Defense of the Nerd: Being a Member of a Costume Club

[Author’s Note: Forgive me if you feel that my focus is biased towards Star Wars organizations. I did not intend to overlook or ignore non-Star Wars costume clubs, they just so happen to be the ones I am most familiar with. As an official member of the Mandalorian Mercs costume club, I’ve participated in numerous events and have worked along side members of the 501st and Rebel Legion on several of these occasions.].

Mandalorian Mercs at Dragon*Con 2011, photo by NerdReactor's Michael Pao

Explaining the function of a costume club to “non-nerds” is something of a challenge . Whether the concept is met with confusion or a poorly concealed ostracizing remark, non-nerds and even non-costuming nerds often have difficulty grasping the purpose of such organizations.

Sure, you like to dress up as a Jedi. So what? You may go to cons and get your picture taken, but you’re still just a dork.

Yes, that’s exactly what costumers and cosplayers are: massive dorks (As a member of the Mandalorian Mercs costume club for nearly a year, I believe I am entitled to say so). But we’re also creative and completely unashamed to show our love and commitment to our nerdy passions. We love and enjoy a particular franchise or character so much, that we’re willing to spend paychecks on materials and costume supplies, slave away at sewing machines and in workshops for countless hours, and ignore all social constraints that would otherwise lead us to believe “you can only dress up on Halloween.”

From my various experiences at conventions and armor parties, I’m convinced that costuming/cosplay is the ultimate labor of love if you’re a dedicated fan of a franchise. Any rich nerd can purchase hordes of collectables, but it takes the truly devoted individual to craft and create something with their own hands, to display that interest so openly that one will wear it with pride. Many who practice the hobby do so on their own terms, but being a member of a costume club can take the involvement to the next level: by bringing it out into the community and helping those in need.

For example, the Mandalorian Mercs costume club, as with many other similar organizations such as the 501st or Rebel Legion, are involved with charity and volunteer events. While conventions serve as a fun environment for like-minded individuals to meet and discuss general geekery and provide the opportunity for fans to meet celebrities, conventions also allow for the chance to raise money towards charity and spread awareness of the organization. In the Mandalorian Mercs, for example, smaller cons and events are often the site of “Bounty Hunts,” where con-goers “hire” an official members of the club to “hunt” their friend or family member at the convention. The “bounties” are placed in a prop holding cell, one minute for every $1 the customer has donated. Funds from the bounty hunts are placed into the “Verdi’ka Fund,” a charity that pools together the donations collected nation-wide and divides the sum among several charities that have an emphasis on children and families. In 2010 alone, more than $2,500 was raised, with a new goal of $3000 set for 2011. The Mandalorian Mercs, as well as many costume clubs, will also attend local events at museums, libraries, fairs, even birthday parties, without asking for any profit in return. Volunteering at such events free of charge allows the clubs to reach a larger audience, increasing the amount of donations received while notifying the community of their presence with hope of expanding the potential member base.


What initially inspired this article was a youtube video “Crazy Comic-Con fever: $175 for a ticket” uploaded by RTAmerica on July 25th, 2011. Victoria Schmidt (who handles herself quite well, I may add, despite being cut-off short), also known by alias “Scruffy Rebel Cosplay,” is questioned by the RTAmerica’s reporter with a condescending and disproving air right from the very first question. Of all things, the reporter leads the conversation towards the direction of the American economy. Why this issue is raised, it beyond all reason, but it’s easy enough to surmise their intentions: RTAmerica is simply looking for a scapegoat to pin the country’s financial problems on.

And who better than the geeks and nerds who have been socially ostracized since the formation of high school cliques? The reporter questions how anyone can justify spending $1,000 on a convention and travel costs, prompting her to ask “Why don’t they spend the money [used for Comi-Con] on a trip to Washington to protest the economy, or on choosing an issue that’s going to make a difference for the world, or giving it to a charity, why are they spending it on Comi-Con?” From this absurd, ignorant perspective, should she not be asking “why does anyone use their money for personal leisure and not the betterment of all humanity?” After all, that’s what conventions such as Comic-Con are about, it’s no different than someone’s decision to spend money on attending the Super Bowl or traveling to Europe for vacation. The reporter’s claims that Comic-Con goers and cosplayers are selfish escapists from reality are poorly constructed.

The bottom line is, everyone, whether geek or not, spends their money on themselves in some form or another.  To assume that convention goers/costumers never take the time to volunteer or donate money to charity is a close-minded and poorly-based accusation. Non-profit costume clubs such as the Mandalorian Mercs, 501st, and other similar organizations, are living proof that the hobby can be utilized for so much more than just personal benefit and escapism; it can be used to better the local community, one event and charity at a time.

Further information:
Mandalorian Mercs Verd’ika Fund
501st Charity Appearances
Rebel Legion Charity Information

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Jess Tompkins
Jess Tompkins 10 posts

Jess is gamer, cosplayer, convention-lover, and all-round nerd. Her numerous interests include Star Wars (don't mess with the Fett), sci-fi/action-adventure/survival-horror games, and writing. Her console of choice is the PS3.