The world of costuming or cosplay is big in the USA at events like ComicCon, and steadily growing in popularity in the UK, as people enjoy dressing up in their spare time as characters from a book, film or video game. However, when you’re living with latex allergy, going to a fun event like this can pose a serious risk.
“A lot of the Star Wars suits were made in the 1970s and 1980s very cheaply, and latex was a cheap material at the time, so it features in a lot of places. The cybermen from Dr Who are also covered with latex, it’s painted over the whole suit!” explains Anaphylaxis Campaign supporter Emma, from Bolton.
Living with natural rubber latex allergy can be tough, as latex is part of thousands of everyday items like erasers, tyres, sports equipment and even calculator or remote-control buttons. For avid Star Wars fan Emma, her severe allergy posed an extra challenge when she became part of the UK Garrison one of the foremost Star Wars costuming groups in the UK.
“When you are part of the UK Garrison, your costume must be screen accurate, and this was a real problem for me because the proper gloves are made of latex. The gloves also have armour on them, which is also made of latex, so I had to have some customised out of silicon. And the costumes are held together by press studs, held in place by a strong glue, and a lot of glues are latex based.”
Thankfully some friends were on hand to help Emma adapt her suit, so she could join in with the UK Garrison’s activities, though the process did take about four months to complete. By taking sensible precautions, Emma can fully participate at events, explaining “when we do a troop, and someone asks me to help them with their suit, I always wear a pair of latex-free gloves and make sure my hands are covered up.”
It also turned out a stormtrooper suit is the perfect place to keep Emma’s lifesaving medication. She says “I carry my adrenaline pens everywhere. It turns out that on the back of the suit there is a piece called a Thermal Detonator Canister which is the perfect size to store them in once you take the cap off. A friend also suggested putting a gap in my suit which means that I’m able to inject without taking off my armour.”
For Emma, one of the best things about costuming is raising money for charities and good causes. Emma nominated the Anaphylaxis Campaign to receive a donation from the UK Garrison, for which we are very grateful. Emma explained “When I was first told I had to carry adrenaline, the Anaphylaxis Campaign website helped so much in answering my questions. And its not just me that’s been helped, its my employers and family too.”
Emma’s advice if you’re considering wearing a costume for any event is to check the material is suitable for you. She added “unfortunately, you do have to spend a lot of time ringing manufacturers. Do take care at somewhere like Comic Con events too because a lot of costumes have latex in.”
We’re so grateful to Emma for sharing her story with us and her top tips for costuming. We had to finish by asking what her favourite Star Wars character is. “Darth Vader,” she laughs, “I love the bad guys!”