The Cosplay Experience

Photoshoot of Alpine Vader (IG @alpinevader) by Michelle Paul (IG @keyaroscuro)
Photoshoot of Alpine Vader (IG @alpinevader) by Michelle Paul (IG @keyaroscuro)

As we move away from each year’s Halloween, we put away our Spirit Halloween costumes and cat ear headbands for the next dozen months till the next time. However, there are some whose outfits didn’t get delivered for $50 on Amazon, some who have poured months, even years into their “costumes.” Sometimes, they could even spend thousands by the end of the project.

This is cosplay, where artists make their outfits, usually of characters in media they love. They range anywhere from buying the individual parts to making it completely from scratch, cutting out foam and cardboard, or sewing the fabric to what they need.

Depending on what you make and do with your cosplay, you can do a few different things to show off your hard work (other than Halloween!) Some of the most popular options are going to conventions like Comic-Con, especially the annual convention in San Diego, the largest Comic-Con in the world. Another option is joining a dedicated group, such as the 501st Legion.

The 501st Legion is an organization made up of thousands of Star Wars cosplayers globally looking to create suits accurately. Members will assemble screen-accurate Star Wars cosplays to enter and often work with charities to promote good causes. Two members of the organization I interviewed are Alpine Vader and BKaptainRex, portraying Darth Vader and Clone Captain Rex respectively.

To start, these works aren’t built in a day, they’re usually made over months, even years. For BKaptainRex, she stated it took 10.5 months to make with a 3-month gap in work, with her announcing her approval into the 501st on April 26th this year.

As well, Alpine Vader said, “I started building Darth Vader as a college student in 2014 and it took 7 years to complete and submit for approval with the 501st Legion in May 2021.” These works of art weren’t cheap either, with Vader and Rex stating their estimated costs as $5,000 and $1,800 respectively, having to get all the pieces adjusted for their bodies themselves or through talented vendors and seamstresses.

Despite all the struggle it took for their costumes, they have been delighted to be in the 501st Legion. For example, BKaptainRex said it was, “So far super welcoming and everyone gets involved to help with each other when it’s needed.”

To add on, Alpine Vader gave his beautiful words, “I always knew it would be very fun to get involved with the 501st, but I wasn’t truly prepared to feel how special and fulfilling it was to be a part of right from the beginning with working alongside charities to help uplift families and children going through very difficult challenges in life or just bring joy to fans who love Star Wars so much. I’ve made so many great friends in the 501st across the country, worldwide, and here locally in [my state] that I’ve gotten to know really well. And I’m just very grateful to be a part of this organization where I can indulge the impulse and love for Star Wars in a healthy, meaningful way.”

Finally, not all of us have the time to spend, nor the money, on creating the perfect costume, so they gave some words of advice for all who’d like to join the craft. For BKaptainRex, she said “Just putting work into your cosplay can be grueling yet fun because you’re bringing an animated character or realistic character to life; at the end when you complete your cosplay, it’s so worth seeing people being happy and getting excited as you are because it’s amazing to see your work of art. It’s super worth your time.”

As for Alpine Vader’s advice, he stated, “If there was any general advice beyond the 501st I could give, it would be to find groups/communities that are involved in cosplay and meet new friends who have the passion for it. Cosplay is a very social hobby and is meant to be enjoyed together with friends. Dressing up as Darth Vader in public spaces was way out of my comfort zone because I’m typically someone who doesn’t like drawing attention to myself but continuing to do it alongside people I’m lucky to call friends has been incredibly rewarding.”

To end this, I want everyone reading this to understand that the experience, like many things, is entirely based on what you want to do, and that’s different from person to person. Some people might just want something for a social gathering like Comic-Cons, while others may want to make some change in the world like the 501st and their support of charities, hospitals, and more. Whether you want to make some simple garments or go all out, it will always be your choice and yours alone.

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