Character/Costume Associations & Costume Distinguishability

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.
Black Suit Costumes

Black business suit costumes from “Men in Black”, “The Matrix” and “Kung Fu Hustle”.

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.

Various DIP Costumes

“Distinguishable as IP” Costumes from “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, “I Dream of Jeannie”, “Doctor Who”, “Mortal Kombat” and “Halo”

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.

Non-Franchise Associated Costumes

“Undeniably Distinguishable as a Costume” Costumes, Cosplays & Fursuits Not Associated with Any Franchise

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.

 

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Canon vs. Custom Costumes

It’s probably safe to say that there are probably more #cosplayers & #costumers wearing canon #costumes than custom costumes. But, what is means by canon versus custom costumes?

Canon Costumes

A canon costume is any cosplay or costume that precisely recreates an outfit worn by a character at a specific point of time within a story.

Modifications or variations are not permissible if the costume is intended to be canon.

This would include, for example, the recreation of all of the garments, head gear, footwear, armor and props worn and used by that character during a specific point in a story.

Bear in mind that it’s not uncommon for a single character to wear different attire at different points of a story’s timeline. Consequently, each of the different sets of attire worn by a particular character is, by itself, a distinct canon costume.

Canon Costume Examples: Leia from “Star Wars”

Let’s consider the various outfits worn by Princess (or General) Leia (as played by the late Carrie Fisher) in the 5 “Star Wars” movies in which she appeared, not including “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”.

1. In “Star War IV: A New Hope”, Leia primarily wears a silky white full-length gown with a silver belt and white boots. Her hair is iconically braided and rolled up on the sides of her head. But, in the final ceremony scene, she wears a more formal gown that has a lower neckline, a necklace and silver shoes.

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2. In “Star War V: The Empire Strikes Back”, Leia wears several more distinct outfits at different points within the movie’s timeline:

  • On Hoth, Leia wears a wintery white jump suit and jacket.
  • On Cloud City, she wears a brown gown with a long beige sweater. Her still-braided hair is worn more loosely than wrapped around the back of her head.
  • Her outfit changes again towards the end of the movie to a gown very similar to the one that she wore in “A New Hope”. Her hairstyle is also different.image1

Thus, in one movie, she’s wearing at least 3 different costumes.

3. In “Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi”, Leia wears multiple outfits again, more than in either “A New Hope” or “Empire Strikes Back”.

  • In Leia’s opening appearance, she is disguised as a bounty hunter named Bosch.
  • Shortly thereafter, she is briefly enslaved by Jabba the Hutt, who forces her to wear the infamous “metal” bikini slave outfit.
  • After returning to a Rebel Alliance ship, she initially wears a lightly colored military-style outfit.
  • Then, as part of a group of guerrilla fighters on Endor, she dons green camouflaged outfit that includes a helmet & poncho.
  • She later wears a more relaxed beige outfit while talking with Luke before the movie’s final battle.
  • She then returns to her military style camouflage outfit as seen earlier for the battle.
  • At the end of the movie, she returns to wearing the more relaxed beige outfit.

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4. In “Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens”, an older General Leia wears 2 different outfits: a vested military-style pant suit and a formal blue gown. The hairstyles with each outfit are also different.

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5. In “Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi”, General Leia wears 3 different outfits:

  • First, an elegant gown with a jacket.
  • Then, a hospital gown.
  • Lastly, her elegant gown with a heavier jacket.

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So, if a cosplayer wants to cosplay Princess (or General) Leia, there are no less than 15 different costume choices from which to select from.

Now, if a cosplayer wants to do a variant of one of costumes worn by Princess or General Leia, that variant would no longer be a canon costume.

Custom Costumes

A custom costume is any cosplay or costume that is not a precise recreation of an outfit worn by an existing character of a particular story.

That being said, here’s a list of several different types of custom costumes.

A Customized Canon Character

When a cosplayer wants to cosplay a specific canon character from a franchise, but wants to alter the costume’s appearance while still being that character, it’s a custom costume. For this type of custom costume, the identify of the original canon character has to remain intact. Modifications that are common for this type of custom costume include the following:

  • Use of different colors that aren’t part of the original canon costume.
  • Colors from the canon costume applied differently than on the original canon costume.
  • Other variations in garments, makeup, hairstyles; etc. that don’t detract from the character’s identity.
The challenge for any cosplayer wearing this type of custom costume is to ensure that the customizations aren’t so severe that the identity of the original canon character is lost, which would reduce the visual impact of this type of custom costume.

