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Browncoat Cosplay: An Introduction

First aired: The Signal: Season 7, Episode 6
Written by Bindiya Dale
Read by Bindiya Dale
Edited by Paul Korswagen

SIMON: We'll have to look like we belong.

SAFFRON: We play parts.

WASH: Who is this diabolical master of disguise?

BOOK: Thought the outfit gave it away.

Quick: Think of the piece of apparel you're mostly likely to see on a Browncoat. Here's a hint: it's yellow and orange and red all over.

Many Browncoats show their support for Firefly and, more specifically, the character of Jayne Cobb, by donning the knitted hat sent to him by his mother in the episode "The Message". While gaudy and colorful and rarely what anyone would call a fashionable accessory to an outfit, the item is usually handmade and worn with pride by fans of the 'Verse the world over. Consider that we have t-shirts, pins, key-chains, and a number of other things we could use to show our affection, but there's a bit of pride taken in wearing something familiar to the character, wearing a bit of them wherever you go and quickly gaining recognition from fellow fans wherever you choose to wear it.

Some people go the extra mile, usually at conventions or shindigs, and they too are a recognizable part of any Browncoat gathering. These are the people who take their love a step further, donning a long leather duster and suspenders, or an elegant Asian-inspired dress, or even a hand-distressed pair of sleeveless mechanic overalls. These people are called cosplayers.

For those unfamiliar to the term, and adverse to Wikipedia, cosplay is a mash of the words "costume" and "play", and can be described as a sort of performance art where a person or group of people put together costumes that represent a character or idea. Usually inspiration is drawn from but not limited to comic books, movies, television, anime, or musical artists. In short, if you're a fan of it, you can dress up as it. The costumes in question aren't limited by gender. "Crossplay" has become increasingly commonplace, allowing women to dress as male characters, and vice-versa. You don't even have to dress as an actual person. Cosplays of inanimate objects like, oh say, spaceships, are becoming more popular as well. If you want a more visual example of these sort of costumes, check out photos from any convention concerning popular culture, such as ComiCon or Dragon*Con. Few things catch a photographer's eye at one of these events like a well put-together cosplay...or, alternatively, a train wreck of one.

So that leaves the question: why would anyone spend the time, money, and effort necessary for what amounts in most people's minds as a glorified game of dress-up?

The first reason and perhaps the most obvious is the attention. You can be a shy artist of just about any other sort and get away with it, but when you and what you're wearing are the feature presentation there's no getting around being out and about, in public scrutiny, and courting the possibility of photos and videos being taken and posted up everywhere. Cosplayers are always in some fraction of the limelight. It can be satisfying, seeing that people appreciate the hard work that goes into making a full costume of a character. It can also be a great source of pride to see yourself as part of a promotional picture for the event in question. There's a nervous energy that accompanies first stepping out in a costume you've been eager to try out, whether it's home-made or a custom order from a professional, if you're not the type handy with a sewing machine. It all culminates in that first person who jogs up to you with a camera and asks "Can I take your picture?" Now, you're a part of the show.

The second reason a lot of people cosplay is immersion. It's easy to be more of an outside observer if you're simply wearing a fan t-shirt or normal clothing. When you put on a costume, however, there's a sense of being part of that universe. Sweeping around in a duster like Mal's makes you feel a little bit like Mal, the heft and the weight of it on your shoulders as you move through the crowd. You can't help but feel a little bit more elegant slipping on a gown modeled after Inara's, and it can affect the way you move and speak if you let it. There's almost an element of role-playing involved, and some people do take on the mannerisms of the person they're portraying as an added bonus. It can be exciting, seeing one of the Big Damn Heroes behaving as they would on screen, and even the Big Damn Actors themselves have confessed to feeling flattered seeing their Firefly alter-egos wandering around the conventions they visit. The 'Verse, in this way, never dies. It exi[s]ts as we allow it to, through us, the fans who love it too much to let it go even now.

But there's a third reason for cosplaying, and perhaps the most important one and one the critics of cosplay tend to forget: fun! There's the inescapable fact that none of us, or at least very few of us, look much like our beloved BDMs. The illusion is an imperfect one, and a lot of us can't afford every last detail, or just the right sort of fabric, or even all of the necessary accessories. Why bother, then, if you can't look precisely like the character you're portraying? Because at its heart, it's about showing how much love you have for the thing. It's sharing that love with the people who come to the party, who spot you and feel pride that their fandom has people that dedicated. It's about having that creative outlet, a visual soapbox for how strongly you feel, a starting point for conversation for another Browncoat, or just an opportunity to feel shiny. There's no sense in putting this much stitching and gluing and snipping into something you don't enjoy or won't find fun in some way. It takes a lot of work to smear on enough paint to pass for a Fruity Oaty Bar girl, or painstakingly pin every pink ruffle into place on a replica of Kaylee's ballgown, or even scouring Ebay and Etsy for the perfect piece that you KNOW you saw in that one episode. The hard-work of construction and visualization, followed by that first step out into the crowd to show off your labor of love, and capped off by the laughter and enjoyment you and your friends get from the whole experience...this is the reason there ARE no bad Firefly cosplays, so long as your heart is truly in what you've done.

Seen any of these fantastic cosplayers at work? Have pictures you want to share with us? Post them to the forums, and share the love of the craft. Want to mention or get tips on the key points of a costume in particular? A "How to Dress Like a Browncoat" series is always a possibility. Let us know what you think. The sharing of ideas and fan-made works, after all, is part of what we do best. And let's face it, we know why this fandom refuses to fade away.

MAL: Because we are so very pretty.

KAYLEE: I like the ruffles.

WOMACK: That hat makes you look like an idiot.

MAL: His disguise ain't half as funny as yours. Who're you supposed to be, anyway?

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