River Song Cosplay

River Song Cosplay

(original part posted 12/18/16)

I first became interested in River Song a few years ago, when I took one of those online quizzes--if I recall correctly, it was called "What Sci-Fi Heroine Are You?"--and my result was River Song. At the time, I had no idea who she was, so I had to Google the name to find out that she was a recurring character from Doctor Who. At the time, I was watching Doctor Who only sporadically (if at all), and hadn't seen her.

So, when Amazon Prime made Doctor Who available via its streaming service earlier this year, I decided to watch. Not only did I become a bigger fan of the show, but I learned more about River Song and what a great character she was.

And, not surprisingly, I started to think that it might be interesting to cosplay her. And after seeing Alex Kingston, the actress who plays her, in person at Supercon 2016, I was even more enthusiastic.


River wears a variety of different outfits in the show; the styles vary a lot too, so it's hard to pick one that's "typical." What is consistent, however, is her hair... very curly, blond-ish--not like mine at all. I would definitely need a wig if I was to be at all recognizable. No point in getting the wig, however, until I'd at least figured out the rest of the outfit.

River Song as Cleopatra In one story arc, she was playing at Cleopatra (pic at right). I was pretty sure I had a wig very like that already, and I figured I could probably do some kind of Cleopatra costume with pieces I already had related to belly dancing. But... it probably wouldn't be a very close match to the on-screen costume. And, it's just a little weird to cosplay someone who's cosplaying someone else, especially if you're not screen-accurate. But, an interesting possibility.

There were some outfits that I figured might be a little more recognizable without being too awfully hard to put together. The denim one at the top of this article, for example. Certainly doable, but I just didn't find it that interesting. The two outfits below were intriguing to me, however:

River Song black outfit     River Song brown outfit

Much as I liked the black outfit (on the left), I observed it would require several pieces that I didn't already have and would probably be a bit hard to find. On the other hand, the brown outfit (on the right, from the "Day of the Moon" episode) I did have quite a bit already--just about everything except the actual dress.

Costume 1 - "Day of the Moon"

Having to decided to do the brown outfit, I went poking around on, as usual, amazon.com to look for a suitable dress. (I note that some sources suggest that this dress is actually olive green, but to me it looks taupe, so that's what I went with.) I found one that I thought looked pretty close to the picture. It had a scoop neck rather than the V-neck with zipper, but I figured that was no biggie. The hem was straight, but I figured it would be easy enough to pin up at intervals to make it resemble the picture. So, I ordered it.

When it arrived, I was very pleased. I tried it on with a pair of brown leggings I had among my dance practice clothing, along with the boots and the wide brown belt from my pirate outfits. So far so good.

Her holster is a bit funky, but I thought I might be able to use something from my cosplay with guns. That was merely OK--I wasn't totally pleased with how it looked. I decided to not worry about the holster part, and just stick with the belt part, so I went back to Amazon to order a lighter-colored fanny pack with a small pack.

That basically left her vortex manipulator (the wide leather-banded thing on her wrist). I had a friend who sold leather wristbands; I figured she'd have one that would look pretty darn close. (I considered getting a replica sold as a toy on Amazon, except the reviews noted the wrist strap was small, and I have large wrists so it wouldn't have worked for me. There's also a real leather replica available as a wristwatch, but it's much more expensive.) My friend gave me two wristbands, one suede and one smooth leather. They had funky decorations in the center, which were OK albeit not really right for a vortex manipulator. They were also both a bit tight for my wrist (as I said, I have large wrists). It occurred to me that I could remove the decorations and put the two bands together to form a single wristband which would a) fit my wrist, and b) look a little more like a vortex manipulator... so I did that--pic at right.


I wore the outfit for the first time at Paradise City Comic Con, December 2016, and here's the way it turned out (whaddaya know, they had a TARDIS there to pose with!) There are a few bits I might want to improve on, but overall I was pretty pleased.

Sherry R cosplay as River Song from 'Day of the Moon'

(following part added 8/4/17)

Wig Update

While I thought the wig was okay, I knew it could stand some improvement. For example, I thought it looked a bit more "afro" than River Song's real hair. I was thinking that perhaps I could give it a bit of a cut/trim to address that, and I'd actually done a bit of research on how to cut curly hair. Then one day, I stumbled on this article, from the "ifyougiveagirlaneedle" blog: River Song Wig: Tutorial, and I had to check it out. Wow, what great info! She had started with a different wig than I had, and I thought hers looked closer to River's hair than mine did. It was less than $20 on Amazon, so I ordered it, figuring it might be better than the one I already had.

