What Are the Rules of Costuming & Cosplay?

What are the rules of #costuming & #cosplay? If you ask this question to any #costumer or #cosplayer, they’ll likely say that there aren’t any. While this is true in the sense that there is no universal costuming & cosplay group that has established any rules nor would it be possible for such a group (if it existed) to enforce them, there are rules that costumers & cosplayers should follow or face potential consequences for failing to do so, because some have.

What are these rules? Ones that apply to everyone (not just costumers & cosplayers) because they come from established laws or are established by venues, conventions, movie theaters, etc.

Wearing a costume or cosplay (including carrying props) in public does not exempt one from obeying established laws.

The Basic Rules That Apply to Everyone

1. Laws Governing Indecent Exposure

Indecent exposure is the deliberate exposure in public or in view of the general public by a person of a portion or portions of his or her body, in circumstances where the exposure is contrary to local moral or other standards of appropriate behavior. Social and community attitudes to the exposing of various body parts and laws covering what is referred to as indecent exposure vary significantly in different countries. It ranges from outright prohibition to prohibition of exposure of certain body parts, such as the genital area, buttocks or breasts.

Local, county, state, provincial & national governments have typically established laws defining indecent exposure that apply to everyone that is within their jurisdictions. If a costumer or cosplayer decides to go out in public wearing a costume or cosplay that violates indecent exposure laws, then there’s a good chance that the costumer or cosplayer is going to be arrested.

So, before wearing a costume or cosplay in public view, be sure that it doesn’t violate any indecent exposure laws that could apply.

2. Laws Governing the Wearing of Masks

Anti-masking laws refer to legislative or penal initiatives that seek to stop individuals from concealing their faces, who often do so to conceal their identities while committing a crime.

Now, while costumers & cosplayers have no criminal intent while wearing a mask (or other face-covering item, such as helmet) as part of a costume, many criminals do wear masks or helmets when committing crimes.

For this reason, if a costumer or cosplayer goes out in public wearing a mask or helmet that completely conceals their identity and it’s not Halloween or the intent of why as mask or helmet is being worn isn’t clear to the general public, then that costumer or cosplayer could find themselves being arrested or getting into trouble. We have reported multiple such instances on our blog & Facebook page. Here are 2 examples:

Here are other articles we’ve shared about people wearing costumes while engaged in criminal activity:

Thus, it is very important to know when it is and is not appropriate to wear a mask in public. 

3. Laws Regarding Civilians Wearing Military Uniforms & “Stolen Valor”

In the United States, federal laws concerning the wearing of United States Military uniforms by people not on active duty are published in the United States Code (USC). Specifically, 10 USC, Subtitle A, Part II, Chapter 45, Sections 771 and 772.

Section 771 states:

Except as otherwise provided by law, no person except a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, as the case may be, may wear –

(1) the uniform, or a distinctive part of the uniform, of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps; or

(2) a uniform any part of which is similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps

Section 772 lists some exceptions, the most important of which that is applicable to costumers & cosplayers is listed below:

(f) While portraying a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, an actor in a theatrical or motion-picture production may wear the uniform of that armed force if the portrayal does not tend to discredit that armed force.

Now, while on the surface, these laws seem pretty plain, the reality is that no court has ever really defined what a “theatrical production” is. Hence, is Halloween or attending a comic con a “theatrical production”? While this isn’t clear, the only court case where this topic has been addressed had a very liberal determination.

In addition to the laws cited above, there’s also the issue of stolen valor.

“Stolen Valor” is a term applied to the phenomenon of people falsely claiming military awards or badges they did not earn, service they did not perform, Prisoner of War experiences that never happened, and other tales of military derring-do that exist only in their minds.

If you are going to wear a military uniform as a costume or cosplay, leave out any actual medals and don’t pretend that you ever served in the military. Otherwise, you can very quickly be seen as someone stealing valor. The U.S. government passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 to address issues of people attempting to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefits by convincing another that he or she received a military award.

