Cosplay 101: Conventions and Cosplay Etiquette by Holly Rose Swinyard (Part Two)

Cosplayer Sarah Gale got my vote as most ambitious cosplayers at the inaugural Portsmouth Comic Con for her Transformers-inspired costume

Cosplayer Sarah Gale got my vote as most ambitious cosplayers at the inaugural Portsmouth Comic Con for her Transformers-inspired costume

Wearing costumes for fun is far from new and costume parades were an integral part of early comic and other media conventions. But cosplay as a concept, in many ways a whole separate world to comic and other media fandom, has only become truly recognised in its own right very recently. Cosplayers the world over pour their heart and soul into the creations, many going to great lengths to come up with something unique and eye catching, and here at downthetubes we wanted to find out more about their craft.

Holly Rose Swinyard, a cosplayer for over a decade and editor of The Cosplay Journal, has obliged with a series of articles…

So far in this little journey through the world of cosplay, I’ve focused a lot on the getting involved in cosplay and how to go about being a cosplayer, but in this article we are going to look a little bit more at convention etiquette for how to behave if you are wearing a costume and how to behave towards those wearing them.

There has been a lot said about “Cosplay Is Not Consent” – and I will be talking about this later for any who might have missed it on the nerdom news channels – but I think sometimes people don’t realise what they are doing could be rude or harassing behaviour and just because someone is in a costume that doesn’t mean they are public property. This being said, respect and good manners go both ways and some cosplayers need to release that they are being rude to regular con goers as well.

We all love a good convention, being all nerdy and not having to pretend that you’re “normal” (whatever that means). It’s a safe place for nerds of all fandoms to join together to share the love of geek culture. Sounds like a nice place, right? I know it’s what I’ve always enjoyed about cons, even now when I’m working at most events, it’s still a chance to catch up with friends, buy merchandise you don’t really need but you definitely want (personally I go for sketches); see all the brilliant costumes that people have spent their time, money and sanity on, and just generally have a bit of time away from the real world.

It’s great, you can really let your hair down, but you can’t forget that other people are there to have a nice time too, so not only do you need to give yourself some TLC (see my previous article) but you also need to be aware of the other attendees, no matter who they are or what they are wearing.

Everyone deserves to have a nice time a convention without people being rude, negative or harassing them.

Convention Etiquette

It doesn’t matter what your preferred attire for a convention, whether you be dressed up to the nines in your finest armour, doublet and hoes, wearing your favourite Ironman shirt, or just in a comfy Pikachu onesie, you need to be polite to the people around you. With that many people in one place, I agree it’s going to be hard not to push into someone or bang shoulders, but a sorry or a pardon me will always go a long way to making everyone feel OK. Try not to live in your own little bubble if you can help it.

Of course, that is not always the case for everyone, especially at a convention you are likely to have attendees who will have a learning disability or mental health issues, but for the neurotypical amongst us, it’s worth going out of our way to make everyone feel comfortable. Simply being polite, making space or moving out of the way where you can, or simply smiling at someone will make the experience better for everyone and help make sure that no one goes home from their day out feeling put upon or upset.

Oh golly, this might end up being a bit of a lecture, I’m sorry about that. Sometimes I do worry that we have forgotten how to be kind and considerate of others, getting cross, annoyed or even judgemental rather than thinking better of our own actions and each other.

Flavia in Cosplay as Elyos

European cosplayer Flavia in Cosplay as Elyos

Of course, there is always the problem of larger costumes or prop pieces on the con floor. If you’re wearing one of these costumes, I’m sure you know to have a spotter with you to help make sure you have space and don’t bang into people or block aisles. Those costumes are hard to move in, and often have little to no visibility, meaning you’re trying to seeing past a massive pair of wings. So of course it’s worth making sure you have a very kind friend who can help you during the day, so you don’t crush anyone or brain them with your robot arm or something.

