I am on the record stating that all of my costumes, both for cosplay and re-enactment are hand made. I have been trained in textiles and dressmaking and I have the skill to be able to make costumes, I know this isn’t a skillset a lot of newbie cosplayers have. I have on occasion looked at store-bought as a cheaper alternative for costumes or components I simply do not have the skill or means to make myself.
Last year I was preparing for Oz-Comic Con Sydney and like many cosplayers, I was frantically preparing my line up. I had already premiered my Arkham Knight Harley Quinn at Supanova Sydney that year and I planned on reprising that costume.
That was when I learned that the Starfleet International Chapter I am a part of the USS Tydirium, was going to have a booth at the event. Now I hadn’t worn a Trek uniform in about three years at this point, I had actually dropped off of the cosplay radar thanks to uni, and then starting my career as a nurse. So naturally I got my Original Series Science Uniform out of the closet and tried it on.
And well this happened.
In three years my boobs had managed to eat my costume. As it was to the correct measurements of the Original Series, it already was rather high on my thigh, three years later, it was barely past my crotch, and my bust had destroyed any chance of zipping it up (and you can see more than a bit of my butt).
This was a month before the con, and at that point, I had very little free time in front of me, my options were to either lop off my boobs or to make a new costume. And I think more than a few of you would hate the first option. As my fiance was in the process of ordering a new Nemesis Tunic for himself, I decided that I would take the plunge and order a replacement uniform. I took my measurements and sent along the money.
Three weeks later this arrived.
The Store Bought Costume
I bought this Original Series Dress from an online vendor well regarded by my Chapter, all the male members source their tunics from it, and I know a few of the ladies have also bought this very uniform. This costume is widely available, essentially every online vendor makes this uniform. It cost me $84.00AUD, which is about what I paid in fabric to make the very same costume. I have seen many gorgeous ladies on my Star Trek Girls Showcase page wearing this costume, and I will never fault anyone for wearing a store bought costume, the unfortunate issue I have is I own accurate TOS uniforms, it just felt wrong.
Compared to the Season Two Original Series Uniform, which was made out of a four-way stretch double knit cotton, the widely available store bought version is made out of a poly-cotton blend, and felt like I was wearing a polo shirt. The costume lacks the back mounted hidden zipper, which only served to extend the feeling that it was an oversized polo shirt.
The lack of the zipper means that the uniform lacks any ability to contour. The original uniform, for all its failings, was designed to highlight the female officer wearing it. and you’ll note that the above photos of my first Original Dress, that it still retains my hourglass shape even when not zipped up. The two photos at the start of this article were taken within minutes. I’m not wearing my normal shapewear, just a well-fitted bra, and I look two different sizes. This is because the dress isn’t brought in at the waist like it should.
The collar, is atrocious, it barely even resembles the accurate collar (not to mention points in the wrong direction, down instead of to the side)
It was, however, the right length, and did have the correct pleat at the front of the dress, and all the front seams, while essentially cosmetic, did make it appear like the Original Series Dress.
- Cost. As I pointed out, this dress cost the same as the fabric I bought to make its replacement, and it arrived at my door in three weeks. It took me about a week to make my second TOS dress.
- Modifiability: I have seen ladies take this dress and add a zipper, as well as seen them tailor it so it looks like the actual product. A lot of ladies know how to take in/let out clothes, but not necessarily have the means to make them, so store bought is an avenue for those who can modify, not necessarily make. In fact, this is what I do for all my fiance’s costumes, as even with my skill, I cannot make Men’s costumes.
- Instant recognition: For all its faults, you can still notice that this is the Original Series Dress. Only people like me, who are trained in design or the uber-fan is going to notice that the actual costume was made with a double knit cotton and not a poly-cotton.
- The Cut: It is still like wearing an oversized polo shirt, which means it breathes like a polo shirt.
- The Style: this is the seamstress in me, but because it doesn’t taper in at the waist, if you have even the slightest bust, the dress will hang from your body. Also the lack of a zipper means you will struggle to get it on/off.
