Home » Personal Stories » T.J Burnside Clapp (Arlington, VA)

T.J Burnside Clapp (Arlington, VA)

The photos were taken at the 1977 Halloween party that was hosted by the University of Maryland Association of Star Trek (UMAST). I was a 16-year-old high school student in Maryland, and UMAST was the local Star Trek group that held the Trek convention called The August Party (starting with my very first convention, in August of 1975). At the 1976 August Party convention, when I was 15, I had entered the costume competition as an Andorian from Star Trek, complete with blue skin, white hair, and antennae (see photos below). I performed a torch song version of the classic ballad “Am I Blue?” at the Costume Call, which is what we called the masquerade competition in those days. I took home the Best Performance and Best of Show awards, and then was asked to join the convention committee and run the Costume Call the following year. From that point on I mainly ran costume competitions at various East Coast Star Trek and media cons, and my own costuming was just for fun.

When I decided to make the X-Wing pilot costume for the Halloween party, there were no photo references available aside from one Star Wars trading card. The original movie had only opened in May, and was still playing in the theaters. There would be no VHS or Laser Disc release for at least a year, maybe longer. I took notes with a flashlight in the movie theater (the Uptown, in Washington DC) for at least four or five showings. My August Party friends and I would often go to the midnight Friday show when the place was practically empty. I found a standard military jumpsuit pattern and modified it to match the sketches I took during the movie. My mom helped me sew the jumpsuit and vest. I bought the pieces for the plastic control box and forearm remote at various art supply and hardware stores, and a friend of mine who worked in the plastics lab at UofMD built it based on my notes and sketches. Because I was small, I deliberately sized the box to be about 80% the size of the real ones so it wouldn’t look huge on me. The rocker switches and dials all worked! The webbing straps were constructed of duct tape (the universal costuming material!), and the rest was comprised of various random items from the hardware store that resembled the things I saw onscreen … I remember that the right shoulder pocket contained three chrome tire pressure gauges. 😀

I modified my old hang gliding helmet, which had 3/4 coverage much like the pilot’s helmets, and I copied the rebel logos and symbols from the movie scenes. The ridge on top of the helmet was made from a Hot Wheels track. After I painted the whole thing, I bashed it up a bit to make it look used and more authentic. 

After the Halloween party I wore the outfit several more times, most memorably at the premiere of The Empire Strikes Back in 1980, with a number of other fans in costume.

This is me portraying Soolin from #Blakes7, the British sci-fi series. I was in charge of the masquerade competition for the Chicago area convention Scorpio 2 in 1984, and I wore this one while serving on the convention committee. It helped that I resembled Glynis Barber, who played Soolin . My hair is actually blonde – for some reason these photos made it look a bit red.

Costume made completely from scratch using photo references. Gun was a Star Wars blaster, painted silver with barrel and sight modified to match Soolin’s.

Dora, the Singing Andorian, vamping it up to “Am I Blue?” in 1976. This photo is amusingly accurate … I started constructing the Andorian costume before my family owned a color TV (which were still pretty expensive in the mid-70s).  I had asked friends to tell me what the costume colors were (Army green over vest with chrome studs and silver lamé top), but I assumed the skin was just extra pale (like mine). I had no idea I was going to have to make my skin blue until the costume was almost completed! It took an emergency trip to a theatrical make-up store and a lot of mixing of shades of pancake make-up, but it eventually looked great. I later got pale blue stockings to match the face & hand make-up, which I wore with a long split skirt. I eventually had to retire the costume because I developed an allergic reaction to the makeup. 🙁

The costumers in those days were an enthusiastic bunch, but the costumes tended to be pretty basic. There was a lot of papier-mache and spray painted cardboard. There were also always young women who wore as little as possible (I suppose that’s a constant throughout costuming history). I remember one convention published a list of standards that included “No costume is no costume,” and banned outfits made entirely of tin foil!

At Trek cons there were usually just three categories in the costume competition: Star Trek, SF/Fantasy, and Performance. When I took over running the Costume Call at August Party I added a category called “Authentic Re-Creation” where the costumes were judged for their accuracy in reproduction, which was often overlooked in competitions where creativity of design or clever performances would take the top prizes.

Later on I started attending large science fiction conventions, and the costumers there tended to be more experienced. Especially at the annual Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention), many of the Masquerade costumes were incredibly elaborate and very professional looking. 

One thing thing that initially baffled me when I started attending more conventions was the crossover between the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism, medieval recreationists) and science fiction fandom – I went to my first straight SF con in 1977, DisClave in Washington DC, and I could not understand why there were so many large guys clomping around in fur and armor where I expected to find space pilots like me! I also discovered a real undercurrent of resentment for movie and TV fans versus those who primarily read books. 

Even though I was a huge reader of SF, I felt the need to change out of my Star Trek T-shirt because of all the nasty comments. I think today’s conventions are a lot more accepting to fans of different stripes … I haven’t heard of anyone being  booed for liking Star Wars in awhile. 🙂

The conventions I attended attracted fans of every age. There were families with small children, old folks who had followed science fiction since the days of First Fandom in the 1930s, and everyone in between. I think the most surprising thing for me when I started going to Star Trek conventions was how much of the fan base was made up of adult and middle-aged women! They were the ones writing the fan fiction, publishing the fanzines, and quite often running the conventions. When I started attending straight SF cons I was taken aback by how much the men outnumbered the women, when in Star Trek fandom it was the exact opposite.

Conventions were entirely a subculture back then, very much under the radar of “normal” people (or “mundanes,” as we called them). It’s not like today where virtually everyone in America knows about the San Diego Comic Con. No one outside of hardcore science fiction fans even knew conventions existed. There were people who read science fiction their whole lives and never encountered a con. I finally got my mother, a lifelong science fiction fan who introduced me to Star Trek, to come to a convention with me when she was in her 60s. She said she finally understood why I was so involved with them – conventions were the only place I could be myself and feel completely welcomed by people just like me!

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