If you are in a big costume, be considerate of other con goers and acknowledge that you will be getting in the way sometimes, best to be prepared for these situations, that way it can all be sorted quickly with no one getting annoyed or ending up with broken costume pieces.

The counter of this is that everyone else really needs to be aware of these cosplayers. They have put a lot of work in, and yes, I understand that you don’t really want to get trapped behind them, but be patient, it’s just a part of the convention experience.

Please don’t push past them as you might break their costume. I promise, they’ll soon they will be out of the way. Even smaller builds can be hard to move in so please don’t just assume someone isn’t moving because they are being annoying and give them time to move, maybe even offer to help them if you think that’s appropriate. Plus, let’s be honest here, do you want to face the wrath of a cosplayer who’s costume you’ve just broken?

Cosplay Is Not Consent – of any kind

While we are on this subject of not getting annoyed at cosplayers, I would like to press upon us all, cosplayers and non-cosplayers alike, to stop judging people by their costumes for whatever reason.

I think this is something that we have all been guilty of at one time or another, it’s human nature, and it’s hard to stop yourself if you’re in a bad head space yourself, but we should try and catch ourselves when we think these thoughts. Try asking yourself “do I really think that or is that what internet peer pressure, trolls and/ or society as a whole wants me to think?”

The answer is normally “No, I don’t think that”, which means that you have just stopped something mean coming out of your mouth and scrubbed some of that negativity out. It’s the idea of second thoughts, your first thought is what you have been programmed to think, your second thought is what you actually think, and if we all gave a moment to have those second thoughts, the world would be better place in my humble opinion.

(We also have third and fourth thoughts – but that’s a matter for Mr Pratchett).

We are all nerds showing our love, we all do that in our own way, for our own reasons, and just coz someone does that in a different way to you it doesn’t make it wrong. And no, you don’t have to like everyone, or like everyone’s costumes, or everyone’s fandoms but that doesn’t give you the right to talk sh*t about them. It doesn’t affect you and you’re opinion ain’t needed. Just saying.

After all, cosplay is not consent to comment on someone’s appearance. In fact isn’t consent to do anything at all. The cosplayer is not inviting you into their space just because they are dressed as your favourite character, so please do not touch them, take photographs of them without their permission, follow them, knowingly misgender them in anyway (especially if you have been corrected) or make comments on their gender identity. Like I said, these are people simply expressing joy and appreciation for what they enjoy, they are not there for the amusement of anyone but themselves, with the happy side effect of, well, making other people happy too.

If you do harass a cosplayer in any way, do not be surprised if it gets taken to the convention staff or even to the police. This has happened in the past, including a recent incident which resulted in a convention attendee being arrested for groping girls in costumes and taking inappropriate photographs.

Of course, this is an extreme example of behaviour but bad behaviour towards convention attendees, cosplayers or not, is taken very seriously by many conventions.

Cosplayer Gingersnap at London Super Comic Con. She's been a cosplayer for about seven years. Photo: Antony Esmond

Cosplayer Gingersnap at London Super Comic Con in 2016. Photo: Antony Esmond

Photography and Photography Etiquette

When you go to a convention one thing you are doing, often without realising, is giving anyone permission to take your picture. It’s normally in the small print of the conventions terms and conditions that by attending you are saying you are ok with being photographed and filmed. This being said, that doesn’t mean that the social etiquette of asking for a picture or respecting people’s personal space should be ignored. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Here’ a few basic rules to go by when wanting to take a photo of someone at a con: please make sure you ask before you take a photo of someone, don’t touch them unless they say it’s ok, they are a stranger after all.

If a cosplayer is sitting, eating, partially out of costume they are having a rest and that should be respected, if you take a photo of someone ask for their name/ cosplay page or if they have a card (lots of cosplayers will) so you can credit them correctly when you post the image online or publish it on a website/ magazine/ newspaper/ whatever, if you see a photographer already working with a cosplayer DO NOT SNIPE THEIR PICTURE!

