Fursuits are animal costumes associated with the furry fandom. They range from simple tails and ears to full costumes cooled by battery-powered fans. Similar to mascot suits, they allow the wearer to adopt another personality while in costume. Owners can spend less than one-hundred to many thousands of dollars on one fursuit, depending on the complexity of the design and on the materials used. These items are frequently sold at conventions, or online by either commission or auction. Many furry fans using online tutorials or advice from newsgroups.
The term "Fursuit" can also refer to animal mascot costumes in general, as opposed to human or inanimate object mascots. The act of wearing a fursuit is usually referred to as fursuiting.
Types of fursuits
The standard fursuit is a full body costume that consists of a head, forepaws (hands), hindpaws (feet) and a body with an attached tail; in some cases, the tail is connected via a belt to the wearer and hangs out through a hole in the back of the body. Many suits include special padding or undersuits to give the character its desired shape (this is especially present in larger characters or those of a particular gender.)
A partial suit or half-suit contains the above, only without the body. This allows the wearer to don ordinary clothing (or a different costume) overtop of the paws, head and tail. In partial suits, the tail is usually attached to a belt, and the arms and legs have sleeves that can go up as far as the shoulders and pelvis, respectively.
Most recently, a third type known as the three-quarter suit has been developed, which consists of a head, arms and pants made to look like the legs, tail and feet of the animal in question, which works well for characters who only wear shirts.
Reasons for fursuiting
A person who wears a fursuit generally falls into one or more of five categories.
Job or charity work
Many furry fans wear fursuits as a job or to bring attention to an event or charity. This can include mascots, though not all mascots are fursuits, nor are all mascot performers furries. Many fursuiters are hired through an agency to represent a character, while others bring their own constructions to an event instead. There are also several volunteer fursuiting groups across North America that either ask or are asked to entertain at various social functions. Some groups even set up their own charitable events or perform on the streets to passersby.
Conventions, parades, exhibitions
Other furries enjoy wearing their suits for parades, exhibitions, or conventions. Oftentimes these are of a personal character who they are expressing as a form of role play. The fursuiter may consider themselves to be expressing who they really are. These fursuiters may also wear their suits to small, informal meetings among furry fans in their area. Some may get permission to perform in or outside of a shop or event, while others may simply wear a suit in a major area, such as a mall. However, some public areas have no-mask laws, so individuals seeking to wear their fursuit in large, public places should check first if it's allowed before performing at that location.
Some LARPers create highly elaborate costumes (including fursuits) for their characters. Half-suits are usually created for role-playing games, though some LARPers use full-body suits. These suits wear elaborate clothes and costumes of their own, depending on the theme of the game.
A portion of the furry fandom considers a fursuit a sexual item. A fraction of the fursuits sold are made for sexual activity. Some suits may contain elaborately designed sexual features, while some wearers simply snip a hole or two out themselves. The music video for "Beautiful" by Moby revolves around a swinger house party where all the participants are dressed up in fursuits, though this is likely to be intended as a metaphor rather than a statement about the furry fandom.
Some people (usually otherkin or therianthropes) also fursuit for reasons of expressing what they feel is their inner animal self. Most of them try to make their suits as realistic and lifelike as possible.
Fursuits can be made out of many different materials, though most incorporate fake fur, foam, felt and varying types of plastic. Several factors can be customized during the construction process, including:
- what types and colours of fur will be used
- the space that the wearer is able to see from (mouth, eyes, neck, etc.)
- whether or not the suit contains padding
- whether or not there will be animated features (wagging tails, "follow me" eyes, etc.)
- any designs, patterns or shading (airbrushing) in the fur itself, and
- whether or not any makeup will be used.
The head is the most detailed feature of a fursuit, and is usually the most complicated because it must easily display what type of animal or creature it is; it also has the task of setting an expressional context for the character, whether it is predominately happy, angry, etc. Several methods exist for creating a fursuit head. The most prominent methods use include:
- strips of plastic canvas are sewn together, and fur and foam is attached to the outside
- a block of foam is carved into the desired shape, and fur is glued to the outside of the foam, and
- fiberglass is molded into the desired shape, and fur is attached to the outside.
Heads can range anywhere from being extremely simplistic (one colour, a sewn-in smile) to elaborate (a moving jaw, "follow-me eyes" that appear to move, hair, facial markings, etc.) Some characters have closed mouths while others are open. The facial expression of the character can range anywhere from toony to realistic, and from inviting to frightening. Some fursuiters, notably Timduru, own two or more heads to sport a different expression in varying locations and circumstances.