The blogger had done a bit of cutting and other modification to her original wig to make it look even more like River's hair. When I received mine, I could understand the issues she was addressing, so I figured I'd try following the instructions in her blog. The first step was to put it on one of those styrofoam wig heads and comb it out. I was pretty certain I had one of those heads, and it had a project I had started many years earlier on it. The project was a Pharonic headpiece in the form of a bird, and looking at it again, it struck me how it could work really well for River-as-Cleopatra, so suddenly I became much more interested in doing that cosplay. So much so, that I stopped working on the wig for a bit and went to work on River as Cleopatra.

Costume 2 - Cleopatra

As mentioned above under Wig Update, I became enthusiastic about doing River's Cleopatra after realizing I had a very appropriate Pharonic headpiece already. Albeit not all ready--I had started making the headpiece many, many years ago (I forget exactly, but I suspect it was over 20 years, back in my early-ish dancing days), but never finished it. If I recall correctly, there were 2 reasons for that: a) I was covering the entire surface with pailettes and sequins, and I had reached the area around the bird's neck where fitting the curves was getting very awkward, which slowed the process down a lot; b) I realized this was going to be a 1-of-a-kind thing, which would only work for me as a soloist, and I was actually more interested in doing troupe work. So, it had been sitting all this time, almost finished but not quite (see pic at right), occupying my wig head space. But hey, now I could get some good use out of it!

So, I checked out suitable pictures of River Song from "The Pandorica Opens" episode and started assembling what I needed for this costume:

Headpiece: Of course, I'd have to finish the sequins on my almost-done piece, which wasn't really a big deal, although it was a bit awkward and slow. The bigger issue was that my headpiece was just the bird, while River's has an additional crown-like piece on the bird's back. Making the crown was a bit of work, but not too hard: a piece of a yogurt cup and cardboard to form the shape, paper mache' to hold it together and even out the surfaces, and paint, trim, pailettes, and old jewelry bits to make it look good. (Below: partly paper-mache'd crown piece; finished bird piece with partly-decorated crown piece.)


A bit harder to attach the crown to the bird, since the bird's back had already been completed and wasn't designed for the crown. I went ahead and poked a few holes thru the bird's back to enable me to attach the crown with heavy thread and velcro.

Hair: As I mentioned when I was first considering various River Song costumes, I already had what I thought was a good wig for her Cleo. It was a cheapie Halloween wig, but I thought the style was a good match for River's. A bit of a comb-out and a slight trim to even out some cheap-wig issues, and it was looking pretty good, but I still wanted to add some skinny braids with ribbon in them to make it closer to River's. I had to buy ribbon for them, because (surprisingly enough) I didn't already have any suitable ribbon already. As I was making the braids (separate from the wig, with some synthetic hair I already had laying around), I noticed I had gotten wired ribbon by accident, but that turned out to be a good thing because River's braids have a funky little curve to them that suggests they're wired also. River has more braids on her wig (at least 4, but I think maybe 6), but I only made 2 for mine because the wings on my headpiece are angled a little differently and I didn't think the extra ones would show.

River Song as Cleopatra #2 Jewelry: River is wearing one of those beaded Egyptian wide-collar necklaces, and I had a similar one in my dance stash. But if you check closely at the top part, closer to her neck, you can see there's a 2nd choker-length necklace there. I'm sure this is because those Egyptian collar necklaces tend to sit lower on the neck than you think they would; mine does the same thing. So the extra necklace is to fill in the (apparent) gap. I didn't think I had a necklace that was similar in style to River's, so I considered purchasing one. But then I thought, why should I spend money for that? With all the necklaces I'd acquired over my years of dancing and such, surely I must have something that would work for the purpose, even if it didn't look quite the same as hers. And sure enough, I did.

She's also wearing bracelets: a snake upper-arm bracelet, which I already had amongst my dance stash; and some wide(ish) gold bracelets on her wrists, which were a bit harder. I had some similar-in-size bangles, but they were a bit more colorful than River's seem to be. Also River's seem to be jointed, rather than a regular bangle. Mine might be OK, but I thought I could make something better with an old chain/coin belt I had--just use a bit of jewely-making technique to separate 2 bracelet-size lengths from the belt and add fasteners. The medallions on the belt had had pearlized pieces glued on, but the glue was old and failing and had turned a dark brown. So I removed the remaining pearlized pieces and painted gold over the brown (pic at right). I thought they looked OK that way, so I didn't bother replacing the pearlized pieces.

River Song as Cleopatra #3 Dress: There isn't a lot of screen time or photos to see much detail of the dress (check out the ones at right and above left, and the one near the top of this page). But the more I researched, the more my ideas about the dress evolved.

