Costume Contest. Costume Call. Masquerade. Call it by any of its popular names, and it still boils down to a lot of talent and effort put into a very important sub-section of Star Trek's fan activity. Since the earliest of Trek conventions, there has been an arena showcasing the costuming efforts of fans who wanted to be noticed and to have their work admired. Across their stages have paraded everything from 27 would-be Kirks in nothing more than the gold command shirt, black pants and boots, to a glamorous goddess in yards of diaphanous gauze and an elaborate headdress of beads and feathers.
Another of those customs borne from science fiction conventions, the Costume Call, or Contest, grew and developed over time to become the Masquerade, as it's called today, that we all know and love. If you've never attended a show, you've missed an exciting part of the convention. Many talented minds and hands have worked, sometimes for months, at an often staggering price, to create the detailed and authentic entries into the mix.
Return with me for a moment to those late 70's New York cons, where we viewed everything from one dud we called "Miramanee in Gold Lame" to the exquisite creations of C. Faddis and M. Miller which took your breath away. Costuming produced its own super-stars, often names with which we were familiar from other artistic areas, and sometimes individuals who shone only on the floorboards of that particular stage.
Actually, "Miramanee. . ." wasn't the worst costume ever created, but it was amusing to see a contestant decked out in a Native American dress cut from gold-colored lame. Early contestants often numbered into the 50s or 60s, with costume calls going on for three and four hours of non-stop entertaining. For those earliest contests, the ballroom was often cleared and closed for an hour or two before, while all chairs were removed and a sturdy stage erected. When convention attendees were allowed in (usually past a log-jamb at the doorways), they took seats on the floor; the initiated brought blankets or cushions to sit upon for the long siege.
Costume Call was always popular for another reason: whichever guest stars were in attendance were called upon to serve as judges, and were seated front and center on the stage. In later years it was written into contracts, but in those early days they were simply requested, and most accepted the invitation. It was a nice, informal way to interact with the fans and still maintain a controlled environment. And there were many a doubtable Spock with plastic pointy ears and sexy young things wearing little more than naval dust, who entered solely to be allowed to cross a stage and come face to face with his or her favorite performer.
All that aside, those early New York Costume Calls were really something else! There were a plethora of incredibly creative and artistic creations at each one. And reigning supreme, winning First Place time and again, were two remarkably talented ladies, the Queens of Costuming – Connie Faddis and Monica Miller. Connie was known throughout fandom for her fanzine, "Interphase", her first-class artwork, and her writing talent. In addition to all that, she created costumes and won awards for her designs. She and Ms. Miller, a talented artist herself, would often make two or three entries, and have friends go on stage to model them, one lovelier than the next. Several creations were based upon fan fiction – the Kraith series inspired more than one striking outfit dreamed up in creative minds. Other costumes were the product of works of fiction, science fiction universes brought to colorful life on the stage. There were usually separate categories for SF & Fantasy, Star Trek and, later, other media.
Presentation was always key, and these ladies, and others, knew how to play to the audience. A popular format was the layered effect. The contestant would come out on stage with perhaps a dark or decorated cape which went from shoulders to floor, perhaps hooded. The cloak would then be dramatically removed, revealing a stunning inner outfit, dazzling in its own right. But then, aha! Another layer was peeled off, revealing a skimpy next-to-nothing remainder, complete, perhaps, with body paint or sparkles. One year, I roomed with Kathy P., who was modeling one of Connie's fashions in the contest. Her dress consisted of yards of diaphanous material that swirled around, now and then revealing a glimpse of bare flesh here or there. Except the flesh wasn't bare. Kathy had used spray glitter on her nether regions, and that glitter was all over our bathroom for the rest of the weekend! A very young Howie Weinstein, guest judge at that contest, was overheard by Kathy to say, "That girl isn't wearing anything under that costume!"
Another popular contestant was "Destiny", a New York City resident whose real-life occupation was as an "exotic dancer" in one of the nightclubs. Her outfits were always designed with the help of the theatrical costume houses, and rivaled the "Queens" for beauty and originality. One year, Destiny hosted a Friday night Fashion Show, featuring many of her friends in the field showing off their futuristic designs.
How risqué were those early costumes? Well, the rules were fairly general – no bared breasts, for example, but cleavage could be as low as possible. They were more daring than you'd see in today's Masquerade, but they weren't exactly X-rated, either. Much of it was done with smoke and mirrors, as with the glittered buns, or flesh-colored body stockings.
One year, my sister, Bev Volker, decided that if there could be Kraith costumes, there could be one from our fanzine series, "Phase II". In that story, Spock had a teenaged daughter named T'Prett, and Bev designed a lovely blue satin outfit, complete with a short apliqued cape, for her own teenaged daughter, Robin, to wear. All went well until Robin bent over to retrieve the fallen cape – and mooned the entire audience, much to her mother's chagrin and to Robin's embarrassment! Our Robin, always known as "Bev Volker's daughter", altered the balance of power at that convention, and Bev was suddenly known as "Robin Volker's mother"!
Inevitably, many of our own Baltimore-based group of fans created and competed in costume calls, including an award-winning mother-daughter team who did remarkable things with sequins and a glue gun. I even entered my ten-year old son once, done up as a comical version of "V-Ger, with loads of blue netting for the clouds shrouding the machine.
Technical costumes, like the one of V-Ger, were always a part of the contest. To my memory one of the most beautiful and authentic ones was a realistic rendition of the space suits worn in "The Tholian Web" – silver suits with accents of blue and red hosing that could have come out of Paramount's prop department.
Another category of costumes and performances was known as "Mini-Trek" or "Children's Competition. But it really wasn't a "competition, because con promoters and organizers always awarded some kind of goody bag or small prize to every child who entered. If an older child opted to compete under adult jurisdiction, that was their call, but for the little ones, it was all just for fun. I remember the year our friend Gina Godwin entered her infant son, Jonathan. It was right after the 3rd movie had come out, and she dressed him as "Baby Spock on the Genesis Planet." And one year, not too long ago, my sister's two grandsons, Ethan Wilson and Rusty Volker III, cavorted on stage as young Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, marking the third generation to compete in Costume Call.
After "Star Wars" came out, there were always plenty of Storm Troopers, Darth Vaders, and Princess Leia's to compete with the classic Trek and movie Trek recreations. We once had the "Ghostbuster" trio, and several spirited "Indiana Jones" wannanees. In Costume Call, the universe is the limit!
With the advent of ClipperCon, the Costume Call became the Masquerade, and the name change wasn't the only innovation begun by our Costume Chairman. Judging became more regulated, costumes were independently and additionally judged for workmanship. More emphasis was placed on quality over popularity, a change which pleased the costumers immensely. The contests were still fun and an enormous crowd-pleaser, but there was also a back-stage competition that honored the hours and skills put into these creations. Costume Call had grown up and was now Masquerade, the new and improved edition.
Most of the legendary costumers have folded up their ironing boards and no longer compete, but there are always new aspirants ready to step into their glittered shoes. Masquerades, now found only at local fan-run conventions, SF cons, and conventions devoted solely to costuming, still attract the artistic and creative talents of new fans, and the shows continue to be one of the most attended events at a con. After all these years, they are still entertaining and amusing the fans with a timeless quality that will never die. Each show is unique and contains something special for those viewing.
See you at the next contest!