stencils. They’re designed to be eye-catching and memorable, and for a comics fan interested in cosplay, they’re irresistible.
Cosplay, in case you don’t speak geek, is short for “costume play” and refers to the activity of making and wearing costumes, usually based on fictional characters or otherwise related to geek culture. Costumes can be as simple as jeans and a carefully chosen t-shirt or feature five-foot, moving wings. Superhero costumes tend toward the simpler side, but experienced cosplayers can go all-out with effects, weapons, and vehicles.
There are some challenges that are universal to all forms of cosplay, including cost of components and materials, the time and skill required for construction, and the eternal lack of pockets. Superhero costuming has it’s own issues to navigate, so here’s a quick guide to helping you overcome the top three hurdles on the path to your super suit.
Issue #1: Reality does not apply.
Comic book physics works differently than real-world physics, especially when it comes to gravity. Capes, hair, and breasts often move or float in ways that would be impossible under normal Earth conditions. The best way to recreate physics-defying costume pieces is with various adhesives. Garment tape, hot glue, and substances like Mod Podge can do a lot of heavy lifting while remaining inconspicuous or even invisible. Get to know your sticky substances, and remember to protect anything you don’t want getting stuck.
Issue #2: Artistic interpretations abound.
A dozen different artists have drawn this costume, and every single issue looks different. Sometimes, pieces of a costume can look different even from one page to the next. What kind of fabric is that supposed to be? Do the shoes have laces or zippers? What symbol is that right there? I recently spent ten minutes flipping through one issue of a comic trying to figure out what color the character’s belt was. At some point, you just have to average out all the different angles and make your best guess. If a piece looks like one thing on fifteen out of twenty-two pages, just go with it. Don’t stress about trying to make comic book art make sense.
Issue #3: Spandex.
Before you start stitching on that cat suit, there’s two simple questions you need to ask yourself. First, have you ever sewn with spandex, lycra, or other super stretch fabrics before? Second, have you done a lot of sewing with difficult fabrics like silk, satin, or chiffon? If the answer to both of those questions is “No”, then put away your sewing machine and get ye to the internets for some shopping. Working with stretch fabric is not for the faint of heart, and even experienced cosplayers will tell you that you’re better off buying a unitard and making adjustments as needed. Dance supply retailers are your friend, and so are Spanx.
When in doubt, never hesitate to search for tutorials and forums to help out. Websites like Cosplay.com and Instructables are a gold mine of tips and ideas for all kinds of costuming. Once you have your costume assembled and you’ve donned your cape, tights, and safety pins, you’re ready to hit the convention floor. Just remember to stand up straight and don’t forget to add pockets.