I first considered using a simple white dress that my dance troupe had used for Pharonic style, but I felt it was really too plain to work for River. River's, for example, appears to have a pleated(?) cape-like panel hanging down the back, with edges brought back to the front and held somehow, perhaps with jewelry, of which there was quite a bit draped across the front.

I then thought perhaps I could use Isis wings (which I already had) to make something similar to the cape-like back panel, using the white dress as a base. I tried draping the Isis wings in various ways, but nothing I tried looked very good. It looked fairly okay with the wings just hanging down the back, but then the dress was still much too plain. River's dress itself looks like a long V-neck dress, with an empire waist, in some kind of fancy fabric, mainly white with some gold(ish) patterning/pleating.

I looked various places online to find a dress that might work better, figuring I could still use the wings for the cape-like effect. But I didn't find anything that I was happy with. The more I looked at the pictures and video of River, the more I started to understand what her dress really looked like. It has 2 layers, where the bottom layer is mainly white(ish), and the top layer has the bit of a gold(ish) pattern. The top layer (overdress) covers the bodice area and becomes cape-like in the back, and there's a narrower panel hanging down the front of the skirt area.

You can probably guess that I was starting to get a pretty good image in my head of how this dress could be made, and I was thinking that making it might be the best choice. So, I checked my fabric stash and found some gold lacey stuff (which I think I've had for even longer than the bird part of the headpiece) that I thought might work to make something similar to River's overdress. My plain white dress would work for the underdress, after I converted it from a scoop neck to a V-neck.

The lace was a bit difficult to work with--besides having a bit of stretch, every edge needed to be finished with seam binding or similar. (It looks like the screen dress had that too.) I decided to use the same wide ribbon I had purchased for the waistband for the binding. I ended up needing 4 rolls of the ribbon (4 yds. per roll) to finish the overdress.

One thing that I had to consider was that the lace layer was going to be delicate, but the white underdress was easily washable and it would be good for it to stay that way. So I went to some effort to make the overdress fully separable from the underdress. That meant using velcro at some key points to ensure the layers aligned properly.

My original plan was to gather up the lace from the front bodice area at the shoulders to match the tank-style design of the underdress, which is the way River's screen dress looks. But, while trying on the dress-in-process at one point, the gatherings fell partway off the shoulder and made a pretty neat little sleeve shape, similar to the one in the pic at left. It looked so good, I decided I wanted to have both options. A little clever use of velcro, again, would enable that.

River Song as Cleopatra #4 During the time I was working on the overdress, I would periodically go through my various jewelry bits and pieces to see what I had that might work for the decorative pieces on the dress. The screen dress appears to have some kind of pendant hanging from the neckline, another pendant hanging by multiple chains from the sides of the waistband, and some more chain with perhaps a couple of small pendants draped across the front of the waistband (see pic at right). In addition to finding suitable pieces, I had to think about the mechanics of attaching them to the dress.

I quickly found an ankh pendant that I thought was perfect for the neckline. I eventually also found a necklace with an Egyptian-design pendant that I thought would work for the lower pendant, after I attached a couple extra chains using some basic jewelry-making techniques. When I tried it on with the dress, it looked great, but the pendant kept getting caught in the lace because of its irregular edges. So I made an attempt to smooth out those edges by attaching a better-shaped cardboard (colored gold) to the back and adding extra glue(clear) along the edges. I never could find anything immediately useful for the 3rd jewelry bit, for the front of the waistband. I ended up using those jewelry-making techniques again to make something with chain pieces and some coins I already had that, guess what, had Egyptian designs on them. I had assorted jewelry findings for some of the mechanics of attaching to the dress, but not all the exact right ones I needed, so I did have to purchase a few additional jewelry findings.

Shoes: I had some tan-colored dance sandals. Not quite as cool as, say, gold Roman gladiator shoes, but fine.


Amazingly, I didn't spend a lot of money on this costume; most everything was done with stuff I already had. I only spent maybe about $20 on ribbon and jewelry findings. However, I did spend a lot of time on it. It was, as usual, an interesting and fun process. Because I'd done so much work on it, I decided I wanted to enter it into a costume contest at an upcoming Con. The first Con after I had it ready was Supercon, which is the largest Con in the area, and there's a LOT of cosplay competition. So I wasn't totally surprised that I didn't win anything when I entered there; I did, however, get a lot of applause when I walked out on stage, and I got a lot of compliments during the day, so I think it turned out well. Here's the best pics I have so far... the basic Cleopatra (with loose sleeve) and the River-Song-as-Cleopatra (sleeveless and more jewelry) variations. (First photo by Nocedo Photo, 2nd by A Couple of Geeks.)

Sherry R cosplay as Cleopatra   Sherry R cosplay as River Song as Cleopatra

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