River Tam Cosplay

River Tam Cosplay

(initial posting 12/12/2015)

Jayne Cobb wearing hat Honestly, I didn't start out thinking I would ever want to do more Firefly cosplay. Having made my Kaylee costume, I figured it would be just fine for whatever purposes it would be for. And maybe it is. But...

It was probably after I went to the Can't Stop the Serenity event that the thought even entered my head. They had raffles at the event, and one of the prizes was a Jayne hat (as in pic of Jayne at right). I didn't win the hat, but I got to wondering what I'd do with it if I had won. I might feel compelled to actually cosplay Jayne. Hmmm...

I am a member of a few Firefly fan groups on Facebook, including a couple of costume-related ones. People post their own cosplays of other characters, and after a while I couldn't help but get interested in certain aspects of the cosplay process, and thence to thinking about how I might approach doing some of the other characters, if I wanted to do them, not that I was planning to.

River Tam with hippie dress and crochet top So, it was because I had given some thought to the idea that one day, when I was out clothes shopping, I was attracted to an interesting crocheted top... It was supposed to be a bathing suit cover-up, but I thought it looked like something River Tam would wear, similar to the one in the pic at left. But no, I didn't buy it then, because I wasn't planning to do more Firefly cosplay.

And so it was that some time later I got an advertising email from an online retailer (specifically, The Animal Rescue Site) that showed this cute red tunic-dress on sale, and I again thought, "That looks like something River would wear." Then I thought it was also something I could wear normally as well. Plus it was for a good cause. Plus it was on sale. So... you know the rest--I had to order it.


River Tam - 2 costumes It looked like I was gonna do a River Tam cosplay after all. So, I figured I should do some more detailed research. River has an assortment of outfits thru the series. There are probably 3 outfits that you see enough to really get a good look at. The one at left is from "Jaynestown" but is also seen in "Objects in Space"; the dress alone, without the crocheted top, is in "Bushwhacked." At far right is a promo photo, but it looks to be the same dress and funky sweater-top that she wore in "War Stories." The screencap at near right shows the outfit from "Safe." I observe that River mostly dresses in cooler shades of warm colors-- bluish reds and pinks, browns, etc.; usually mid-length skirts or dresses, often layered. A lot of her clothes seem a little oversized for her... but then, she's a tiny little thing, so she probably has a hard time finding things in her size.

River Tam Costume, Take 1

So, the dress I had ordered seemed similar in style to the Jaynestown or War Stories dresses. Although it had a subtle design on it, it basically looked like a pretty solid-color red (more like the War Stories dress). When it arrived, I gave it a quick try-on; realized it was a little shorter than I thought it would be, but it was okay--I still liked it. I was pretty enhusiastic about doing a River cosplay by then, so I went back to the store I had been to before to see if I could get that crochet top. I found one... it didn't tie in the front like the actual Jaynestown one, but it was reasonably close. I also found an oversize lightweight sweater in sort of ombre shades of pinkish-orange. I thought, if worn with the red dress, it would resemble the "Safe" outfit, only with the colors upside-down, with the red on the bottom and the pinks on top. It occurred to me it would actually be close to Jayne hat colors, which clinched it. I bought both of them for top layering pieces (and they were on sale, so it didn't cost too much).

So, time to test them out by trying them with the dress. Alas, it became apparent the dress was a bit too short to wear by itself as a dress... Although a couple of the online reviewers had said they wore it as a dress, it was, in fact, sold as a tunic. I'd need some other layer underneath to make it work. Perhaps another longer skirt (might look similar to the 2-layer skirt from "Safe"), or bike-type shorts (seen under River's skirt in "Safe" in the pic below, and also worn in a couple of other episodes):

River Tam - bike shorts from 'Safe'>

So I checked out several stores, both on-site and online, looking for something that would work, but without much luck. Although I wasn't on any kind of schedule or anything, I was getting impatient. One thing I did find was a very nice longer dress in a similar style and color to the tunic. It was, again, something I might wear otherwise, and it was on sale at a reasonable price. Getting it seemed to be the best solution, even though it meant completely replacing the item that actually started this whole thing. So that's what I did, and it worked pretty well--it looks good with either of the layering pieces. So now I have 2 River outfits.

In the show, River walks around barefoot a lot, and I've heard about cosplayers doing that, but I ain't. Otherwise she has her little feet in huge combat boots, like in the promo photo above. I figure the boots I got for my pirate costume will work fine.

