Bodices, Armour And Air Freshener: What It Really Takes To Dress Like A Superhero

Rogue nipples, sweaty cracks and painstaking nights bent over your housemate’s crap Argos sewing machine...Photographs by Matilda Hill-Jenkins

Bodices, Armour And Air Freshner: What It Really Takes To Dress Like A Superhero

by Hannah Rose Ewens |
Published on

Kate O'Reley, is currently dressed as Cinderella. ‘It took the duration of the* Lord of the Rings* trilogy to wrinkle all the underskirt and layers and frou-frou. And probably The Hobbit trilogy to put all the gems on it! Every trilogy back to back to make the whole thing.’ So quite a while then. The 28-year-old, from Belgium, is talking to me at the Super Comic Convention last weekend at London's ExCel Centre. Nearby people are blowing a month's rent on graphic novels and kids are stabbing at each other with plastic light sabres, but all I want to look at are the women wearing some of the best costumes I've ever seen - the female cosplayers.

Kate O'Reley as Cinderella
Kate O'Reley as Cinderella

It’s important to distinguish the difference between cosplay and costuming, unless you want to get well and truly schooled by a man in a Kirk costume (this absolutely didn’t happen to me). As Aqua, 21, a regular cosplayer defines it: ‘Cosplaying is to re-enact the character, going through the details of their personality, using the correct make-up, doing everything you can to be as accurate as you can to their character.’ This is anything but fancy dress.

So, is it as easy as a Wiki search and a riffle through the tat your Nan once gave you? Can anyone have a stab at it? How difficult can it really be to dress as a superhero for the day?

Hannah Andrews

Preparation Is Key And You Need A Strong Bladder

Five minutes chatting to any of the women involved will tell you that cosplaying is no easy business. Before an event like Comic Con, months of prep go into planning - as Kate and her Cinderella costume demonstrate. Most gave three to four months for their timeline. As a MINIMUM. That’s deciding on the character, researching everything about them and sourcing and making the costume.

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As most of the costumes are either achingly intricate or bloody enormous, it’s not a solo endeavour. Every cosplayer needs a wingman. Kate said she needs someone to help her slip into the bodice and do it up. ‘I don’t have extendable arms. I also can’t put on my shoes myself either because the skirt is such a big pain in the ass so someone has to get down there to do that!’

Kirsty aka Neroli Cosplay

Once you're at the venue, bodiced in, the first problem arises. You need to pee. This is a scenario every cosplayer I spoke to sympathised with. Fiona Slade, a 33 year old cosplayer from Leeds currently dressed as Lady Sif from Thor in the Dark World, admitted this is a perennial problem. ‘You always have to take all your bits off and it’s a nightmare. The armour’s really restrictive. But compared to him, I have it really easy,’ she said, pointing to her profusely sweating husband in a full body suit.

Fiona Slade as Lady Sif from Thor in the Dark World

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And accidents can happen, as Lisa Hart, who is 26, from Plymouth and was cosplaying Spice from Batman explains. ‘I’ve had a fair few slip-ups on the chest area (points to rather exposed chest). I couldn’t wear a bra with this because of the costume shape. So, errr, hopefully it’ll be alright.’ And things can get uncomfortable. Kate remembers her most painful costume with a wince: ‘On an Amora The Enchantress costume the boning ripped through the fabric. The protective edges around the metal had fallen off so it was stabbing my skin under the arm. Oh God, it was very painful.’ Did she wear it all day? ‘Of course?!’

Lisa Hart as Spice from Batman

Air Freshener Is Your Friend

But when the day is over and the costume peeled off, what happens next? Well, after all that loving care put into it all, they’re hardly going to be bunged in the washing machine and then thrown in the chest of drawers. It’s either the dry cleaners or painstakingly hand-washing each individual garment. Kirsty kindly gave me the secret insider’s tip: air freshener. ‘You can’t wash this or most of my other costumes. You have to use Febreeze. We learnt that from the theatre – that’s what they do with actor’s costumes. They don’t wash them, just give ‘em a spray! When it gets a bit funky, I just go for that!’

You’d think all that hard work would put most people off. It doesn’t. Hundreds of cosplayers attend each year. Because, as they all wanted to emphasise to me, it’s just so much fun and a brilliant way to share your passion with likeminded people you’d never have met reading your comic or eyes glazed behind a screen.

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If, like me, you've suddenly decided to put your out-of-office on and spend the next three months planning your debut turn of the convention hall, but don’t know where to start, Aqua has some advice for you. ‘Don’t be obliged because of your skin tone, weight, appearance to be a certain role. There are no limits. What’s important is for you to enjoy yourself. If someone says, “That character is dark skinned”, don’t listen to them. Do what you want.’


Because for all the intelligent (and ignorant) debate surrounding cosplaying, it is a freeing environment. It isn’t an exclusive club. Comic Con is the one place where anyone can be a superhero. It doesn’t matter if you’re a secretary and Mum, a 63-year-old newbie or a teenage girl making her first foray. The only requirement is a fun attitude. And an incredibly strong bladder.

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Follow Hannah on Twitter @hannahrosewens

Photographs by Matilda Hill-Jenkins

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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