Hasslein Blog: Getting Into Character, Part Two: The Taffeta Darling


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Getting Into Character, Part Two: The Taffeta Darling

by Rich Handley

Earlier this year, while preparing an article for Bleeding Cool Magazine issue #6, I spoke with eight cosplayers who shared their insights into why they enjoy dressing up, how they craft their creations, the mainstreaming of comic books, and the sexism and negativity that some women face regarding their participation in a once male-dominated hobby. That issue recently hit stands, containing truncated versions of the interviews I conducted with each costumer, in a roundtable format. Now that the article is in print, I thought I'd highlight each cosplayer by presenting his or her unedited answers on this blog. You can read the other interviews here

Cosplayer: The Taffeta Darling

RICH HANDLEY: How long have you been cosplaying, and what first drew you to the hobby?

THE TAFFETA DARLING: Honestly, I've been playing dress-up all my life—starting with my mom's clothes and makeup when I was a youngling, and then in church musicals, which carried on into drama and show choir classes at school. I was heavily involved in theatre throughout junior high and high school. As far as "costuming in public" as various superheros, movie or cartoon characters, since 2009. I started as a pinup/plus-size model in 2008, then made the transition of doing theme shoots in the spring of 2009. My first character was Zatanna, and I started selling prints of myself as Zatanna in early 2010.

The Taffeta Darling, perfectly channeling Kelly LeBrock's Lisa from Weird Science

HANDLEY: Do you create your own costumes or purchase them—and if you create them, what goes into making a typical getup?

DARLING: I'd say I create my own costumes. Although I can't sew very well, I've always found items at thrift stores and randomly at other places to complete a look. I've also hired seamstresses to have custom-made items. Not once have a I worn a "store-bought/Party City" superhero costume and attempted to portray myself as a cosplayer.

Jinkies! It's Velma from Scooby-Doo—and she's found her glasses!
(Photo courtesy Neither Noir Photography)

HANDLEY: Why does cosplaying appeal to you? What characters do you most enjoy portraying, and why?

DARLING: First, let me say that I don't consider myself a cosplayer. I'm more of a costumer.

Let me explain: I was first exposed to "cosplay" by a dorky girl I went to high school with. She was into anime and a bunch of shit that I never got into. It seemed to represent a genre of people who repeatedly dressed up as the same character from anime movies, cartoons and these magna books, and who went to events such as conventions, where they would act out scenes, talk like the characters and look exactly liked the characters. It was another form of live-action role-play. Also, these kids made their own costumes. They didn't buy them at Party City or Target. It was a hobby, a craft of hours and hours to get the exact detail of a character or image down, to become this character. 

Okay. So, jump to 2013... if someone puts on a wig and sunglasses, they're "cos-playing"... if someone buys a Halloween costume and wears it out, they're "cos-playing." Not that there is anything wrong with any of that, at all. I guess the point is that the definition has evolved so much that I'm not even sure that it means the same thing as when I was first introduced.

So to rephrase your question, what appeals to me about being in costume? As a costumer, it's just another way for me to express my appreciation and love for movies, cartoons and certain books. I enjoy recreating costumes from characters I have a great fondness for. I don't limit myself to just a few costumes, as a "cosplayer" might. Every convention, I work on something new for each day. I rarely wear the same costume during the same year, and some I've retired. However, there are a few exceptions to my statement, such as Batgirl (the Animated Series suit), Velma Dinkley (from Scooby-Doo) and The Black Queen/Jean Grey. Those I have worn a few times, and had a lot of fun putting together. The best part of any costume is just seeing it come together. Whether it be ordering a new unitard or a custom belt buckle, or making new gauntlets, the whole process of it all is why I enjoy it. As far as my favorites, I've had the most fun as Batgirl, Two-Face (also from BTAS) and Velma.

Taffeta is beside herself as Batman's nemesis Two-Face.
(Photo courtesy Ken Pearson)

HANDLEY: In years past, those who attended conventions in costume represented a smaller percentage of total attendees. These days, that percentage seems to have grown exponentially. Why do you think cosplaying has become so prevalent, and how has the media played a role in this growth?

