Fellow Nerdist fan, Diane (DiHard), recently wrote a blog where she was trying to find a connecting theme in some observations she’s had. She mentions Gene Wilder’s critique of Willy Wonka’s original costume, Chris Hardwick’s clothes and cosplay. The thread (pun intended) is clothing, but more importantly what the person wearing it wants to say (or even hide) about themselves. I don’t know if the nerdy crowd is more aware of this projection than the pinks are, but creative-obsessives certainly understand it and use it. One such creative person is Gene Wilder.
Costumes are the first impression that you have of the character before they open their mouth – it really does establish who they are.
– Colleen Atwood, costume designer for Alice in Wonderland (2011).
Gene Wilder wrote a letter to Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’s director, Mel Stuart, in July of 1970 to give constructive criticism regarding early sketches he’d seen of the costume he’d wear. Judging by the details and number of observations in the letter, the actor clearly understood what he would wear would influence how the audience perceived his character. This is clearest in his examination of the purple coat:
I don’t think of Willy as an eccentric who holds on to his 1912 Dandy’s Sunday suit and wears it in 1970, but rather as just an eccentric — where there’s no telling what he’ll do or where he ever found his get-up — except that it strangely fits him: Part of this world, part of another.
Indeed, Willy Wonka lives in his own universe populated by a strange tribe of humanoids who do all of the work for him and he rarely interacts with the nasty, grey outside world. He is Howard Hughes with a confection fetish. He is the kid who never quite grew up and wears what he likes, gosh darn it. Wearing what ones want, naysayers be damned, may be part of the message the person is projecting.
For the apparel oft proclaims the man.
– Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3.
Some people have a problem with Chris Hardwick’s pants. Diane mentions in her blog that he’s been getting grief for his wardrobe – specifically for wearing tight pants – and apparently someone at the live Nokia Plaza show in L.A. actually told him so to his face. Though the Quemment section is cut from the podcast, Hardwick references the criticism at the end and also mentions it during one of his Attack of the Show hosting duties. I’ve no idea why he chooses to wear what he does as I’m not in his head, but if I could guess what he was thinking, it’s probably along the lines of, “Hey, I’m not fat anymore!”
Speaking as someone who has dropped a few pounds and plans to drop some more, I can see the appeal of wearing a tight fitting shirt and a cinched-up belt after baggy, untucked shirts were once used to cover a gelatinous figure. Boobs that giggle and bounce can be sexy, bellies that do so are not. Also consider the industry Hardwick works for – being youthful and/or fit can be very important when looking for work. Showing off you’ve still got the goods to play a leading man or at least be hired in an auxiliary role isn’t mere vanity, its job security.
Semi-serious sidebar – what IS the “proper” tightness of pants for a man? Hardwick has gotten grief for wearing pants that are “too tight” and I’ve read criticisms of President Obama wearing loose “mom jeans” when he threw out the first pitch at a White Sox game. So what’s the socially acceptable mean? What is the standard by which trousers are judged? I can understand a case-by-case assessment, as in a three-hundred pound person shouldn’t wear spandex any more that an ectomorph should wear baggy trousers as each extreme looks like it doesn’t fit, but Hardwick and Obama are in good shape and both have been criticized for wearing pants that aren’t “right.” So what is “just right,” oh Goldilocks-like judges? And what do you make of cosplayers?
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.
– T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Full disclosure, my own experience with cosplay is limited. Other than dressing up for plays, Halloween, the occasional high school “pride” event and Harry Potter book launches (read: the times mainstream society thought it socially acceptable), the only time I put on a costume was when I dressed as a Klingon for a charity event at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (LONG story). Much of what I know comes from observation, specifically watching friends in the SCA make and wear costumes, admiring the craftsmanship on display at some cons and what I’ve seen on television (such as THAT episode of CSI). Since this is written from an outsider’s perspective, please take what I say with a grain of salt if not the whole shaker.
Cosplay takes dressing to impress to a whole new level. Instead of just dressing to project the type of person you want to be seen as – “This is me as a professional businessman” or “This is me as a hipster” – cosplay allows the wearer to become someone else entirely. A creative person with enough costuming skills and/or a lot of space on their credit card can easily transform into someone other than their usual selves. Now the nerdy bookworm can become VOILA a bad-ass auror from the Harry Potter universe. Someone who blends in with the crowd at work can become SHAZAM a superhero with bad-ass pecks (which may or may not be included with the outfit). This point was driven home while watching Triumph the Insult Comic Dog interview Star Wars fans standing in line for movie tickets. About seven minutes into the bit, a guy wearing a stormtrooper costume removes his helmet and says, “Hi! I’m Colonel Sanders!” The audience laughs because, well, he DID look like a young Colonel Sanders, but presumably because of the juxtaposition as well – what this man was presenting in cosplay was radically different from his daily persona and he clearly knew it.
For this reason, I think of cosplay as potential escapism – if your daily visage makes people think you should play banjo in a bluegrass band, maybe you’d want to try on something different, maybe even intimidating, once in a great while. For those of us who grew up being picked last for kickball and other common nerd issues, being someone else for a day can be liberating.
Patty Marvel lives in Cleveland, Ohio and knows WAY too much about the Harry Potter universe. And she owns a Hufflepuff robe.