The Story of a Costume

lace gloves

Years ago, before I discovered the steampunk culture, I thought people who made costumes were crazy.

Hours of sourcing obscure materials. Even more hours of tedious handwork. The frustration of techniques that “don’t work” and have to be revamped.

All this, for a few hours’ promenade at a convention.

What was the point?


I’ve learned a few things since then, not the least of which is how darn fun it is to create something, wear it, and in doing so, share it with others. Still, it’s taken me years to distill the exact reason anyone (myself included) would undertake this crazy thing called cosplay.

At Teslacon this year, I think I finally figured it out.

As I walked the halls, I heard and participated in all sorts of conversations about costuming. Teslacon is, after all, has been called one of the best-dressed steampunk conventions. Get 1300 or so fashion-makers together in one hotel, and fashion is bound to come up.

But it wasn’t so much the conversation—as the substance of it—that caught my attention.

In nearly every case, at least 75% of the excitement in the discussion surrounded the story of the costume: its journey from mere figment of imagination to full realization in the halls of the con.

People shared their costuming triumphs and tribulations, what they had learned in the process, and what they would do differently on next year’s fashion adventure.

That’s when I realized: cosplay (especially in steampunk) is not so much about the wearing of the finished product, as it is about the journey the maker undertakes to get there.

To create a costume is to undertake a journey of transformation. Like every good hero, a maker has a goal: the finished piece. On that journey, s/he encounters numerous obstacles, meets new friends, and navigates twists and turns in the plan.

Seen through this lens, wearing a handmade or hand-assembled costume to a convention—steampunk or otherwise—is really not the whole story, but merely the climax of the tale.  Every hero works toward that climactic moment, but it’s the entire endeavor (concept to convention!) that makes the journey worthwhile.


Put this way, I have no trouble understanding why anyone (myself included) would spend hours, even months putting together a costume.

We are all heroes on a journey. As we design, execute, and share our costuming visions . . . we learn, change and grow as human beings and as creators.

This year’s Teslacon, as well as next, is not so much the goal as it is the culmination of a year-long adventure.

(And in case you’re wondering . . . color palettes are out for next year’s Teslacon, “The Wild Wild West.” Let the adventure begin!)

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