penwiper: So a couple days ago, some folks braved my long-dormant social media accounts to make…


So a couple days ago, some folks braved my long-dormant
social media accounts to make sure I’d seen this tweet:

And after getting over my initial (rather emotional) response,
I wanted to reply properly, and explain just why that hit me so hard.

So back around twenty years ago, the internet cosplay and
costuming scene was very different from today. The older generation of sci-fi
convention costumers was made up of experienced, dedicated individuals who had
been honing their craft for years.  These
were people who took masquerade competitions seriously, and earning your
journeyman or master costuming badge was an important thing.  They
had a lot of knowledge, but – here’s the important bit – a lot of them didn’t
share it.  It’s not just that they
weren’t internet-savvy enough to share it, or didn’t have the time to write up
tutorials – no, literally if you asked how they did something or what material
they used, they would refuse to tell you.
Some of them came from professional backgrounds where this knowledge
literally was a trade secret, others just wanted to decrease the chances of
their rivals in competitions, but for whatever reason it was like getting a
door slammed in your face.  Now, that’s a
generalization – there were definitely some lovely and kind and helpful
old-school costumers – but they tended to advise more one-on-one, and the idea
of just putting detailed knowledge out there for random strangers to use wasn’t
much of a thing.  And then what information
did get out there was coming from people with the freedom and budget to do
things like invest in all the tools and materials to create authentic leather hauberks,
or build a vac-form setup to make stormtrooper armor, etc.  NOT beginner friendly, is what I’m saying.

Then, around 2000 or so, two particular things happened: anime
and manga began to be widely accessible in resulting in a boom in anime
conventions and cosplay culture, and a new wave of costume-filled franchises
(notably the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings movies) hit the
theatres.  What those brought into the
convention and costuming arena was a new wave of enthusiastic fans who wanted to make costumes, and though a
lot of the anime fans were much younger, some of them, and a lot of the movie
franchise fans, were in their 20s and 30s, young enough to use the internet to
its (then) full potential, old enough to have autonomy and a little money, and
above all, overwhelmingly female.  I
think that latter is particularly important because that meant they had a lifetime
of dealing with gatekeepers under our belts, and we weren’t inclined to deal
with yet another one.  They looked at the
old dragons carefully hoarding their knowledge, keeping out anyone who might be
unworthy, or (even worse) competition, and they said NO.  If secrets were going to be kept, they were going to figure things out for ourselves, and then they were going to
share it with everyone.  Those old-school
costumers may have done us a favor in the long run, because not knowing those
old secrets meant that we had to find new methods, and we were trying – and succeeding
with – materials that “serious” costumers would never have considered.   I was
one of those costumers, but there were many more – I was more on the movie side
of things, so JediElfQueen and PadawansGuide immediately spring to mind, but
there were so many others, on YahooGroups and Livejournal and our own
hand-coded webpages, analyzing and testing and experimenting and swapping ideas
and sharing, sharing, sharing.  

I’m not saying that to make it sound like we were the noble
knights of cosplay, riding in heroically with tutorials for all.  I’m saying that a group of people, individually
and as a collective, made the conscious decision that sharing was a Good Things that would improve the community as a whole.  That wasn’t
necessarily an easy decision to make, either.
I know I thought long and hard before I posted that tutorial; the reaction I had gotten when I wore that
armor to a con told me that I had hit on something new, something that gave me
an edge, and if I didn’t share that info I could probably hang on to that edge
for a year, or two, or three.  And I
thought about it, and I was briefly tempted, but again,
there were all of these others around me sharing what they knew, and I had seen
for myself what I could do when I borrowed and adapted some of their ideas, and
I felt the power of what could happen when a group of people came together and
gave their creativity to the world.

And it changed the face of costuming.  People who had been intimidated by the sci-fi competition circuit suddenly found the confidence to try it themselves, and brought in their own ideas and discoveries.  And then the next wave of younger costumers
took those ideas and ran, and built on them, and branched out off of them, and
the wave after that had their own innovations, and suddenly here we are, with
Youtube videos and Tumblr tutorials and Etsy patterns and step-by-step how-to
books, and I am just so, so proud.  

So yeah, seeing appreciation for a 17-year-old technique I
figured out on my dining-room table (and bless it, doesn’t that page just
scream “I learned how to code on Geocities!”), and having it embraced as a
springboard for newer and better things warms this fandom-old’s heart.  This is our legacy, and a legacy the current
group of cosplayers is still creating, and it’s a good one.  

(Oh, and for anyone wondering: yes, I’m over 40 now, and
yes, I’m still making costumes. And that armor is still in great shape after 17
years in a hot attic!)  

Editing in the tutorial link: