Contrary to their reputation, anime and comic conventions are actually pretty safe. This is especially true over the past decade as anti-harassment policies have been put in place and groups have worked to bring awareness to issues of consent to photographs and hugs. However, conventions are pretty popular events and you will come into contact with many different types of people.
Stay safe during conventions by sticking with a partner and arranging check-in points with your friends. You’ll also want to locate the help desk ahead of time and avoid traveling too far from the event location while in costume. Overall, following common sense rules will keep you safe during a convention.
You’ll also want to think about costume safety while at a convention. Of course, you’ll want to make sure your costume doesn’t get damaged during the event, but you’ll also need to pay attention to your surroundings to keep from bumping into other people.
Personal safety while cosplaying at conventions
Conventions aren’t actually that scary, but you may receive unwanted attention. No matter what kind of costume you are wearing, it’s important to remember that any harassment directed at you is not your fault. It’s okay to report the behavior and ask for help from convention staff and other attendees in the immediate vicinity.
That being said, it’s still a good idea to take precautions so that you can be ready to deal with any issues that might occur. You can protect yourself by decreasing the likelihood of harassment and having a battle plan ready just in case.
My personal exposure with convention safety is kind of boring. I have neither experienced nor witnessed any kind of major harassment. There was one occasion back in 2010 when I was wearing a short skirt and someone may have been taking photos of my behind, but I’ll never know for sure.
However, some people do have much more serious stories from harassment they’ve received at conventions. Typically this is directed toward female and young cosplayers, however that’s not always the case, so you want to be prepared no matter your gender or age.
1. Stick with a buddy
When traveling around conventions, it’s important to stick with a partner or group. This way, you can all keep tabs on each other and interfere or get help if anything were to happen.
If you and your friends want to go in separate directions, then you can also plan a time and place to check in with each other. For example, if you’re heading to the dealer’s room and your friend is going to the artist alley, you can plan to meet up outside the exits in exactly one hour.
As someone who loves taking hall cosplay photos at conventions, I’ve found a similar process that works well. While my friends are resting in one spot of the convention, I will walk around alone taking photos. But every 10-20 minutes, I’ll head back over to my friends to check in with them.
2. Decide on your boundaries ahead of time
If you’re going to be cosplaying, decide what kind of photos and physical contact you will be comfortable with ahead of time. You can decide on poses you are happy with ahead of time, so you can more easily turn someone down if they ask you for a photo in a weird position.
You can also decide whether you will allow other con-goers to hug you since there are many who like to hug their favorite character. Somehow, it’s a lot easier to say ‘no’ when you’ve already decided on your boundaries ahead of time. Make sure to think about what you are comfortable with, and don’t worry about offending someone if you have to turn them down.
3. Get the help of convention staff
At most conventions, there are information booths all around the event. You will always be able to find the staff here to help you if something comes up. There should also be staff members scattered around the convention who will be monitoring the event or helping with nearby panels and foot traffic control. I always like to have an idea of where nearby staff members are so that I can easily ask for help if the need arises.
4. Stay in areas with a lot of people
While there is no need to stay in the most crowded areas of the convention, you do want to stick to places with some foot traffic. The presence of other people will act as a deterrent for anyone who might try to harass another con-goer. You will also more easily be able to ask others who are nearby for help if someone is making you feel uncomfortable.
5. It’s okay to turn down a photo with someone
If you don’t feel comfortable taking a photo with someone or letting someone photograph you, there is no reason you have to allow it. Whether you are turning someone down because you’re tired, eating, or are just getting weird vibes from the other person, it’s okay to listen to your gut feeling and turn people down. In most cases, the person asking will be mildly disappointed because they love your character, but they will respect your wishes.
Due to activism within the cosplay community, many conventions nowadays even have policies about asking for consent before photographing someone. These policies require that con-goers ask the cosplayer if photographs are okay before taking any pictures instead of just assuming the cosplayer would be okay with it.
6. Make sure someone is always paying attention to your bags
When you are cosplaying, it can be challenging to keep tabs on any bags you are taking around with you. This is especially true if you are constantly being stopped for photos while you travel around the event.
The best-case scenario is to have some hiding places within your costume to keep your phone and wallet, so you don’t even need a bag, but that’s not always possible. You may want to try traveling around the convention with a partner who is not cosplaying so they can keep hold of your bag and make sure nothing gets lost or stolen.
Otherwise, the best solution is to keep your bag between your feet when you take photos so that no one will be able to come up and steal it while you’re distracted.
7. Take note of emergency exits
Safety at conventions also means thinking about emergencies. I’ve actually been at two conventions now where there have been mass evacuations due to possible fire. In one case (Otakon 2010), I found out it was a small fire in the kitchen at the convention center, but I never found out the cause of the other evacuation (Katsucon 2016).
In any case, these have taught me the importance of knowing where there are available emergency exits and not just the most obvious routes. Since so many people are exiting the building at once, it’s a good idea to find the side doors that are not bottlenecked by massive amounts of people.
You also want to wear shoes you can walk down stairs with. Since elevators are typically out of commission during these kinds of emergencies, be prepared with flat shoes!
8. Plan for the weather
On a similar note, you can’t talk about safety at conventions while ignoring the topic of weather. I know someone who was in a bulky cosplay during the August heat. He ended up fainting and needed to be transported to the hospital in an ambulance. Not only was this a dangerous situation, but his cosplay was also destroyed since the medics had to cut it off of him to help him recover.
Always pay attention to the weather when you are cosplaying at conventions. Drink lots of water in the summer, avoid staying outside for long periods of time. If you have layers to your costume, take them off when you are outdoors. All of this will help to keep you safe and make your convention experience more enjoyable.
9. Avoid traveling too far away from the convention in costume
During conventions, it’s almost like there is a bubble of safety in the premises of the event and the few blocks in the surrounding vicinity. The farther away from the con you get, the more likely you are to be stared at or harassed by everyday people who don’t understand what you’re doing.
At larger conventions, you can typically travel a mile away without standing out too much, but you might want to stick to the surrounding 1-2 blocks at smaller conventions. If you’ll be going farther away to eat or go to a hotel, stay with a group or take an Uber.
10. Be more careful at night
Most conventions have activities that go well into the night, including dance parties. These are typically not intended for a young audience and create a less family-friendly atmosphere than daytime convention activities. In addition, many con-goers have room parties and get pretty drunk at conventions.
For this reason, you’ll want to be a little more careful at night than you would during the day. While I still wouldn’t say it’s a dangerous atmosphere, you do want to use your common sense and stay safe. Make sure you and your friends keep tabs on each other while you enjoy the raves and evening events.
Keeping your costume safe at conventions
Another aspect of convention safety that many cosplayers overlook is the safety of your costume. To be honest, some damage is inevitable. When you walk around the convention center, something is bound to rip, dent, or get dirty.
However, there is a lot you can do to minimize the damage and keep your costume in working order for the next event. You’ll also want to pay attention to the pieces of your outfit to make sure you don’t become a menace to other people around you and avoid whacking anyone with props or oversized costume pieces.
Just in case, it’s always a good idea to bring an extra set of comfortable clothes with you to change into. Even if your costume is in perfect condition, you might want to change after a few hours of wearing it.
- Make a well-constructed costume. The best way to make sure your outfit makes it through the convention weekend is to create a sturdy cosplay to begin with. Make certain clothing is sewn with reinforced seams, and your props can take a little bit of a banging without breaking.
- Avoid crowded hallways. Crowded hallways are bad for any bulky or trailing pieces of costume. You are bound to bump into someone or potentially break something on the cosplay. If the only way to get somewhere is through a crowded hallway, get some friends to help by forming a circle around you while you make your way through.
- Lift trailing skirts. Some costumes have beautiful long dresses that are easily stepped on by you or other con-goers. Be sure to pay attention to where your skirt is at all times so that it doesn’t get ripped off by someone’s foot.
- Avoid the sun when you use hot glue. Hot glue is a useful adhesive to use for costumes. Unfortunately, it will start to melt when the weather gets hot, especially if your prop is out in the sun for any length of time.
- Bring an emergency repair kit. Always bring safety pins, scissors, and a needle and thread. These will be life-savers for just about any costume. Hot glue or super glue are also very useful in a pinch.
- It’s okay to tell people not to touch your costume. While a fantastic costume may get a lot of attention and people wanting to check it out, you can tell them not to touch the cosplay. This will better protect it from accidents and general wear and tear.
- Be aware of your periphery and how much space your costume takes up. Don’t hit people with your cosplay. Bulky pieces, including large hoop dresses, hats, props, wings, etc., can easily get in the way and hit people around you. This can annoy people passing by and also cause damage to the costume, so watch out!
- Be careful on escalators. Most conventions will have escalators to make it easier for cosplayers to get around. However, if you’re not careful, they can suck loose threads or pieces of fabric, causing significant damage to a costume. I even saw someone get their shoe stuck at the top of an escalator once, so be careful when stepping off.
- Look for a prop check. Recently, many conventions have started to check props to ensure they are not dangerous for people to carry around the convention. Usually, these prop checks will be right inside the front door, so make sure to look for it so that your carefully made sword, bow, hammer, or staff does not get confiscated.