I always had an enormous box of costumes in my house growing up. When I started doing musicals in high school, the period shows with glittery flapper dresses and big hoop skirts were always the most fun. Unusual pieces of clothing in everyday life have the same affect; there’s a difference between who I consider my real “self” to be and the person wearing that ridiculous hat or huge sunglasses.
There’s something special about putting on a different outfit and becoming a different person. It’s cathartic to get away from yourself and your own social boundaries and push the envelope. It’s freeing to be able to do whatever you want, because you aren’t exactly yourself. The motley crew of costumed characters at this year’s NYC Comic Convention at the Javits Center emanated that freedom, and it created a special sense of community not found in many places.
I dressed up for this year’s Comic Con. My friends and I dressed up as characters from Nickelodeon’s “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” Though we started with a large group of my high school friends ready to dress up and parade through the streets of New York, as time progressed many dropped out. You could tell the idea of going across town in costume was scary. I was nervous too, but persevered. Getting out on the streets in a monk costume complete with a cape was horrifying- the elevator ride in Gramercy even featured a girl gasping and telling her friend “Oh my God!”
Once I was free of NYU territory, however, the costume was a godsend. Who cared about this small fraction of the 8 million New Yorkers? It became a fun game to see who would react, who marched past without a glance up from their iPhone. I turned being the object of observation into being the observer, laughing at this bizarre audience. It was freeing, I was not myself but this crazy person in a costume, making everyone else uncomfortable.
At the convention, everything changed. The people nervously staring were replaced by other costumed people smiling and complementing each other. A girl in a full-length black ball gown and long white wig was no longer self conscious of her braces as she smiled for pictures. A quiet Lord of the Rings hobbit was able to overcome shyness to engage into an Avatar discussion with me before giving me a high five. There was a general feeling of “you’re weird, but so am I,” and it created this strange world where barriers were broken down and people were comfortable enough to hug complete strangers.
By the end of the day, people waved goodbye to my friends and me, everyone yelling “great costumes!” and “can I take your picture?” to each other. Stepping into the cold, I return to the world of Manhattan. But the costume still prevailed. The cashier at Shake Shack struck up a conversation with me about Comic Con. A little girl stopped her parents to ask me if I was the avatar. I became accessible in a way that normal Cara was not. Experiences like mine last Friday are what keeps me coming back to dressing up, and I have a feeling I will never think that I am too old for costumes.