When you read or watch a story in a particular media and for a particular franchise, the #costumes worn by the story’s characters become associated with those characters.
When the characters wear common, everyday clothing that is indistinguishable from clothing worn in the real-world, then the association between a character and a #costume may not be particularly strong, unless the real-world based costume intensifies the nature of the character itself and only that character (or that type of character) wears that costume within the story. The key to remember with this type of costume is that because it’s based on real-world clothing, it’s not unique and may be used in more than one story across multiple franchises.
Let’s consider the following costume example with a costume that is essentially a black business suit with a white shirt, black tie and sunglasses. Here are three films from completely different franchises in which that costume (or slight variants of it) were worn:
- In “Men in Black”, this costume is worn by the film’s heroes.
- In “The Matrix”, this costume is worn by the film’s computer-generated villains known as “agents”. Here, there is one slight difference: the inclusion of a tie clip.
- In “Kung Fu Hustle”, this costume is worn by members of the “Axe Gang”, who also include a black vest worn beneath the jacket and sometimes a top hat.
Given how similar these costumes are and given that they are essentially indistinguishable from clothing worn in the real world, a bystander seeing someone wear this particular costume in a public setting wouldn’t necessarily recognize that it’s a costume. If a bystander does recognize that the person is wearing a costume, they may or may not identify which film or franchise the costume is associated with. However, someone watching the film would quickly come to associate the costume with the specific character or group of characters that the costume represents.
Thus, we would define a costume such as this as being a Contextually Distinguishable Only (or CDO) costume because its symbolism & distinguishability falls only within the context of one particular story or franchise. Outside of that context, it may have a completely different meaning or no meaning whatsoever.
Now, let’s alter the previous example by having the costumer that’s wearing the black suit with white shirt, black tie & sunglasses also have a specific prop: a “neuralyzer”, which is specific only to the “Men in Black” films and franchise.
The inclusion of a franchise-specific prop may redefine an otherwise CDO costume into a higher-level of association and distinguishability so that it is no longer a CDO costume.
When a costume includes components that are not common in the real world (such as a prop, armor or specific articles of clothing) and are specific to one story or franchise, then that costume is definable as being Distinguishable as an Intellectual Property (or DIP).
Any costume that is DIP means that it is far more likely to be distinguishable not only as a costume by most bystanders, it is also more likely to be recognized as being associated with a particular character or group of characters that are part of a single story or franchise. There are many examples of DIP costumes. Some examples would include the following: stormtrooper costumes from “Star Wars”, Darth Vader’s costume from “Star Wars”, Federation uniforms from “Star Trek”, the costume worn by Jeannie in “I Dream of Jeannie”, many of the various extraterrestrial costumes from “Doctor Who”, costumes from “Mortal Kombat”, costumes from “Halo”, etc.
Most of the costumes shown in the picture above of DIP costume examples also fall into a final 3rd type of costume: Undeniably Distinguishable as a Costume or UDC. Because not every bystander is familiar with every franchise, not everyone is necessarily going to recognize what franchise or character a particular costume represents even though they can distinguish that the costumer is wearing a costume and not everyday clothing. In other words, UDC costumes are costumes that pretty much anyone knows is a costume; they just may not know what franchise it represents.
Also not every costume is necessarily associated with a particular franchise. Some examples would include the following: generic vampires, generic clowns, Roman centurions, Roman togas, generic witches, generic wizards, medieval clothing, knights in suits of armor, etc. Additionally, uniquely designed costumes, such as fursuits or custom armor not associated with any franchise, are also UDC.
Any easy way to remember the distinguishability of various costumes is as follows:
- CDO costumes are the opposite of UDC costumes.
- DIP costumes can range from being similar to CDO to being UDC costumes.
Something else to bear in mind is this: any story or franchise can include costumes that are both CDO and DIP. “Harry Potter” and “Doctor Who”, for example, each contain both of these types of costumes.