When I first decided to play Endgame, the post-apocalyptic boffer LARP, it was sort of a last minute thing. Luckily, the setting is near-future, and people wear whatever they can scrounge up, so it’s perfectly within reason to show up in jeans and a t-shirt, which is what I wore to the first event. I spotted a t-shirt that was pink, tie dyed, and had a large peace sign on it and just went with that. (I also stuck some green leaves in my hair to give off a stronger hippy vibe.)
At the first event, I saw evidence of a lot of effort by the players to make it look like we are creating makeshift armor and weapons and tools out of whatever we can. A lot of people come up with cool props- shields made to look like they were made out of stop signs. Several swords look like baseball bats. One character fights with a hockey stick. Others fight with crowbars and sledge hammers and there’s even a really cool looking canoe paddle. The armor varies from chain mail to padding that clearly used to be sports equipment, including lots of knee pads.
So for my second event, I built up Sunshine’s costume a bit. I added more leaves to my hair to up the hippy vibe a few notches. I also included a temporary tattoo on my face to represent the runes that allow me to use magical armor. I also decided to bring along my old volleyball kneepads. They haven’t seen use in ages (pity!) and fit in with the “we use whatever we had that offers any protection at all” look of the LARP. I like the effect a lot.
And there was something I noticed when I first put them on at the start of the LARP on Friday. The knee pads are bulky, and make me walk with a slightly wider gait. I can feel them on me when I wear them; I’m very aware of their presence.
Something I respect about LARPers is how far they’ll go for costume, their willingness to give up practicality and comfort to get into character and create the right atmosphere with their appearance. I couldn’t bring myself to commit to wearing face paint or a mask for a solid weekend, which is why I didn’t play a dhampir (quasi-vampire), automaton (steampunk robot), thek (bug person), or resurrected (Frankenstein’s monster) in Lost Eidolons. It’s rough- a mask can really limit your peripheral vision, and even the best quality face paints run with the amount of sweat a boffer LARP can cause.
But with the kneepads on, I kind of felt the advantage of having a slightly impractical costume. When you wear normal clothing, you’re not really aware of its presence. But when I wear something that’s unlike my daily clothing, and I’m aware of its presence, it reminds me that while I’m in costume, I’m not myself. I don’t wear kneepads on a daily basis (though putting them on at first did bring me back to my volleyball heyday.) But my character Sunshine does wear kneepads on a daily basis. And being aware of these things on my knees that I don’t wear, but Sunshine wears, is a physical reminder that while they’re on, I’m not me. I’m Sunshine.
There’s a limit for me… I imagine there’s a limit for every LARPer. Where they draw the line for comfort and practicality in lieu of completeness of their costume. It’s definitely in a different location for theater style LARPing, where I don’t need to worry about the ability to swing a weapon or escape in a hurry, or excess sweat running down my face. Or even crouching in the grass and dirt without staining expensive costuming. I actually kind of like the feeling of a stiff corset, a high necklace, a slightly awkward hat, or heels that are of a height I normally avoid. It’s something my character would wear, but me the player would never bother with outside of a LARP.
There’s sort of a weird gray area for things like masks and face paint which aren’t masks or face paint for the characters, just the players. For the characters, it’s just skin. (Or… outer casings or something in the case of automaton, I guess.) I’ve made little use of face paint and masks, now that I think about it, for characters who aren’t actually wearing face paint or masks. I might have to try it and see how it affects my feelings of being in or out of character.
Short story to end on- I played a weekend long theater LARP called 1897: The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. I was cast as Princess Alexandra of Denmark. I had a purple Victorian style top and skirt along with the gobs of pearls the real Princess of Wales was known for. (She was a trendsetter.) But when I arrived on Friday to get into costume, I discovered that I’d left the skirt back at my hotel and had no way to get it that night. So I had to wear my purple top over my jeans, which looked double awkward because the bottom of the shirt came to a point that was very off-center. The asymmetry was camouflaged when worn over more purple, but the top was short and the waist of my jeans were low, so a strip of belly showed and highlighted the mistake in the construction. It just looked off for a Victorian princess and I felt very off. I felt compelled to open every conversation by placing my hand over my badge (the theater LARPing sign for “I’m not speaking in character”) and say “my character isn’t actually wearing jeans; I forgot the skirt for this costume.” I couldn’t really get into character all night.
And now that I think about it, even when a LARP is set in a modern Western setting and my character could perfectly plausibly be wearing anything out of my closet, I still try to pick out something that is specific to my character… and often still don’t feel as unlike myself as I normally do while LARPing.
Which maybe makes me think that costuming is a bit of a crutch for me to get into character, and maybe that’s a flaw, since it causes problems when I’m not distinctly in costume.