4. Laws Regarding the Wearing of Law Enforcement Uniforms, Badges & Insignia

Without going into a lot of detail, it’s generally not a good idea to wear authentic law enforcement uniforms, badges or insignias. To do so could be construed as impersonating a law enforcement officer. If you want to read on this subject further, we recommend starting here: Legal information and links to U.S. Federal & U.S. State Laws and regulations as well as Foreign National Laws governing Badges, Emblems, Uniforms, Insignias and Names.

5. Laws Pertaining to Weapons

As many costumes & cosplays include prop weapons, it’s important to remember that those prop weapons shouldn’t be carelessly taken out into public where they could be misconstrued as being real weapons. Not only could you be potentially arrested, you could imperil your own life should a law enforcement officer decide to fire his/her weapon if the officer feels that he or she (or the general public) is in some way threatened.

For specifics on laws pertaining to types of weapons, the following links are useful:

It also goes without saying that it would be highly unwise to be carrying a prop that looks like an explosive device in this day & age, especially one that looks realistic.

6. Zero-Tolerance Policies at Schools

Most public school districts maintain very strict zero-tolerance policies for weapons & drugs. Even toy weapons (that are often used for costumes & cosplays) fall under this type of policy, as well as masks & helmets.

The bottom line, don’t take any prop weapons or wear masks to or near a public school.

Venue or Convention Specific Rules

Venues and conventions often have specific rules pertaining to costumes & props. As these rules vary widely, it is the responsibility of any costumer or cosplayer planning to attend to understand the specific venue or convention rules ahead of time. While its true that some conventions change rules at the last minute, it’s very important to stay on top of them for that very reason.

Any costumer or cosplayer whose costume or props don’t meet the rules of the venue or convention won’t be allowed to enter, and these rules (especially with regard to prop weapons) have been increased considerably since the unfortunate incident of the armed man who entered Phoenix Comic Con earlier this year. Phoenix Comic Con still has very strict rules. We have written posts regarding venue & convention rules:

Movie Theaters that Ban Masks and/or Costumes

Most movie theaters continue to ban any costumes that conceal the wearer’s face following the unfortunate shooting incidents that have occurred over the past couple of years.

Concluding Remarks

No one likes being told what they can and cannot do when it comes to costumes and cosplays, but applicable laws and rules can impact what individual costumers and cosplayers are planning to do. The most important thing is to be aware of them ahead of time. If the laws & rules are too restrictive for what you were planning to do, consider doing something different. You’ll still have just as much fun without the fear of getting into trouble.




Los Angeles Comic Con Adopts Stricter Weapons Policy

Another comic con, Los Angeles Comic Con (#LACC) has adopted a stricter weapons (#props & #costumes) #policy. The new policy bans all prop guns:

  • Effective immediately, Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con will be a GUN FREE and PROP-GUN FREE SHOW. This means that anyone who brings a GUN, FIRE ARM and/or PROP-GUN to Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con will NOT be allowed to enter the LA Convention Center. Furthermore, GUNS, FIREARMS, and/or PROP-GUNS will NOT be allowed on the show floor.
  • PROP-GUNS: To be clear, props including, but not limited to those that resemble historical guns, science fiction guns, or fantasy guns. Simply put, if it looks like a GUN (and is NOT a banana or your finger), DON’T BRING IT!

In other words, if you were planning to take a prop that resembles any kind of gun (including purely fictional ones) it won’t be allowed in.

So what kind of prop weapons are being allowed? Only if they conform to the following:

  • Prop Weapons will be allowed, providing they are composed of cardboard, foam, wood or other lightweight materials.

Additionally, metal light sabers will also not be allowed: they have to be made of plastic.

  • Lightsabers must be light-weight and made of plastic.

Clearly LACC organizers (and/or the venue) are concerned about metal light sabers potentially being used as blunt force weapons at the comic con, which seems a bit extreme; but increasingly this is the world that we live in: one of increased security, even when it isn’t necessarily justified imho.