- The Fabric: As you can see in this comparison photo between the store bought uniform and my third uniform. The third uniform is made out of the colour fabric used in the show. This points out how different the textures are, and how different the colours are as these are supposed to be the SAME uniform.
- That Collar: I just cannot forgive that collar, I just can’t. It’s just wrong.
The Handmade Costume
When I received the store bought costume and saw how it looked on me, I immediately went “Nope” and realised I was going to have to make a new Dress.
At the time, I couldn’t find the same blue I used the first time, which is a four-way stretch double knit cotton, so I opted for the Season Two Nurses uniform worn by Nurse Chapel, and knocked that out within that week, even making my own nurses badge (and yes I am aware now its backwards :P).
I spent about $145.00 AUD in fabric, thread and zippers to make that uniform, and I spent the same again to make my third uniform, which is actually more accurate than my first dress. I haven’t calculated my cost in time to make any of these uniforms, (Though the last two were made in roughly four hours a piece).
I will be doing a retrospective on my TOS dresses so I won’t go into much detail, but you can see from these photos the stark differences between a $70.00 Store Bought and a $145.00 Hand made uniform. Even with my level of skill, if you compare my Original Dress to my Third Dress, you can see discrepancies between them, namely their supposed to be the same colour (which their not) and the front pleat isn’t in the right spot on my original dress, so even seamstresses can make mistakes.
- Tailoring: as I am making it myself to my own measurements, I can try it on and take it in, or let it out etc, so it will fit properly.
- Level of Detail: This one is purely due to the fact that I own an original TOS pattern, and I use it to make my uniforms, I had to LEARN how to read a pattern that is older than I am, to be able to make it as accurate as possible.
- Speed: I am on record saying that I can knock a TOS Dress out in three hours. That is also because I have now made four of them. The first one took me three weeks, the second took a week, now I am confident enough to make them hours before the event.
- Appearance: tailored costumes just look and feel better, and it shows when you wear it. There is no proper way to describe it. You can see the photo of me in the Store Bought, I didn’t put that face on for show.
- Cost: As I pointed out, the handmade costume cost twice the amount the storebought costume did, that can put them out of the price range of most people, it also creates an issue where seamstresses get abused by people who aren’t aware that online vendors do things to keep prices down, that individual seamstresses cannot do, and this is usually at the expense of quality. There was no way that any online vendor could match the level of accuracy in my own handmade costumes without charging a similar result. This is the reason why Anovos Uniforms cost several hundred and in some cases several thousand dollars and they look exactly like the prop department versions. But Anovos is out of the price range of most beginner cosplayers, (even cosplayers that have been doing this for six years I might add), so the market for online, primarily Asian based costume makers has flourished.
- Level of skill: as I’ve pointed out, I’m a trained seamstress, I’ve learned my trade over many years, this is a skill that is not readily taught anymore, which means for people who cannot sew, they are forced to go to a seamstress where they will be charged not only for the materials but for their time as well.
- Accessibility: It is simply easier to google search TOS Dress Cosplay and pay as low as $40 for a moderatly good cosplay, than it is to FIND an actual seamstress that would have the experience to make the uniform, as I said above, the pattern I have was made in the 60’s and is hard to come by.
I am well aware that there is a culture in the cosplay community that states that handmade is better than storebought. This is an ideology that I do not subscribe to, cosplay is whatever people make out of it, and whatever they put into it. While at OZ-Comic Con this Year, I took plenty of photos with ladies wearing both storebought and handmade Trek Uniforms (they are featured on my Showcase Page) and they were treated the same regardless which one they wore. I am a seamstress, and I will gladly give you advice on how to improve a costume you’ve bought, but I will NEVER belittle you for taking that route.
As a start, online vendors are perfect, and there are a few out there that actually make excellent costumes, but among the roses there are a lot of thorns. Do your research, ask your community a LOT of questions about their preferred vendors, and try and find actual photos of the costume, a lot of vendors use the same photos and they may not actually reflect the quality of the end product.