Cosplay: The Mighty Cosplay Lieutenant

The goal was to have some process posts for you guys starting this week but the fun little side project I mentioned two entries ago met with a pretty significant setback, so it’s going to be a little longer before I can go back to devoting all my attention to the three costumes slated for Gen Con. In the meantime though, I wanted to address something that’s come up a few times on the blog, but has never actually been formally discussed and that is the Cosplay Lieutenant. Since we’re rapidly approaching the height of convention season (if we haven’t gotten there already) it seemed like as good a time as any go over this important role.

Even if they're not Colbert, Cosplay Lieutenants are in this league of awesome
Wait, the Cosplay what? Are these people I've encountered before?

Probably; if you’ve ever found yourself at a convention. To the outside observer, the Cosplay Lieutenant is typically invisible, one face amongst the crescents of con-goers that form around a given cosplayer and distinguishable primarily because they are not usually trying to take a picture. While the stereotype of the Lieutenant is frequently that of the beleaguered significant other gamely toting one or more bags, the functionality extends well beyond that. Well ok, some toting will likely factor in during one convention or another, since costumes that can accommodate pockets are rare, but it’s not the only or even the most valuable facet of the Lieutenant’s duties.

Yeah, ok. Cosplay Lieutenants aren’t just beasts of burden, but, really, what’s the point in having one?

If you’re planning on cosplaying only a few times in your convention-attending ‘career’, then there really isn’t much of a point. Since crafting a costume is often a long and laborious process with results that are designed explicitly for public display, you'll likely want to take precautions to both improve upon that construction and maximize the potential for the best possible convention experience if this is going to be your regular pastime. Your Cosplay Lieutenant can easily help you accomplish these goals. Given this, your Lieutenant usually isn’t someone you’ve appointed to the task, but rather is a person who has been a reliable source of support both inside and outside the dealer hall. Ideally, someone in this role will be in regular contact with you throughout the construction process and certainly an individual who will attend conventions with you. Aside from know...present, a good Cosplay Lieutenant will be someone who is:


More often than not, there's a fair amount of preparation that goes into pulling off a cosplay. You've got the brainstorming phase/building your cosplay lineup, active construction, stress testing, last minute logistics, and actually donning the finished costume. Everyone has their own approach to this, but most of those steps are fairly universal in the cosplay world.  Since the process frequently spans months or sometimes even years, it can be easy to lose sight of your overarching goal and get bogged down in minutiae or just get plain old frustrated. As I've mentioned before, having an at least a semi-objective opinion can help you stay on track by offering periodic feedback and/or providing reminders. Just a simple, “Hey, you’ve been working on that piece for a long time. Maybe take a break, then see how much more work it needs.” Or a, “Just a heads up, we’re five weeks out from doors opening,” can go a very long way. Of course, the commentary can be much more detailed than that depending on the nature of your relationship with your Lieutenant. That last bit is critical, since your Lieutenant needs to be someone whose opinion your trust and can be counted on to voice their thoughts. Conversely, you, the cosplayer, need to cultivate a track record of respecting and/or utilizing the advice of your Lieutenant so they feel as though their efforts aren’t just words being lost to the wind.


Can you tackle all the logistics that go into a cosplay yourself? Of course. Is it often easier and less onerous when you have some help in doing so? Definitely. Even if you have the most Type A of personalities, it almost always helps to have another set of eyes review your inventories and/or another pair of ears to take in your manifest of what’s been packed. This is especially true if you have to travel a significant distance in order to get to a convention. It’s deceptively easy to focus exclusively on ensuring that all the components of your costume are secure and accounted for at the expense of non-cosplay convention paraphernalia and the Lieutenant can provide a quick, easy check against this phenomenon.


Yes, we did talk about how Lieutenants aren’t living Bags of Holding just a few paragraphs ago, but even if this person is merely toting your badge, the vast majority of their active duties during a convention orbit around you, the costume-wearer, both physically and metaphorically. A lieutenant typically spends most of the cosplaying day at your side or they at least make themselves readily available to you. This is especially true if you’ve entered a costume contest, as you’ll likely want to refresh any makeup or secure any components of your outfit between rounds of competition. Meandering around the dealer hall at a snail’s pace, stopping every few meters to pose for pictures, and/or waiting your turn at a cosplay contest can be mind-numbing for your uncostumed partner. As such, it helps if your Lieutenant is someone who is adept at amusing themselves or at least is not easily bored.


When you’ve donned the costume it pretty much consumes the majority of your attention span, particularly if your outfit includes large, fragile, unwieldy, or otherwise uncomfy components. Between managing the costume and (hopefully) enjoying the cosplaying experience it can be easy to lose track of time or your bearings if you’re in an unfamiliar convention hall. It’s incredibly helpful to have your Lieutenant periodically monitor the time you’ve spent in costume and make suggestions based on your condition and that duration that s/he deems appropriate. Frequently these take the form of, “Wow, it’s already 1pm, are you getting hungry for lunch?” or “It’s been 5 hours since we got to the hall. Do you need to sit for a spell?”

The second, also critically important, facet of this particular quality is that a good Lieutenant is capable of making tactical observations of both you and the con-goers around you. Do your fellow attendees seem to be generally affable? Are the people asking for your picture doing so in a polite way? Are your fellow nerds being considerate of your space/costume? The answers to these bring us to the last quality of a good Lieutenant…

Occasionally Assertive

A Lieutenant does not have to be an armored paladin riding at your side with weapon drawn (though that would be a fun costume). As we’ve talked about before, those convention trolls who would seek to do or say stupid things to you almost always follow schoolyard bully tactics. Namely, they are more likely to pick on what seems to be an easy target. Aside from having a solid, well-constructed costume, the other single most effective way to dissuade convention trolls is to not be alone. It’s not even a matter of you being capable of defending yourself; it’s very simply the principle of strength in numbers in action.

Even if you encounter no trolls, we nerds are not always the most graceful in social situations and it often helps to have your Lieutenant underscore basic considerations should the need arise. Just a quick, “Give him a minute while he finishes eating,” or, “Sorry, no more pictures. We have an event to get to,” can make for smoother navigation of the hallways and a better overall cosplay experience.

Of course, you definitely don’t have to have a Cosplay Lieutenant at any point in your cosplaying tenure. The Lieutenant falls under the “nice to have if you can finagle it” category, but obviously it’s perfectly feasible (and, for some people, preferable) to cosplay alone. Conversely, the Lieutenant role doesn’t necessarily have to fall to one person. If you’re attending a convention or plan to cosplay with a group of people, then a Cosplay Cadre may spring up organically. This sort of by-committee activity effectively spreads out the work and prevents any resentment that might arise from an individual non-cosplayer giving up large chunks of their convention time.

If you do decide to include a Lieutenant in your costume-wearing plans, be sure to respect any feedback they may give and make your gratitude for their efforts crystal clear. Your Lieutenant deserves copious thanks for the time and assistance they provide, so give them copious thanks whenever you get the chance.

On that note, sending out a huge THANK YOU to all you Cosplay Lieutenants out there. You all rock serious socks!

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