Costume Recreation

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Title: Costume Recreation
Creator: Susan Parsley
Date(s): 1984
Medium: print
Fandom: costuming and cosplay
External Links:
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Costume Recreation is a 1984 essay by Susan Parsley.

It was printed in Legends of Light #2.

Some Topics Discussed

  • what is costuming?
  • how to choose a costume: 1. Uniqueness 2. Comfort 3. Easy access to materials 4. Ultimate purpose (i.e. Hall or Competition)
  • media representation: popularity, discrimination, and acceptance
  • references the rift between media fans and "traditional" science fiction fans


Ask a die-hard science fiction literary fan to define Costume Media Recreation and s/he will probably answer, "It's when a person copies a costume from a T.V. show or movie." Ask them why someone would do that, and s/he might sigh and say, "Lack of imagination, I guess."

Then have someone who has just spent four months, over a hundred dollars, and hours of personal time and tears into one of those copies to define it and s/he will probably say that Costume Media Recreation is the art of reproducing, to the smallest detail, costumes from a favorite movie or T.V. series. Then have her/him show you the closet-full of costumes neatly tucked away. Ask why s/he does it and s/he will say, "Because of the challenge of besting the studios at their own game."

For ten years now, I've, been trying to best the studios. Sometimes I've succeeded, sometimes not, but the challenge of trying has never faded away. When the last piece of my costume is finally stitched into place, I experience a feeling of fulfillment (and relief!) that could rival making love!...well, almost.

I love all costumes, whether created from one's own imagination, interpreted from the written page, or recreated from the visual medium. My own accomplishments, however, have been in media recreation.

Media Recreations are, in the world of costuming, the most difficult form of the art, because you are reproducing someone else's work as closely as possible, usually with little information and no pre-made pattern. The key word is accuracy. Media fans are meticulous about it, with eyes trained to zero in on the smallest flaw. Still, rework is a standard part of recreation. I know. I've reworked one costume of mine three times so far! That's what I get for choosing a design that was on screen for roughly thirty seconds (half of that from the waist up only), and poorly shot. Perhaps I should add that you have to be slightly insane and have a high tolerance for pain when doing media recreations. (It doesn't hurt to have a sympathetic friend, either.)

Do you still want to give it a try? Brave soul! Step right into my wonderful world...

As a personal rule I tend to stick to characters I can portray without much extra work - one's with similar coloring - though there can be exceptions to every rule. Be bold... be daring... become your favorite character!

Uniqueness: Why would this be a factor to me? I must admit to a fault: I love to stand out in a crowd. How far out depends on how naughty I feel. I love naughty characters. In this society being overtly seductive could get you called a lot of unpleasant names; in make- believe worlds such behavior is expected because it adds spice to the plot. Take Princess Ardalla - she never walks without an over-emphasized swing of her hips, and usually she has two things on her mind: ruling the galaxy, and getting her favorite human male in her boudoir. Buck Rogers either has to be dead (or his hormones were left back in the Twentieth Century) not to take advantage of a good thing! And what about Marion Ravenwood with her fiery temper and sharp right hook? She's the woman who could not only put up with Indy's gallivanting, but match him step for step!

Comfort: Funny, but not many of us give a thought to how comfortable a costume is to wear. Just because an actor doesn't sweat on the silver screen doesn't mean the three layers of velour covering his gorgeous bod are comfortable. He probably spends time in-between shots with his shirt off, swabbing the perspiration off his chest with a towel! Think think about comfort. How long do you plan to wear the costume - all day, perhaps? Make sure you (and it) will survive. I have one costume I've never worn for more than a few hours at a time during a con. It's used strictly for competition because it's expense (over $500.00 on materials alone), uncomfortable (I have to glue myself into it), and too delicate to survive in the halls of a science fiction convention. For the average, fun-loving con-fan a costume like this is impractical.

I also have several costumes I've spent all day in and we both have made it through panel discussions, hastily-downed lunches, racing from one display room to the next - in other words, normal convention life - without a rip or tear. Oh, they might not win in competition - but I wouldn't go to a con without them.

Materials: Let's face it, if you're going to recreate a costume you want to do it right, and to do so you need the right materials. Finding them has to be the toughest part of recreation because here, as well as in the actual construction, accuracy is important.


In school, research was a dirty word. In recreation, it can be a trial on the nerves. I scour memorabilia shops, dealer tables, and magazines for whatever pictures I can find of the costume: front, back, side shots - full length and close up. I'll sit through the movie several times (or rent it, bless the Fates for video machines), first time to enjoy the flick, then again to study the costumes that interested me the first time around. To me, every seam, tuck, and pleat is important. I resist the urge to start a project until I feel I know the design intimately, in order to cut down on my rework.

Purpose: To compete? or not to compete? That is the question. Following are some deciding points, as well as some tips.

In recent years. Media Recreation has become more and more sophisticated. More people are doing it and they are doing better at. it. Judging in this category (when there is such) is stiff. Not only must your work be good, but it must be special. In other words, it has to be more than a hall costume to win, and rightly so. But if you do decide to enter (Bravo!), remember: Most judges are barely aware of a movie's name, let alone what the characters actually wear in it. Most wouldn't know "Tiger Man" from "Mad Max."

Don't rely on the judges' memory. Take the initiative to show them just how accurate your work is compared to the real thing. I make a habit of submitting a picture of the original with my entry form, requesting that the judges see it. State clearly who you are, what your costume is from (movie or T.V. series), and give credit to the original designer. Remember, we recreate from someone else's design. My name would go under the person who sewed it together. The three awards I've won in competitions were

all awarded on accuracy, a recreator's highest praise, and I submitted pictures with each. They not only proved the design existed, but gave the judges something to compare, even if they'd never seen the movie. I lost one competition on the grounds that one Judge (who shall remain nameless, but not forgiven) swore up and down that Jenny Agutter (Jessica in LOGAN'S RUN) was not nude under the Circuit Dress. Well, I was, and I could've proven that she was, too, if I'd submitted a picture.

Lastly, do not let the popularity of a certain costume stop you from doing one yourself. Our love of these films and characters is what brings us together in the first place. My group of friends love BATTLESTAR GALACTICA so much that, between us, we have managed to recreate most of the major costumes from the show. All in all there are fourteen of us, and when we gather together at a con, it looks like the lounge on the Rising Star. The local news media loves it!

For some reason Media Recreations are being discriminated against at a few convention costume competitions. A rumor in 1981 held that the 198A Worldcon in Los Angeles (Home of the film industry) would be banning all Media Recreations from their competition "for lack of time and space." I am pleased to inform this zine's readers that a letter from Drew Sanders, in charge of the competition, vigorously denied this rumor. "...Though we will not have Hall Costumes up on the stage, this does not bar recreations made especially for competition from entering..." Now, if Worldcon would just give Media its own categories to compete in, perhaps the prejudice against costume recreations would cease to exist. Of course, in the end, the fans will be the ones who will decide.

It has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When someone recreates a costume, they do so out of love for someone elses' labors, be it the designer, the character, or the film itself. For whatever reason, they are what make science fiction conventions unique from all the rest. They add color and atmosphere and mark we, the fans, as a people of many different interests standing together as a family united. May costume recreations never go out of style!