The price of an awesome costume

Going to a Halloween party this weekend? Have the perfect, over-the-top, completely genre-accurate costume in mind to wear?

Take it from some seasoned costumers and cosplayers – awesome costumes don’t survive crowds. Sometimes they don’t even survive the journey there. And sometimes, the costumes are so awesome that you can’t survive them.

People like Chris and Miracole Burns, from “Avengers Assemble” and full-time cosplayer Yaya Han can make a living out of creating and wearing costumes. They’re invited to fan conventions to show up as comic book, anime, movie, TV and video game characters. They know how to create Hollywood-quality costumes and special effects makeup. They’re skilled at putting together the perfect look, the perfect pose, and making the whole package last for hours at a time on a crowded con floor.

They also know that fellow fans are thrilled to see their characters “come to life” through these costumes - but such admiration can sink hours of hard work and hundreds, possibly thousands of dollars of investment in an outfit.

“Every time we go to a convention, something always happens,” Miracole, a professional makeup artists and costumer said. “You have to always assume the worst whenever you travel.”

For example, at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, Miracole was asked to attend a friend’s event in her Wonder Woman costume, which is made of 20-guage, welded armor.

“Somehow in the shipping it cracked two welds,” she said. “I didn't exactly have a blow-torch on me, so I went out and tried to purchase some JB Weld, which has a set time of 12 to 24 hours.” Despite the hardware store fix and a lot of money to Fed-Ex body armor from Atlanta, Georgia, to California, the costume didn’t hold up and Miracole had to bow out of the gig.

Not every Halloween costume will be as elaborate as Miracole’s Wonder Woman costume, but crowded dance floors, friendly hugs and curious party-goers can easily damage your outfit’s integrity. Cosplayers and costumers deal with this all the time, Miracole said, so they employ a “crash kit.”

“Typically a crash-kit for a costumer consists of a sewing machine, because you never know when you're going to pop a seam, superglue, Zap-a-Gap which works on things that are plastic-based, double-sided tape, spray paint,” she said. And let’s not forget duct tape. Where would a costumer be without duct tape? Velcro and duct tape are always in Miracole’s crash kit.

“You have to think worst-case scenario and 'what do I have to do to fix it?' Because you could be walking around a con, you pop a stitch in the right place and that could be very interesting for photos later”.

Yaya Han as Carmilla from 'Vampire Hunter D'

But some costumes are perilous to begin with, said Miracole’s husband and costuming partner Chris.

“For a comic book, on the page the design looks great - the character can fly through the air and do all these great things. But when you add a ten-pound cape, you can't move because the thing is dragging you down to the floor,” he said. “When you get physics involved (in a costume) it's harder.”

Chris and Miracole both worked as costumers on the movie “X-Men First Class.” Miracole is such a huge X-Men fan that she made herself a replica Jean Grey costume. It’s a full leather suit, with gusseting around the knees and armpits. And she can barely move in it.

“Leather doesn't have a lot of give.  Especially with the way the costumes were designed and structured. So if you want to do a lot of posing, if you have a character that does a lot of crouching or has a lot of action-type poses, and you're wearing an all-leather suit, you can't do that,” Chris said.

“I could not sit down in that suit. I had to do the stereotypical lean onto a stool. I could not even put my arms over my head,” Miracole said. “So to do a standard Jean pose - an 'I'm reading your mind' pose - I couldn't even do that.”

Anime and manga characters can be especially difficult to recreate, said Yaya Han, who has been an internationally in-demand cosplayer for the last twelve years.

“Every cosplayer will have a moment where they literally are cursing some random Japanese guy for having designed such a reality-defying character. Like, 'How? Why did you do this?' she said.

“When we're doing a photo shoot or trying to do a performance and we're trying to do the same moves as a character in a video game, it's like, 'I can't lift my arms that way. How are they able to move in this costume in the video game?'”

Han’s Carmilla costume from "Vampire Hunter D," is probably the most difficult costume she’s made to date. “What drew me to it was how outrageous her outfit looked. How the bodice was completely open in the front, her hair was completely crazy. I was like, 'I don't even know how I would make that. But because I don't know how I'm going to make it, I'm going to make it,'” she said.

Japanese characters, especially, have costumes that magically stay in place. “Sometimes for modesty's sake you have to alter some outfits to make it appropriate for the public,” Han said.

“Like my Felicia which is the blue-haired cat girl from ‘Dark Stalkers.’ She basically is wearing little fur bits around her breasts. So I altered them into a bra. It's not accurate, but I'm allowed to walk around at a convention,” she said.

Cosplayers don't always value accuracy over the feel of the character, Han said. “For me it's always important to get the silhouette of the character right and to get the feel of the character across.”

Chris Burns as Red Skull

And then there’s something like Chris’s Red Skull (the WWII-era Captain America villain) costume.

“The version I do is accurate to World War II, and an SS Nazi military uniform. Being accurate, it's made of wool. It's very uncomfortable to wear. It's super hot, it doesn't breathe, it's just a nightmare to wear the suit. But it looks great,” he said.

Looks great, but functions like a sauna. In addition to the wool suit, there’s a fully-enclosed head mask, some makeup, contacts and a fully-lined, military-style, twenty-pound leather trench coat.

Miracole’s Batgirl costume is not far behind.

“My Batgirl costume is full silicone and then latex, which are two materials that don't breathe, at all. The only place on my body that shows actual skin is the area around my mouth,” she said.

“I'm pretty prone to heat stroke if I'm not careful. I would rather suffer for my craft and doing this character to the best of my ability than look out for my own personal comfort. We definitely, as cosplayers, don't do it for the comfort,” she said.

Heat stroke is probably not what the typical enthusiastic Halloween party-goer has in mind. Then again, skin-tight costumes are not the only rout to go when adopting a persona from a nerdy franchise.

Storm trooper costumes, Chris points out, have plenty of comfort modifications, from built-in fans to helmet microphones.