River Tam - 'Serenity' poster The other thing I think about with River is that she usually has messy hair, often wet-looking. The poster for the Serenity movie (shown at right) may be the most extreme case of this. I was wondering if I could do something like that with my hair, and I recalled I had gotten some odd hair products to play with when my hair was growing back after chemo. I checked and found I had some hair gel that looked like it might do something similar, and experimented with it on Halloween... sure enough, I think it'll work, although it's not as extreme as the poster.

River Tam - 'Serenity' poster 2 So, at this point, I still need 2 things. The first is a prop that can help identify me as River. I read an article some time back about why "There's no such thing as good Firefly cosplay." The basic reason (according to the article) is that the clothing is basically pretty normal, so the looks aren't really distinctive. For example, Storm Trooper costumes are obvious. Star Trek uniforms are obvious. River Tam, not so obvious. Now, being screen-accurate can help address that issue, but that's never been a goal of mine, and it doesn't help much in the case of River anyway. (Or any of the Firefly cast, for that matter, which I guess was the point of that article.) Choosing the right prop is another way you can help address the issue. That's why, for example, I decided I needed to have a parasol when I did my Kaylee costume.

River Tam holding stick in 'Objects in Space' A lot of people who cosplay River like to do her with the reaver-fighting weapons from the movie, Serenity, as in the poster to the left. But I really prefer not to do weapons, especially big ones, for practical reasons as well as philosophical. So I figure the perfect prop would be a stick in the shape of a gun, as in "Objects in Space" (pic at right). I just need to find one.

The second thing I need, of course, is an occasion to wear the outfit(s) so I can get a picture.
(following update added 7/8/16)

Addenda 1a: I finally was able to put everything together and wear the outfit with the sweater to Supercon 2016:

Sherry R cosplay as River Tam - costume 1a

There are a few things I think I need to tweak, but overall I'm pleased with it.

(following update added 7/17/16)

Addenda 1b: I was able to wear the other variation of the costume, with the crochet top, 2 weeks later at our local Can't Stop the Serenity event. They had River's reaver weapons there to pose with, so:

Sherry R cosplay as River Tam - costume 1b

(end of addenda)

(following section added 1/15/18)

River Tam Costume, Take 2

River Tam inside the shop in 'Safe' While I wasn't unhappy with my first takes at doing River Tam, I knew there were improvements that could be made. I don't think the stick-as-gun prop works very well, for example. And, as much as the "Jayne hat" version (1a) amuses me, I don't think it "reads" very well as River. I think the crochet top (1b) "reads" reasonably well though. So I was planning to do a different prop, but wasn't really thinking about a new costume, until...

I was at a party in Connecticut and a woman there was wearing a sweater that caught my eye, mainly because it was a pretty shade of blue that I loved. As I looked at it more closely, I noticed that, except for the color of course, it was almost a perfect match for River's sweater in "Safe": it had the loose, lightweight, textured knit; wide neck; long sleeves with with wide (uncuffed) ends; sort of ragged-ish edges. I was so intrigued, I had to ask her where she'd gotten it, and she told me Eagle Ray Traders, where it's called a "Knit Double Top." I had to check it out, and it was on sale, so I had to get it. But what color to pick?

When watching the show, it's hard to tell exactly what color River's sweater is. Depending on the lighting, it can look pretty orange (as in pic at right), or more deep pink (as in pic under Research, above). Perhaps it's actually red, similar to the dress I got for Take 1. In any case, the available colors for the Eagle Ray Traders sweater that seemed most likely were called pink, fuchsia, coral, and burnt orange. In my mind, the sweater seems to be a deep pink, like magenta. So I ordered the fuchsia. I was a bit surprised when I received it that the sweater body is actually 2 layers, but when I looked back at the pictures of River's, I see hers is the same. The fuchsia color is perhaps too dark, but we'll see how it comes together. (Side note: After going through this process, I later saw a small item on River's costumes in the Firefly: A Celebration book, in which costume designer Shawna Trpcic referred to the sweater as "garnet".)

The other main element of the outfit is the skirt. It looked like it would be easy enough to make, 2 circle skirts in slightly different shades of pale pink. But I figured before I got started doing that, I should check online to see if I could find something similar for cheap. Sure enough, there are plenty of "skater skirts" on Amazon for less than $10. I ordered 1 in pink, and it looked great for one layer. Then I ordered a 2nd one in a different brand, trying to get the longer, slightly darker layer; alas, it was much too dark (it was called "hot pink" but I'd decribe the color as "vermillion"). Wasn't gonna work for this purpose, but interestingly, it looks pretty good with the "Jayne hat" sweater (1a)--better than the dress, which is a bit too long. I made another attempt and ordered a 3rd skirt in "light pink", but it was almost exactly the same color and length as the 1st one, so I returned it and gave up trying. The outfit should read well even with just the one skirt. If I decide I need to have the double-layer, I guess I'll just have to make it myself.

