You think you know your cosplay? You may feel secure. You may count yourself ready to wade into the murky depths of what makes a good costume, what makes a bad one, and what is just downright ugly. But you're wrong. Fortunately, we're here to help.
Cosplay can rightfully be thought of as a mainstay among the sci-fi/fantasy and comicon set, but just like any other semi-exclusive subculture (indie music, for instance, or polyamory) its standards have proved to be inversely proportional to its mass appeal. As more and more members of the mundane ranks close in upon the cozy little world of cons and costuming, less and less of things like taste and good sense trail along in their wakes. What once may have been a cute, innocent pastime no less pitiable than, say, an SCA gathering or an afternoon LARP (No, seriously. That stuff seems downright glamorous and sexy by comparison.) now finds its core ideals under threat from a misguided and ever-increasing rogue element. The good cosplayers of old - and here we refer both to those who knew the value of a properly-applied chain mail bra and to the resplendently-robed wizards who were dedicated enough to grow a real, long white beard - must contend against the bad and the ugly in an epic campaign to free their beloved pastime from the clutches of mockery and ridicule. And you, should you choose to join in this perilous quest, should know your enemy. Here then is a quick guide, to help you along.
The wishfully-erotic 1974 science fiction film Zardoz was, thankfully, soon forgotten by everyone with some sense. Sadly, however, some senseless fan saw it. Now he's gotten it into his head that he can be the spitting image of disco-era Sean Connery if he just goes to con dressed in nothing more than a ponytail, a handlebar mustache and a red diaper. He can't be, though, if for no other reason than he isn't cut out to strut about in a state of near nudity like that. Sean Connery, being a seventies sex symbol, took care to ensure that he met the rigid and rigorous standards of the day. He probably worked out sometimes. Maybe the studio even hired him a personal trainer.
The guy in the Zardoz costume, however, is not a seventies sex symbol. He does not work out. All the time he could have spent at the gym trying to make himself as presentable as possible in that costume? Yeah, he spent that time watching Zardoz. You will know this guy from the real Zardoz by any number of the following telltale signs:
The real Zardoz had no love handles.
The real Zardoz never had to suck in his gut. This other guy in a Zardoz costume does, yet he still disgusts you.
Also, you can't tell if he's sucking it in.
The real Zardoz's meager little costume was at no time concealed by parts of his body hanging over it.
The real Zardoz was filmed in the mid-seventies, and this isn't the past.
Only those who have been deemed the sexiest man alive, deservedly or not, have enough cred to use up on a costume like this.
A general rule about this costume is that its very existence is an affront to all existence. This rule, which we will call the Rule of the Misguided Zardoz, also applies to people who should really have known better than to dress up as He-Man, Barbarella, The Incredible Hulk, Slave Leia or anything else involving spandex or midriff exposure.
This subclass of the Misguided Zardoz occurs when his poorly-conceived costume (which cuts off circulation elsewhere, but manages to be too loose right where you want it least) shifts as he swishes up and down the dealers' room. Before you know it, there are franks and beans poking out from under that thing. Shame on Zardoz for having the indecency to wear that costume in the first place, and for having the indecency not to place a safety thong beneath it.
Ensign Me has already ruined another perfectly good nerd pastime. That being fanfiction writing. Ensign me started out by infiltrating an active community of amateur creative writers who only wanted to indulge their unusually strong passions for things like Star Trek, Doctor Who or Firefly. Once in, Ensign Me corrupted the community and turned it away from the noble tradition of writing novellas which merely addressed some discontinuity or another, because Ensign Me wanted more. In fact, Ensign Me wanted the universe to revolve around Ensign Me, so he/she wrote fanfiction that didn't just ignore existing discontinuity, it added more.
In Ensign Me's universe, Kirk and Spock are helpless and stupid. The only way they manage to survive at all is by turning to some new bridge officer, fresh from the Academy, and begging him/her to save the day for them. That new bridge officer, by the way, bears a striking resemblance to his or her creator, one Ensign Me. Then, when the threat's averted and everyone's safe again, either Kirk or Spock (or possibly both) fall madly in love with Ensign Me... I mean, that other character whose resemblance to Ensign Me is strictly superficial, I swear... Anyway, it all ends in mad bow-chicka-wow-wow-ing and when everyone else in the fanfiction community sees how much fun Ensign Me is having by, um, inserting this new character into established canon without even the courtesy of a little foreplay, many follow Ensign Me down this dark path.
You will know when Ensign Me shows up in costume at the con. You'll know because you will want to congratulate him/her on that incredibly-detailed and authentic-looking Star Trek officer's costume. He/she will immediately let you know "This isn't just any old uniform. This is the one worn by my character in book two of the Hot Vulcan Nights series. See? Here's the battle damage from Chapter Six, which you have no doubt read on my Livejournal. No? Well, here's the address," and so on. Your eyes will glaze over as Ensign Me drones on at you, and you will wish you had gone up and complimented some random Leeloo instead.
Red Alert - Ensign Me will now read you an excerpt from "Spock and a Hard Place"
Variations on the Ensign Me include the dude dressed as his own World of Warcraft character, the guy who dresses up to commemorate his slain 8th level druid, and the GM who proudly dresses up as the thing he used to kill off that guy's annoying druid. In short, if the costume is not immediately recognizable by two or more strangers within a crowd of thousands, it is probably an Ensign Me.
Some people can make a spandex body suit work. These would be young, fit, attractive men and women with a healthy sense of decency and decorum. When done right, there is nothing more breathtaking than a fit, attractive Superman or Rogue wandering around the hotel. Sadly, those of less fitness and beauty want in on the game as well. Worse still, those with no decorum at all sometimes gain access to bolts of synthetic fabric and sewing machines.
Compare and contrast: Fit, attractive women in spandex and, um... other.
Think of the Anatomically-Correct Superhero as someone who started out Zardoz, took a few levels in sick and creepy, then picked up a permanent Wardrobe Malfunction curse. This monstrosity parades around the convention for all to see, and all see exactly two things. First, all see a skin-tight body sock of a costume. This can be impressive on its own, even if the wearer's physique falls a little short of adequate, if the costume itself reflects enough skill, craftsmanship and devotion to the art as to be a faithful reproduction of the original. Sadly, it doesn't end there. The second thing all will see on this costumed menace is just what God gave them.
Displayed so blatantly as to make Joel Schumacher blush, the unfortunate detail with which every vein, ridge and cellulite dimple presses its shape into the surface of that costume is enough to make even the hardiest of conventioneers throw up a little in their mouth. When you spot a full spandex ensemble from a distance, approach with caution lest you soon learn to which side its wearer dresses. Be especially wary of Spider-Man, Spawn and other characters whose masks allow complete anonymity, as this in turn allows the wearer an inflated sense of the level of tastelessness with which a person can get away.
Any normal person stopped wearing this costume around about Halloween, age five. With an air conditioner box over his chest, dryer tubes on his arms and a funnel on his head (and maybe, if we're lucky, he even took the time to spray paint it all silver) this last-minute costumer screams out to the world that he had neither the time nor the willpower to assemble even the simplest of respectable costumes. But that's not going to stop him!
When you see this guy, encourage him to enter the convention's costume contest. Just so you can watch everyone else laugh and throw sharp objects when it's his turn to be judged.