Gallery of 1970s science fiction costumes

On IO9, Ron Miller has published a selection from his collection of photos of 1970s cosplayers, dating from a costuming epoch where nudity was a lot more common than it is today. Among the clothed pictures (not reproduced here) is one shot of Elfquest co-creator Wendy Pini as one of her own elves.

One thing I noticed in going through the slides — mostly taken at Worldcon masquerades and a few other cons — is the great sense of whimsy that permeated SF costuming decades ago. This is something that seems to be missing, now that costuming is taken so much more seriously.

I recognize a lot pros in some of those old pictures, too — such as Elfquest creator Wendy Pini as one of her own characters.

Oh yeah — I remember another rule. Food was nixed for costumes after one joker covered himself entirely in peanut butter (he was a turd literally and figuratively), which eventually turned rancid after 3 or 4 hours under hot lights. Oh yes, indeedy, those were the days...

A Treasure Trove of Cosplay from the Swinging 1970s [NSFW]:


  1. Nudity doesn’t put me off, but putting a NSFW photo above the fold is a guaranteed way get flagged. (I’m home now, but if this went up before 5pm the site would be flagged for sure).

      1. My office is always flagging/blocking sites. Can’t even check ballgame scores, it sucks.

  2. Peanut butter, bits of toilet paper and bits of lettuce. Described himself as a superhero called The Turd. The peanut butter didn’t so much go rancid as melt off his body due to body heat, room heat and hot lights, dripping onto the carpet and smearing on anyone he got close to. (Nobody deliberately got close to him, but he lurched into a few unwary people ) NYCon III (1967).

    If I had a teenaged daughter today, I would *never* allow her to go to Worldcon unaccompanied — nor would the con — but in 1967 it was fine. Apparently those days of rampant drug use and indiscriminate sex were a more innocent time. So was 1968 in Berkeley. Sigh.

  3. I’ve been to my share of con masquerades, and I take issue with the idea that whimsy has fallen out of favor. Just this year at Arisia, I saw Batman singing “Am I Blue?” as a torch song and a costume called “Salvador Dalek.” But it is more regimented, I agree, and nudity is expressly forbidden. Alas.

    Really love the Vaughan Bode “Cheech” costume and the Thark.

    Edit: I like the Cheech Wizard even more after reading this comment: “If that’s the Cheech Wizard I’m thinking of, that’s a kid. When the emcee went to ask him a question, we could here a kid’s voice ‘I’m going to…… kick you…… in the BALLS.'” —David Edward Martin

  4. I just came from I-CON in New York state, and I gotta say that the spirit of the earlier con-goers in the article seems to be stronger and more independent that the cosplay oriented costuming I saw over the weekend.  The 70s sci-fi cons seemed to be as much about creating new characters as it was about dressing like the stage, the cosplay stuff seems to be all imitative…

    1. If you read the comments, you’ll see that most of the costumes in the gallery were based on existing works. We’re just familiar with fewer of them. I’ve seen a lot of original creations in modern masquerades, too.

      1. Are you talking about comments on the io9 article? A relatively small fraction are identified as specific existing characters there, certainly not “most” (of course some may have been intended to be but none of the commenters caught it). Another big difference is that a lot of those that were based on existing characters were based on ones from written fiction, so more creativity was required to come up with the look of the costume than modern costumes which seem to be almost all based on TV/movies/comics.

        1. “Most” might have been an exaggeration, but if we add the obvious ones (like Luke & Leia, Cheech, and the Barsoomians) to those IDed in the comments, about half are identified as derivative works.

          1. Maybe you can identify a lot more than I can, but I don’t see nearly half–of the 29 photos in the main gallery, the only ones either identified or that I can recognize myself are 5 (the Barsoomian Tars Tarkas), 6 (Dejah Thoris), 7 (Wendy Pini is presumably an Elfquest character, don’t know if the other woman is too), 10 (Luke and Leia), 15 (one is a modified Groucho, but I don’t recognize the other character), 22 (Glenda the Good Witch), and 28 (Cheech Wizard). So that’s only 7 photos out of 29, and in two of those I only recognize one of the two characters in the photo.

          2. 19 is the Caterpillar and probably the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. 23 is Isis (who is often depicted wearing the headdress of Hathor). 26 is probably Tutankhamun.

            I feel like I recognize 1 from Flash Gordon, maybe? 2 I’m guessing could be a bacchante?

          3. SamSam, you’re probably right about those, but to me there’s a big difference between doing a costume based on classical mythology (Isis) or an original visual interpretation of a character from literature (caterpillar from Alice in Wonderland) which isn’t based on any existing illustration (like the Barsoomian probably was)–more room for idiosyncratic personal interpretation in how it should look. As for 1, she does look Flash Gordony but an io9 comment here says she’s “Captain Judikha, a character and persona the wearer invented for herself.”

          4. hypnosifl: Aha, I see. The site doesn’t show all the comments by default, and once you click “All” you have to expand the replies. There are quite a few more IDs in the expanded comments. E.g., “The brunette just wearing stars is a Kelly Freas cover. Note his signature on her right buttock.”

            And, again, I do see a lot of original creations in modern masquerades (more than I do in cosplay/hall costumes). At Arisia this year, I saw generic barbarians, a shell-encrusted undersea warrior, an original ice queen, a hydra that consisted of several children behind a box with puppets, a Victorian tiki outfit, and others I probably don’t remember. And there was a whole retelling of 2001: A Space Odyssey in steampunk costumes, called 1901: A Grand Adventure, with Annie Oakley, Nikola Tesla, Madame Marie Curie, and other folks. That’s a derivative work, but with a lot of original creative design. Here’s Dave Bowman defusing the HAL 900:

          5. hypnosifl: I was just saying that many (most?) of these are based on existing works, which is what jere7my was saying.

