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  • Writer's pictureKL Forslund

Costume Etiquette

I’ve been into making costumes and dressing up for awhile now. Decades if you count RenFair. I think we’ve all become familiar with the term Cosplay, and see pictures from comic conventions. Manners for dressing up and meeting costumed folk comes up from time to time. I was raised by wolves in Minnesota, so I had to do research before I could enter civilized society. Here’s the common useful things I’ve learned:

For the Costume Wearer


I cringe thinking this isn’t obvious, but a variety of articles on the subject mention it, because the unmentionables need mentioning. The Lord of the Rings DVD extra features video tells us, costumes are layered. Layers means hot. A fresh coat of pit-stick helps everyone. A shower before that is also a great idea.

Peace-Tie Weapons

Find out the rules on weapon props before you even pack up to leave the house for an event. The venue may require peace-tying, if not, do it anyway. A zip tie, leather cord or piece of yarn can keep your weapon from coming unholstered. Sure it makes it hard to pose with your gun drawn, but nobody will freak out that you have a gun drawn. Manners dictate anticipating what could bother people and taking steps to mitigate. This means being responsible with weapon props so others receive a good impression of you and the cosplaying community.

Be mindful of large costume pieces

Carrying a big sword or staff or having wings on your back means that there is always a part of your costume, that you might not see how it is protruding or intruding on others space. Take your time, keep looking around you and carefully sit, set your prop down. Bring a wingman, pun intended, to help keep an eye on out, so you don’t put one out.

For the costume admirer

Ask to take a picture

I know somebody could argue that if you’re out in public, you’re fair game, but manners dictate asking permission and respecting somebody’s wishes. In most cases, if you ask, they’ll say yes. A person in costume is usually thrilled to pose for a picture. Not so happy to find out somebody’s taking their picture when they are unaware.

Don’t hug or crowd in

Costumes are expensive in time and/or materials. Half of them are fragile or have little bits that might catch on somebody else’s clothing. Let the person in the costume choose how close they can let you get to them. Some of these costumes are wired on or fastened with hot-glue.

Don’t handle the props

Human instinct is to touch things that look cool. Costume props are works of art. Many times made of hot-glue, wire and brilliant paint jobs. Any of which can break when somebody who’s not aware of their fragility just grabs it to look at.

Don’t Gawk at the Cleavage

From a Victorian perspective, the amount of flesh seen on a costume is far beyond what was socially acceptable back then. Let’s neither be a prude nor a lech. Don’t stare or fixate on the goods. Take in the view and move on. While we might deduce a person dressed revealingly wants to be seen, that doesn’t mean they want to feel uncomfortable. Manners are about not making the other person uncomfortable.

What about the bad costume choices

Let’s pause for a breath. I wrote this article before the events of Charlottesville, NC (August 2017), where a bunch of KKK and Nazi protestors showed up. Killed somebody. Beat somebody. Steampunk as a community, is very welcoming. Some argue that the punk aspect means standing for something. Steampunk as a genre covers the Victorian/Edwardian eras where some Imperialist and racist stuff went down. I’ve never met a Steampunk who was approving of that. They like the art and style, not the bad stuff. In many ways, it is a celebration of history that never was. It is supposed to be fun. Good natured. Showing affection for a style.

I think my original advice still holds up for non-evil costuming, that might be in bad taste if you know more than the wearer. So consider the first tip, but keep in mind there’s a fallback tip for if you think something needs to be done.

Don’t confront somebody about their costume choice

Barring an instance of a truly offensive costume, making a scene to chastise somebody about their costume is rude. Let’s say somebody’s done a Native American headdress with feathers. They put a ton of work into it, but you know only a true Native American should wear a headress, let alone with genuine feathers. Ease up there social justice warrior. Wars do not make one great. You do not know how many parts Cherokee that person has in their blood. Or if a real Chief honored them with that headdress and made them part of the tribe. If a costumed person isn’t trying to be a jerk or being disruptive, leave them be. If you’re really concerned, talk to the person in private and start by asking questions, not calling them out on it. You’ll do better by learning before you try educating somebody ignorantly and ruining their day when they meant no harm.

The costume that is an affront to all we hold sacred

At least one convention has released a rule barring Nazi or or classic Hydra uniforms (also Nazis). Under normal circumstances, you should not set out to ruin somebody’s day because they wore something you think they shouldn’t. I think the line is crossed when it is obvious they wore something to with obvious intent ruin somebody else’s day. Nazi regalia does a good job of crossing that line because a number of demographics were targeted by Nazis and the situation hasn’t changed. Your first step should be to seek out an authority for the event. Comic book conventions have staff keeping an eye on attendees, and they can confirm there’s a rule against being offensive and send security to escort them out. A less formal event, you might not have that authority figure and generally speaking that person has the right to wear whatever they want. What they don’t have is the right to feel welcome in public by other people. So don’t touch them, or threaten them with aggressive words or motions. But go ahead and tell them Nazis are not welcome here, early and often. If you want to start off on the right foot as a gentleman (or gentlelady or what have you), consider the following sample classy statement:

“Sir, the uniform you are wearing represents a group whose ideology spreads hate and bigotry. As this is not a war recreation event, if you do not leave and change into something respectable, I can only assume you are here to disrupt our peaceful gathering and we will not tolerate intimidation from the likes of you.”

Check out the rest of my Steampunk Gentleman series at


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