Since the new skirt is rather short, I'd definitely need the black biker-style shorts (shown above under Take 1). I already had some similar shorts, but they were made for biking, with the extra padding in the crotch. I really didn't want to have the padding for cosplay, so I again went shopping, and found something suitable at Marshall's.

My first opportunity to wear the costume was at Paradise City Comic Con in January 2018. That was after I had completed the ice planet prop, so the pic is included in that section here, which immediately follows.

Prop 2 - Ice Planet

River Tam with ice planet in 'The Message' As mentioned above in the discussion of Costume 2, I didn't think the stick-as-gun prop that I had gotten for Costume 1 worked all that well. I had seen some online pics of other cosplayers using the ice planet (her "problematic food" from "The Message" episode, pic at left) as a prop, and it occurred to me that that was a pretty-near perfect choice: it can't really be mistaken for anything else. It's not something you can just go out and buy, however--it does require making. So, I knew I wanted to make one for the next time I played River, but there was no specific plan for that, so I had a lot of time to think about how to do it.

So obviously, there's a stick, and a string, and a ball of ice cream. I did wonder how the ball of ice cream was supposed to not just drip all over everything, and slip quickly off the string. I'd kinda figured it was some future freezing method that kept it from melting too quickly... until I happened to read in the script (in the Firefly: A Celebration book) about how it's supposed to work, as follows:

... short sticks that dangle strings off the end. Each string runs through the middle of a ball of ice cream that is supported by a bowl-shaped cookie attached (under the ice cream) to the string.

Aha, interesting! The cookie-bowl part was not obvious in any of the screen captures, but I knew I wanted to make mine suggestive of that. I figured I could make the ice cream/cookie bowl by using a styrofoam ball, and apply something (yet to be determined) to give it some texture (probably using different textures for the ice cream and the cookie bowl) before painting appropriately.

So then I got to wondering about the stick-how long was it, what was it made of. I was thinking maybe a chopstick would be reasonable... seemed like a decent size, and logical considering the strong Chinese influence in the Firefly universe. But then I stumbled upon the following picture online, which apparently was taken backstage with a flash so we can see it a lot better than we can in the screencaps:

Summer Glau backstage as River Tam, with ice planet

It's a little cockeyed, but you can kinda see something that looks like a bowl on the bottom. And, interesting, there are stars on the string that I'd never noticed in the screencaps or while watching the show. And, even more interesting, the stick looks like it might be hollow; in fact, it looks almost exactly like the cardboard tubes that come on certain types of wire coat hangers. And I had some of those exact hangers!

Start of ice planet prop, styrofoam ball So, now that I had a good idea of where I was going with this, I started in earnest. I had some styrofoam balls, but the 3" size that I thought would work now seemed too small. I had one 4" ball that had been allocated for a different project, but that project was far down on my list so I decided to use it for this one. I had a leftover piece of string that looked the right thickness and poked and pulled it thru the ball. Then I marked the line on the ball where the top of the "bowl" would be by pressing the styrofoam in a little (see pic at left).

Ice planet prop, after application of Paperclay As I was thinking about the textures I'd need, I figured the styrofoam itself was OK for the cookie, but clearly not for the ice cream. After pondering various options, I remembered that I had some Paperclay that I thought might work well. And sure enough, I was pretty pleased with the result (pic at right).

I was also thinking about the colors. In the pics, both ice cream and cookie bowl look about the same shade of white. For the ice cream, it's probably vanilla, no problem, and in fact the Paperclay dries a pretty nice shade of white. It looked a bit too dry though, so I covered it with some Mod Podge (which I had in my rock-painting supply stash) to make it look more wet, more like real ice cream. But what about the cookie? I don't think plain cookies are ever actually white. The cooking process turns even white ingredients at least somewhat brown. The only way a cookie would actually be white, it seemed to me, was if it had icing on it. That meant a much smoother texture than the plain styrofoam. The Mod Podge should work for that too, but I'd still need paint to ensure a smooth appearance. I eventually (and somewhat anally) decided to first paint a light brown directly on the styrofoam, to suggest the cookie, and then put on a couple of layers of Mod Podge mixed with white for the frosting. And here's the result, which I'm very pleased with:

completed ice planet prop

I used the prop the first time I wore Costume 2 (described previously), at Paradise City Comic Con in January 2018. I am very pleased with the whole result:

Sherry R cosplay as River Tam - costume 2 with ice planet prop

Note: most of the Firefly photos here come from Can't Take the Sky.

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