Some examples are shown below, each of which is a variant of the iconic “Star Wars” character Darth Vader.

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A Customized Character Based upon a Canon Character Design

Some cosplayers enjoy creating new, custom characters based on existing canon characters. In this situation, the goal is a custom costume that bears some resemblance to the original canon character that inspired it, but is sufficiently different to be viewed as a unique character on its own. Modifications that are common in this type of custom costume include the following:

  • Use of different colors that aren’t part of the original canon costume.
  • Use of unique insignias or sigils not present on the original canon costume.
  • Other variations in garments, makeup, hairstyles; etc. that don’t completely eliminate the connection between the custom costume and the canon one that inspired it.

A common type of this type of custom costume are the myriad cosplayers who create custom Mandalorian merc costumes that are all based on the original canon characters of Boba Fett and Jango Fett from the “Star Wars” franchise. It’s also common for Halo cosplayers who create their own unique Spartan and ODST characters.

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Hybrids of Two or More Canon Costumes

Another interesting type of custom costume is a hybrid that combines two or more canon characters or a known brand with a canon character. To create a hybrid, a cosplayer typically does some of the following designs and applications:

  • Select one of the canon characters to be the primary base of the hybrid.
  • Apply the characteristics (such as colors, logos, sigils, etc.) of the other canon character(s) or brand with the base character.

Hybrids usually don’t incorporate colors or other things that are not part of the original character costumes (or brands) being combined as that would likely detract from the overall appearance of the resulting hybrid.

The most successful hybrid costumes are ones in which:

  • The identities of the original characters (or brands) remain completely recognizable in the combined form.
  • The combination of the original characters (or brands) is seamless.
  • The original characters (or brands) originate from different franchises.

Several examples of hybrid costumes are shown below.

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A Uniquely Designed Costume Inspired by a Generic Form

Some cosplayers like to create costumes and the characters that they represent after being inspired by a particular generic form. The form could be anything, but typically has multiple examples that share a common form, but are also unique unto themselves.

While this may sound similar to the creation of a custom character based upon an existing canon character, it is, but what makes this different is that the generic form isn’t specific to any one particular canon character. Instead, generic form is the basis for a  collection of similarly designed characters that aren’t necessarily from the same story or franchise.

The best example of this is fursuiters. Fursuiters are inspired by the generic form of anthropomorphic animal characters that have been used in multiple animated movies for different stories and by multiple franchises. When a fursuiter creates a character, the fursuiter typically follows the overall generic form for an anthropomorphic animal character, but the fursuiter has the freedom to base the character on any animal species, combination of multiple species, or create an entirely new fictitious species. The fursuiter also has complete freedom to use any combination of colors and patterns as part of the character’s overall appearance. Thus, each fursuit is uniquely created, but was inspired by the same generic form.

The fursuit parade from this year’s Antrocon is best example of this type of uniquely designed set of costumes.

Completely Original Costume Creations

The final type of custom costume that we’ll mention (and there are probably others) are completely original custom creations that are purely unique designs not based upon any particular form, existing characters or franchises.

Here, the cosplayer is free to do virtually anything since there are very few limitations on what the cosplayer can do.

A prime example of a completely unique costume costume is something that we shared a long time ago: a costume inspired by con-crud:

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One cosplayer who specializes in original custom designs is TwoHorndedCreations. He features a number of his original creations on his YouTube channel.

 

 

His creations are both beautiful and bizarre, but entirely original.

So What Is the Difference between Canon & Custom Costumes?

Simple: cosplayers who like to wear canon characters want to recreate an existing character while cosplayers who prefer to wear custom costumes want to be entirely unique within themselves even when their costumes are inspired by something else.

References

Law Student Graduates as Spider-Man

Anyone who’s ever attended a graduation ceremony knows they can be boring. But, one law student at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico decided to buck the school’s tradition of wearing a formal suit and tie by sneaking off to change into a complete #SpiderMan #costume!

While not everyone at the ceremony was amused when 22-year-old Hiram Yahir Salas Romero walked up to get his degree as the web-slinger, the Rector did appear to briefly smile at the graduating student’s creativity.

References