            I was also just trying my hand at sleuthing.

            Never having been to any kind of Con, or even seen many pictures, I can’t comment on their relative originalities. I’d say all the ones in the pictures look pretty original to me, whether or not they existed before in the minds of some other creator.

  5. I have to say, NSFW. Lots of places have a zero tolerance about nudity, even blue bird sf chick nudity. How about leaving this for after the link so we can still see BB at work? Given the choice, I’d rather have a job.

  6. “No Costume is No Costume” is probably appropriate, given that this is supposed to be a costume competition.

    Same reason I cruise past most of the art show exhibits prominently featuring naked humanoids: this is usually an attempt to overcome the artist not having anything interesting to say.  There are exceptions,  in painting or in costuming, but they need a reason. And since costuming doesn’t usually include figure studies, and most costumes which would logically expose skin can also be designed to NOT expose more than you could get away with in the hotel’s hallways, even if it looks like they do or are about to…

    There are still lots of folks doing original characters as costumes, or original spins on reproduction costumes. Though one of the best I’ve seen — and I wish I could remember who was presenting it — was of the latter category:

    Stage lights come up. Woman with long flowing hair, in long black dress, is standing at the far side of the stage with her back to us. Music starts up, the Eagles:

    “Raven hair and ruby lips..”

    as she raises her arms above her head

    “Sparks fly from her finger tips”

    Her hands meet, and a spray of sparks shoots straight upward — old magician’s  gimmick.

    “Echoed voices in the night, she’s a restless spirit on an endless flight”

    Still with her back to us, she lowers her arms,  dons a classic witch’s hat, takes her broom and starts to turn toward us…

    “Wooo hooo witchy woman…”

    Migawd, it’s the Wicked Witch of the West! Dead-on perfect makeup and costuming, and she’s got  Margaret Hamilton’s style of threatening creep forward down pat!

    Chorus ends as she reaches stage front, and lights go out.

    Now _THAT_ is the kind of costume and presentation skill we should be celebrating. Skin? It’s simply too easy to be interesting unless you’re doing something which justifies it.

    1. I can think of one modern literary costume where nudity might be appropriate: the title character from Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man, and that would take some serious work unless you really were extensively illustrated.  There are undoubtedly classical references, as well as Frazetta paintings, where it would also count, but if the rule is ‘no gratuitous nudity’, it should be honored.

  7. … and yeah, I have to join the “careful about what goes above the fold” crowd. I don’t have that problem but many do, and even employers willing to overlook personal use may draw lines at stuff that might possibly make a cow-orker (sic) uncomfortable, or feel they have to draw those lines so they can say “you have no excuse for not knowing better” when someone really goes out of bounds.

    Lots of costumes there which were safe for work…

  8. I’ll just note that when these photos were taken it was before the word cosplay was invented.  Just folks in costumes … mostly in costumes … some of the times.

    1. Your deconstruction won’t work on me, square!

      Let me guess, Rock & Roll doesn’t actually exist because ‘Rocket 88’ was actually an R&B/Soul song.

  9. I would LOVE to see this kind of ease at modern conventions.
    Excuse my drooling. 

  10. At the first convention I ever went to there was a list of rules for the costume contest. Rule #1 was “No R or X-rated costumes.” And I thought, wait, do they really need to tell people that? I couldn’t imagine that there would be a lot of skin on display, and there wasn’t. This particular event was in the mid-80’s, and it was also held in Evansville, Indiana. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it, though.

    A few years later I went to another con in Columbus, Ohio, and heard a hilarious parody of “Hotel California” called “Hotel Con-Euphoria”, about a mythical hotel where there are no “mundanes”. I really wish I could find that song again. Maybe, like the Hotel Con-Euphoria, it was all a dream.

  11. Actually, Wendy (and her friend Mary Boyer) are portraying Weehawk and Elanor from “Wizards.” This was, if memory serves, from a Worldcon down Miami way (Suncon?) in 1977, just after the film had come out earlier that year. Elfquest was still on the drawing board – literally – but not for very much longer…

  12. Not sure if it’s just my browser, but those photo galleries either cut parts of the photo off, or just didn’t display properly.

    1. Because society has decided that, as a gender, we men are much less fun to look at and public displays generally reflect that. (Note: individual results may vary.)

      Not that I’ve got any problem with male nudity. I even sun myself at a mostly-male nude beach now and then—but it sure ain’t for the view.

      1. Well, actually, only a certain segment of society assumed to be the default view decided that. The rest of us disagree, but no one cares.

        1. It’s not that society should only cater to the majority view, it’s that the ratio of nekkid-breasts-on-display to nekkid-penises-on-display is generally going to reflect the percentage of people who actually want to see them.

          1. Seems to me that it’s going to reflect the percentage of men who control the media.

          2. Well that too. Or in this case, “the men who controlled Worldcon in the 1970s and presumably kicked out all the dudes who showed up dressed like John Carter (authentic literary version).”

            Still, I’m sure the men who control the media would be more than happy to make a buck off any women willing to pay good money for penises if there was much of a market for that. Just as they’d be happy to sell trashy romance novels to men.

    2. Are you asking about his general posting habits (I don’t remember other posts with nudes, male or female) or this one in particular? In this case he’s just linking to a gallery of images from io9, I don’t think there were any male nudes in that gallery (probably there was a lot less male nudity at the convention itself).

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