Our only advice to everyone planning to attend LACC to be sure to fully read and understand the complete weapons policy and to not bring anything that won’t be allowed in.



Ever-Changing Rules & Policies for Costumes & Props at Anime & Comic Conventions

As attendee #safety is a very important shared responsibility of comic & anime conventions, conventions establish rules & policies for allowed #costumes & #props. These rules & policies in part reflect local, state & federal laws, as well as any rules & policies of the venue where the convention is taking place. Additional rules & policies may also be instituted by convention organizers.

Invariably, not everyone likes the rules & policies that are established, especially when they change and become more restrictive. What many #cosplayers & #costumers fail to appreciate is that the rules and policies are for everyone’s safety, both physically and emotionally.


Common Rules & Policies

The most common rules & policies that restrict what a costumer, cosplayer (or any attendee) can wear or have in their possession at an anime or comic convention are as follows:

  • No nudity.
  • No actual firearms, explosive devices, chemicals or devices that can release chemicals or other projectiles.
  • No sharp-bladed metal weapons, such as knives, swords, ninja stars, etc.
  • No sharp points on costumes that can potentially injure others.
  • No dangerous blunt weapons, such as wood or metal baseball bats, or other similar blunt force weapons that aren’t constructed from foam, cardboard or other light-weight materials.

Recent Incidents Involving Safety

Where incidents have occurred, some conventions may institute more restrictive rules and policies that include many more banned items, such as in the aftermath of the man arrested earlier this year at Phoenix Comicon, who was heavily armed with real weapons and extra ammunitions. The more restrictive bans at Phoenix Comicon include the following:

  • Prohibited Items
    The following props and accessories are not permitted at Phoenix Comicon

    • Firearms of any kind regardless of whether it has been emptied, disabled, or otherwise incapacitated, including but not limited to real and replica
      • BB guns
      • cap guns
      • paintball guns
      • nerf guns
      • blowguns
      • water guns
      • pellet guns
      • airsoft guns
      • Toy guns
      • Blasters
      • Any other real or replica weapon that resembles a firearm
    • Tasers
    • Glass Props
    • Stone Props
    • Chainsaws or other gas-powered props
    • Bladed metal or wooden weapons, including but not limited to
      • Axes
      • Daggers
      • Hatchets
      • Knives
      • Swords
      • pocket blades
      • ninja stars
      • metal or wooden shields
      • strung bows
      • bladed or sharp arrows
      • Flails
      • Power and garden tools
      • Claws
    • Real, replica, or simulated explosives, ammunition, and chemical weapons of any kind, including but not limited to
      • Bullets
      • Hand grenades
      • Claymore Mines
      • firecrackers
      • pepper spray
      • Mace
      • Powder caps
      • Cartoon bombs
      • Simulated bomb vests
    • Metal, spiked, wooden and other miscellaneous props including but not limited to
      • Metal Armor
      • Barbed wire
      • Metal spikes
      • Nunchucks
      • Metal, wooden, aluminum, or heavy plastic bats
      • Slingshots
      • Brass knuckles
      • Golf Clubs
      • Hockey Sticks
    • Excessively noisy props including but not limited to
      • Airhorns
      • Bullhorns
      • Whistles

One surprising item that appeared on the ban list was “metal armor” as many costumers & cosplayers wear metal armor, including Star Wars & medieval costumers & cosplayers.

Other Controversial Rule & Policy Changes

New York Comic Con

New York Comic Con also created a stir beginning in 2014 when it made its costume & prop policies more restrictive, forcing many costumers & cosplayers to either give up their props at the entrances or abandoning them in the streets leading to the convention. Things became more heated in 2016 at NYCC when they again changed their props & weapons to policy so that only foam & cardboard props & weapons would be permitted:

Prop weapons and prop firearms will be allowed providing they are composed of foam or cardboard only.

