Is there a place for modesty in cosplay? G3 guest essayist Marie Sumner wondered after a friend told her there was no point in dressing up as Lara Croft for Halloween if she was going to wear pants, and not short-shorts. Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wearing a revealing costume. But if “sexy” is the default for the design of so many female characters’ garments, where does that leave cosplayers who want to pay tribute to them without baring a lot of skin? Marie, a cosplayer with a serious passion for costumes, has found it to be incredibly frustrating, and she explores the issue thoughtfully in today’s guest post . — E.
I’ve run into a cosplay crisis. I’m dressing up for Halloween as Lara Croft from the Tomb Raider games, the newest incarnation. I chose this version because, at the end of October, I don’t have much interest in trotting around in short-shorts. To be honest, I don’t have much interest in trotting around in short-shorts pretty much ever. So the new Lara’s cargo pants seemed like an excellent option. Imagine my surprise when a friend of mine told me that I might as well not bother playing Lara.
“The short-shorts are the only reason anyone plays Lara at all,” he argued. He informed me that the whole point of dressing up as Lara Croft, and half the reason for playing her games, is her skimpy outfits. I was admittedly angry about the whole conversation because I’ve always seen Lara as a slick action hero, a female Indiana Jones. Of course I’ve always been aware of her status as a sex symbol, but I’ve chosen to focus on her hero creds, instead.
Could his opinion have any credence? Is Lara only worthwhile as a costume, even as a character, when she’s showing off her figure?
Sometimes I don’t notice how scantily clad characters are until I’m contemplating constructing their costume. Only then do I think how uncomfortable I would be showing that much skin. As a cosplayer, it certainly detracts from my enjoyment when I realize I can’t cosplay as my favorite characters because of modesty. And Lara is only one of hundreds of female characters famous for revealing clothing or physical attributes.
One of Lara’s contemporaries, Ivy from Soul Calibur, has turned into a running joke. Her nigh nonexistent costume is the pinnacle of unrealistic design. Meanwhile, in my beloved Halo universe, Halo 4 presented a more realistically rendered but more naked-looking Cortana. Where she used to look as though she was wearing a jumpsuit, she now appears to don blue body paint. Even Samus’s bikini-clad reveal at the end of Metroid shows more skin than I would ever be comfortable cosplaying. No, Lara is certainly not alone in being a great character with costume design woes.
Discussions have taken place for decades about why female characters continue to be designed with their looks as the first priority instead of functionality or personality. No one in his or her right mind would ever enter battle in high heels or wear a metal bikini for armor, so why do so many female characters end up wearing such outfits? My first thought is that teenage boys have been the primary audience for video games, action movies, and a large portion of anime — and sex sells. But I’m hopeful that this is changing, as shown by Lara’s redesign.
For cosplayers, it can be flattering to be complimented on how they look in costume. But I’d rather gain attention for the work I put into the quality of my clothes and props and for the common love of a character I’m portraying. It bothers me that some of the best characters in the industry are essentially off limits because I’m unwilling to bare skin. Faye from Cowboy Bebop, Major Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, Leeloo from The Fifth Element, Aayla Secura from Star Wars: These are uncommonly compelling characters from extraordinary fictions, but I feel I’m barred from cosplaying them because their most recognizable looks are more revealing than I’m willing to emulate. It’s incredibly frustrating.
I’ll still be dressing as the new version of Lara this month, pants and all. But it makes me sad that a great character can be dismissed because she put some extra clothes on.
Do you agree with my assessment that female characters are singled out in terms of exploitative costuming? Have you ever cosplayed a skimpily dressed character and felt uncomfortable? Please feel free to join the discussion in the comments below.
Marie Sumner is a cosplayer and writer with a serious passion for costumes. She’s been honing her craftsmanship and sewing skills since she was about 10 so she could dress as her favorite characters from video games, movies, and shows. She currently writes for Wholesale Halloween Costumes.