DARLING: People appearing in costume has definitely grown from when I first started attending conventions. I've been going to the local conventions here in Dallas since 2004, and it took me nearly six years to finally decide to dress in costume at a convention. I've been self-conscious most of my life, so the thought of being in costume in public never crossed my mind. Yet I saw kids doing it at these events in small numbers, and they had fun with it and didn't give a fuck about what anyone else thought. I figured that was a pretty cool attitude to have, and if these kids could do it, why the fuck couldn't I? I mean I loved movies and comics as much as they did. In comparison to then, the cosplaying numbers have most definitely grown, and I think it's because of the "geek-culture" phenomenon, which has taken me by surprise. Had I known that everything I used to get made fun of for liking as a youngin' would be so popular as an adult... it would have made junior high much more tolerable. 

Also, I think that exposure to Web sites, networks and shows centered around the geek (such as G4 {sad}) helped bring geek culture to the mainstream. And in the present day, there are sitcoms and reality shows based on nerds and geeks—which, again, puts this culture in the mainstream eyes. Now it's hip to be yourself and express it, and that's not a bad thing.

Suddenly Seymour... is there in a costume.

 In 2012, the Internet was abuzz regarding the negativity being aimed at so-called "fake geek girls" by some male fans, and even some male comic book creators themselves. Have you encountered this bias—and if so, can you share an example or two, describing how you reacted to such negativity? In your opinion, why do female cosplayers have such a harder time than men in earning respect for what they do? And what can be done to improve the situation so that female fans are treated fairly?

DARLING: Yeah, I remember seeing rants and posts about that subject on the damned Facebook. People went all nutso about "fake geek girls." I didn't read the articles. I'm assuming it was intended to push some people's buttons, and it did. I'm not fake. I mean, I'm as real as anything else living and breathing on this planet. Who cares about someone's opinions pissing off so-and-so? It's the goddamn Internets—ain't nobody got time for that! Regarding myself having a hard time? Not really, but I don't claim to know everything about every subject. I don't attempt to put myself out there with labels, either. Labels can be thrust upon people for easier grouping, but I wear no pins. 

I don't think female cosplayers have a harder time than men in earning respect for what they do. Well, I've never encountered it. Honestly, I think female cosplayers have a harder time earning respect from other female cosplayers. Girls are catty and way more judgmental than men, in my experience. I think the guys are too busy comparing themselves to other guys rather than girls... I guess? {shrug}

I will say I'm ignorant of the situation regarding being treated differently in a negative manner because I'm a female fan. I've been able to meet and greet and cut in lines because I am a fan and female. My whole way of living is, "treat people how you want to be treated." If you want to be treated in a fair manner, think about what's going on to even warrant the thought that you're not being treated fairly. How are your treating yourself, and how are you treating others? Don't put yourself on a pedestal and expect people to not try and push you off...

I don't even know what that means.

Na na na na na na na na...
(Photo courtesy Neither Noir Photography)

HANDLEY: Finally, how large a role do think cosplaying has played in the widespread acceptance of the comic book genre, encouraging many more fans to openly embrace their comic geekdom? And why is cosplaying ultimately a good thing for the comic book industry, as well as for Hollywood?

DARLING: Wow, so this is pretty much an elaboration on my answers from number three. I think I started noticing all this right around Batman Begins. This movie came out and blew everyone away. Mayhaps it rekindled a spark that people once had for Bats. Everyone loved Batman at least once while growing up. After this came the whole "who can put out the best superhero/comic movie," then merchandising! Followed by the rise of the "geek culture phenomenon." After a while, it was "hip" to wear your favorite comic book shirt, jeans and your extra-thick glasses. I think there are a variety of reasons, including increased attendance at conventions, which has led to fans openly embracing their comic geekdom. Yes, they're exposed to cosplay and people in costume at the events.

Do I think the cosplay world is responsible for fans openly embracing their comic geekdom? Not really, but I'm sure there are some who would disagree with me... there always are. I don't know if cosplay is good or bad for Hollywood or the comic book industry. People make money off each other. If people want to dress as characters and make money off it, do it. If Hollywood wants to produce superhero movies and make money off fans, I'm there. To each their own—that's how I see it. However, I do know that I wouldn't have characters to dress as if it wasn't for the comic book creators and Hollywood writers. They're the reason I do what I do, and love doing it.

Taffeta rocks the underworld as the secretary from Beetlejuice.
(photo by Pongo)

Stay tuned, as additional installments of the "Getting Into Character" series will be posted this and next week. As each new interview is uploaded, you'll find it listed here, along with the other articles in this series.

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