Hey, Holly, what is sniping, I hear you ask? Well, this is when a photographer is taking a picture and someone jumps in behind them to take the same shot. It’s honestly just a bit of selfish move. That photographer has spent time to set up their shot and their kit to get the perfect photo so by taking a subpar version of their photo you are insulting that photographer’s work and showing no respect for them or the cosplayer.

Yes, it might look like an awesome photo opportunity, but you need to wait and ask the cosplayer if you can take their photo and not interrupt another person’s shoot. You don’t know if that cosplayer has paid to work with that photographer, if they have talked through the shoot previous to the convention, and even they haven’t, they are working together now.

It’s worth remembering that this is not a competition to shoot as many cosplayers as possible or as many photos as possible. Take your time, wait your turn and talk to the cosplayer, they are probably going to say yes and then you’ll get your own shot that you can put your own mark on.

One of the best things to do before a convention is to post onto cosplay community pages saying that you will be shooting and would like to arrange with some cosplayers, that way you’ll know what you’re doing and be ready to go, and you can even add some more people in during the day if you see someone just walking around.

One last thing before I wrap this up and we talk about something much more fun in the next article, I want to touch on the laws regarding photographing minors. They are incredibly strict but also incredibly broad, covering more than you could possibly imagine to safe guard minors from grooming, paedophiles and anyone who might want to take advantage. This means that even when innocently taking pictures of a cosplayer you could be breaking the law, especially since some costumes are quite grownup and the cosplayer may not be.

This is taken from photography laws and advice site, using government sources:

Certain types of photography with under 18s is against the law and the photographer could face being arrested and getting a record. This would be called as Sex Offence against a minor. All though the age of consent is 16 the under 18 year old is still classed as a minor. Please check Section 45 of the Sex Offences Act 2003 amended S.1. Protection of Children Act (POCA) 1978 in May 2004 by raising the age of a ‘child’ from 16 to 18.

Now the above is not to scare you in to not taking photos of under 18s but to shine the light on the law and what could happen. If you approach a model or they approach you and you know they are under 18 you can ask for parental permission first. Some may quickly disappear when you ask this. You must also get proof that they are the father or mother as its been known for under-age models to get “Friends” to act as a parent.

So what constitutes an illegal image?

It means any images of children, apparently under 18 years old, involved in sexual activity or posed to be sexually provocative and include images depicting erotic posing, with no sexual activity etc. Images should also be considered with regard to the child’s body position during the activity, this is particularly relevant in gymnastic, dance and sporting activities, where the body may be in unusual positions.

Images you can take?

You can only take images of a under 18 model if they are fully clothed. They must not be wearing any see through clothing etc. You must use your own judgement if the pose/ clothing is ideal. This is just a basic view on under-age modelling. Making sure of the models age is not 100% down to you. But also down to the model to prove their real age and be truthful.

Always ask to see ID of a model if they look under 21!

I’m sorry that this wasn’t as fun as previous articles, but a lot of this is important to people having a good time at conventions, which is what we all want to do.

Thank you for baring with me and next time I’ll be touching on the exciting world of cosplay competitions and, if you think it’s your thing, how to get involved in this highly charged, dynamic and exhilarating part of the cosplay community!

Holly Rose SwinyardHolly Rose Swinyard was once described as a 21st Century Marlene Dietrich…. But if that film icon was British and a cosplay geek. A self-proclaimed fashion experimentalist and long-time cosplayer, Holly writes about their experiences working their through these two very eccentric worlds, and how they have found themselves through creating, crafting and cravats.

• Follow Holly on Twitter @lilistprince | Instagram – @lilprincecostumes | Facebook | Blog | Patreon

• Holly is also the Editor of The Cosplay Journal, a new coffee table magazine which focuses on the diversity and craftspersonship of the UK cosplay community. You can check it out at

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