In 2017, the prop & weapons policies at NYCC changed somewhat again, reflecting the cosplay rules & policies established by the venue: Madison Square Garden, but the restriction on prop weapons being composed of only foam or cardboard remained in place:

  • All final decisions on costumes entering the facility shall be at the sole discretion of Madison Square Garden security.
  • Your costume must not be wider than 4 feet across, longer than 6 feet, or taller than 8 feet.
  • You MUST be able to easily maneuver your costume over stairs or ramps unassisted. You must be able to sit in your seat while wearing your costume, or plan to take it off once entering the stadium (limited storage space available).
  • You must have unobstructed vision at all times (i.e., must not need to remove a piece of your costume in order to see).
  • Armor cannot pose a threat to others by way of sharpened metal edges, spikes or bladed surfaces.
  • Prop weapons and prop firearms will be allowed providing they are composed of foam or cardboard only. The barrel of all prop firearms must be covered with brightly-colored caps. No bladed weapons, no metal, no wood, no fiberglass, no PVC, no glass, no firearms of any kind including air guns or cap guns.
  • Any bow-type weapons must be unstrung or strung with a low-tensile thread. All prop arrows must have soft, non-metal, blunted tips made out of foam or cardboard only.
  • You may not include liquids, gels, or other substances which could cause a mess. This is at the discretion of Madison Square Garden staff.
  • You may not use smoke effects, fire, explosives, or any other environmental hazard in any capacity.
  • You may display your prop weapons only as costume pieces. Do not swing or brandish your prop in any way that could be considered unsafe or threatening.
  • You may pose with a prop in a brandishing manner, so long as no reasonable person would interpret for anything other than dramatic effect. NYCC and Madison Square Garden staff may stop you at their sole discretion.

Rose City Comic Con (Portland, OR)

In 2017, Rose City Comic Con has instituted additional costuming rule that are causing a stir on social media for some costumers & cosplayers because it doesn’t involve props: it has to do with symbols:

  • Hateful symbols aren’t welcome at Rose City Comic Con. Historical costumes can be great, but reminders of unspeakable atrocities are not appropriate – this goes for Old School Hydra and Red Skull or any other Nazis from entertainment properties. Those figures, while comic-related, are still very much Nazis. As a result, they are 100% banned, always. This includes any sort of “ironic” or satirical costumes that re-appropriate Nazi paraphernalia or gear. You won’t just be banned from that year’s convention. You will be banned from coming to RCCC for life.

This is the first outright ban on Nazi symbology and costumes by a convention to our knowledge. While some are deeply offended by this new rule, which they view as apparent denial of free speech, current sociopolitical events in the United States were likely the reason for the adoption of this rule. In some countries (such as Germany and Austria), the display of any Nazi symbols is illegal.

Like it or not, costumers and cosplayers need to be familiar with a convention’s rules & policies for costumes & props before they attend. Regardless of how any one costumer or cosplayer feels about a particular convention’s rules & policies, always bear in mind that no one is obligated to attend a comic or anime convention. If you are so offended by a convention’s rules and policies, our only advice is simply to not attend. If you do choose to attend, then your costume and any props will have to comply with the convention’s rules & policies if you want to be permitted inside.



Prop Weapons Banned at Phoenix Comicon

All prop weapons have been banned at #PhoenixComicon after a man carrying real firearms & ammunition was arrested by police at the Phoenix Convention Center.

The 30-year old man was wearing body armor, was carrying three handguns & one shotgun, along with ammunition, a knife and a variety of handheld weapons. The man intended to harm Phoenix police & had been taking pictures of officers, including those patrolling Phoenix Comicon, then posting them on social media. A woman who knows the man alerted police to his activities.

A spokeswoman for Phoenix Comicon said this regarding prop weapons: “Please leave them (prop weapons) at home or in your vehicles, since they will not be allowed into the facility.”

People waiting to enter Phoenix Comicon