Pierre E. Pettinger, Jr.
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Costume-Con 40 Review


Costume-Con 40 was held April 1-4 this year! It was delightful, and troubled, and felt oh, so good to be there.

For those of you unfamiliar with it, Costume-Con is an annual convention which celebrates the costuming art; what is currently often called cosplay. It was founded in 1983 by Karen Dick, an extraordinary costumer who had won several major awards at the time. (And still does.) It was intended as a one-off convention, but the best laid plans of founders often grow beyond their original vision.

Costume-Con 40 was a return to an in-person gathering. Like many conventions, the pandemic vetoed in-person gatherings. Costume-Con 38 was the first casualty of the pandemic, canceled literally the day before it was going to begin. Many of us were already in Montreal when the Prime Minister forbade sizeable gatherings.

Costume-Con 39, intended to be held in the Bay Area of California, announced it would host several of the events planned for CC38 when it was believed we would be back to normal within the year. Alas, that was not achievable, and the CC38 events were moved to CC40.

To add to everyone’s confusion, Costume-Con 39 will still be held next year. Then the next year Costume-Con 42 will be held in Denver. Alas, that leaves poor CC41 in permanent limbo.

Returning to Costume-Con 40; challenges still threatened to cancel the event. Hotel issues erupted the Monday before the scheduled opening. Luckily, negotiations were successful and many of us were able to gather in Bethesda.

The programming was, unfortunately, a bit sparse due to continuing issues. However, the events and exhibits easily made up for it. Friday night the Costume-Con 38 Future Fashion Show and Single Pattern Competitions were held.

Again, some explanations. A tradition at Costume-Cons, inherited from Equicon Science Fiction Conventions in California, the Future Fashion Design Competition has been a feature of CC’s since the first one. The Competition occurs before the convention begins. Competitors submit drawings of future fashion. Any subject is welcome, though typical categories are business wear, casual wear, formal wear, weddings, ceremonies, children’s, and so forth. Even designs for non-human persons are welcomed. A panel of judges picks winners and those winners are published in the Future Fashion Folio which is distributed several months before the convention. Originally a printed product, Folios in the last few years have been electronic.

Now the fun begins. Members can request particular designs to make for the convention. The precise rules for choices vary from year to year. Once a design has been assigned to a member, they make that design up for the Future Fashion Show. The delight is seeing how each member interprets the design they are making. Even if the design is very specific as to color and fabric, there are numerous variations of materials available, and seeing how an artist translates a two-dimensional drawing into a three-dimensional garment is a wonderful experience. We had eleven entries in this competition. My wife, Sandy, and I both entered; I with the Dragon Cloak designed by Scott Lees and Sandy with the Octopus Hoodie designed by Maral Agnerian.

The Single Pattern Competition has some similarities to the Future Fashion Show, but plenty of differences as well. The Single Pattern was instituted at Costume-Con 12 as a special competition by director Kevin Roche. It has been enthusiastically embraced by succeeding Costume-Cons. The concept is simple. The director chooses a number of commercially available patterns. Competitors then make the pattern using whatever materials and techniques they desire. They are even allowed to adjust the pattern, so long as it is still recognizably the pattern. When there are multiple patterns chosen, almost universally now, combining patterns is also allowed. We had sixteen entries in this competition. Sandy and I also had entries in this competition; Sandy competed an entry called Reef, made from McCall’s 7368 pattern and I competed the Dragon Lord made from McCalls 7736.

On Saturday evening the Fantasy and Science Fiction Masquerade was held. This is a traditional costume competition familiar to attendees at science fiction conventions. Generally, the only criterion of an entry is to have some connection to science fiction, fantasy, and related genres. This still allows a tremendous range of possibilities. The F/SF Masquerade is run under a division system. This is a handicapping system designed to allow newer costumers a fair chance against experienced ones. Traditional divisions are Novice/Journeyman/Master; patterned after the old guild system. Precise names vary, and number of divisions range from two (generally for very small masquerades) to four. Specific requirements are set for each division to control who may enter; though it is always allowable to compete up. We had a great F/SF Masquerade this year with twenty-eight entries. Sandy and I competed Sadric the 86th and His Empress, a homage to the late, great Anne Chancellor who designed an entry under the same title forty-four years ago.

On Sunday the Costume-Con 40 Future Fashion and Single Pattern competitions were held in the late morning. The Future Fashion competition had twelve entries. I competed the Formal Uniform of the Order of Saints Agathius and Adrian from my own design. The Single Pattern had twenty-four entries.

On Sunday evening we had the Historic Masquerade. I was honored to serve as one of the judges. The Historical Masquerade is a more complex competition than the F/SF. Contestants can enter exact recreations of garments from history, garments made in the proper style of a period, or entries that differ in some manner, called Interpretation.

The Historic Masquerade is often, though not always, a three-part competition. Entries are required to produce documentation to explain and justify their choices. This is one competition. The second is workmanship; generally judged prior to the show and often with the garments off the competitors so the judges can closely examine the garments. And finally, the presentations are judged during the show. Each of these three is considered a separate competition and the results of one do not affect the others. The only exception is the choice of Overall Best in Show which takes into account all three competitions We had nineteen entries in the Historic Masquerade.

In addition, there are several static competitions as well. Costume-Cons almost always have doll competitions. Quilt competitions are also common, and we had one at CC40. In addition, a competition based on some basic item is common. In the past we have had codpieces, ties, bras, Hawaiian shirts, and other types of events. This year we had a very topical face/plague mask competition and a tiara competition.

The Exhibits director, Leslie Johnston, put together a great series of past works with costumes on mannequins, photos, and sewing machines. Betsy Marks contributed many items she has collected as the Costume-Con archivist.

Perhaps the greatest thing, though, was being able to visit in person with friends we have had for decades; most of which we made through Costume-Con and other SF conventions. Won’t you join us next year for Costume-Con 39 or the year after at Costume-Con 42?
Links to the upcoming Costume-Cons:


Costume-Con 42’s website is not yet available.

Or, if you would like to explore Costume-Con history and see photos of past entries you can go here:


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