Many heads include discrete openings in the mouth or nose to allow the flow of fresh air. Some suits contain battery-powered cooling fans alongside the openings, either to draw air in or pull hot air out. Sometimes a balaclava or headband is used inside to separate the wearer from the head, to hide the wearer's face and to absorb sweat.
Some fursuiters opt to wear a mask and/or makeup instead of a full head.
Eyes and sight
Depending on the style of the costume, the wearer is able to see through the eyes, nose or mouth of the head; in some cases, the wearer sees through the tear ducts, the neck or a camouflaged space below the eyes â€” the location of the character's eyeballs and the opening that the wearer sees out of don't necessarily have to be in the same place.
A character's eyes can be made out of plastic globes or bowls (usually cut to size) or taxidermy eyes. The opening for the wearer to see from can be made out of plastic or aluminum mesh, plastic canvas or sheer fabrics such as nylon or chiffon. Some furries prefer to use their own eyes as the character's eyes, as it allows for added expression and makes the character seem more realistic.
The bodysuit is the full body of the character and includes the arms, legs, neck and tail. Bodysuits range from loose jumpsuits to form-fitting and/or padded costumes. A standard bodysuit pattern from a catalog can be used, and this basic pattern is usually altered to meet any required modifications, including all size and shape concerns. Many fursuit builders use dressmaker forms or DIY duct tape dummies to build their costumes to ensure a snug fit.
Bodysuits also carry a great amount of detail. Most include a simple light patch down the middle of the torso to represent a cartoon-like stomach area. Various suits have detailed patterns added, either by sewing in different coloured/textured fur or by the use of airbrushing (for example, the stripes of a tiger.) Varying lengths of fur can be used, including shorter fur for the stomach.
A character's shape can be reinforced through the use of padding. Simple padding, such as foam inserts, can lightly define or highlight certain areas. canid suits often employ padding in the legs to create the natural digitigrade shape of the animal. For large or muscled characters, large inserts or a special undersuit known as a muscle suit or bodypod are worn underneath to give the character the needed girth. Some fursuiters portray characters opposite of their natural gender and incorporate the necessary padding into their design.
Most bodysuits include a zipper closure in the back, which is camouflaged by either snaps or velcro concealed under a section of overlapping fur. Several suits have a front closure instead of one in the back.
The issue of what to wear under a bodysuit varies from person to person. Some wear a lycra dive skin or unitard. Some wear their street clothes, and some wear nothing at all.
Simple tails can be thought of as a fabric tube, with the ends sewn up. Sometimes, lengths of delrin rod, foam, wire, or plastic pipe are used to give a tail its desired shape. The tail is usually attached to the bodysuit, though in some cases, the tail is attached to a loop of fabric that runs through a belt and the tail protrudes through a hole in the back of the bodysuit.
In the case of larger tails, such as skunk or squirrel tails, fur is usually secured to a large plastic or aluminum support structure, which is in turn attached via a hole in the back of the suit to a harness worn by the performer to take the weight of the tail off of the performer's back; this harness is also worn under the clothing or costume of a partial suit.
Forepaws (or hands) are usually created from two pieces of fabric, traced from the wearer's hand, and sewn together. More complex patterns can also be used, including varying colours and fabrics (fur, felt, etc.) Some fursuit makers add small pawpads to each digit and to the palm to add more realism to the paws; some lightly stuff the pawpads for extra realism. Claws can be made from plastic or leather.
Hindpaws (or feet) are the most durable part of the fursuit, as they constantly come in contact with abrasive and dirty surfaces such as concrete and tile flooring and they must put up with a lot of wear and tear and the weight of the performer. Some fursuiters build hindpaws specific to their character, while some wear regular shoes, oversized cartoon shoes or spats (fabric slips that cover regular shoes.)
Most hindpaws are made by attaching foam to store-bought shoes or slippers and furring them. Some fursuit makers build the hindpaws from scratch. The solepads, in this case, can be made of leather or rubber. A variant popular among members of the "Free paws"community â€” who prefer going barefoot â€” are hindpaws that only cover the top of the feet, leaving the wearer's soles bare.
Even more difficult are digitigrade hindpaws; either simulated, with fake ankle joints made of foam on the back of the legs, or with a structure supporting a digitigrade position (then however, it becomes difficult to put on the fursuit or to wear it for an extended time). Some constructions for hooves use this approach.
Some fursuiters spray their costumes with Febreeze, Endbac, Lysol, or a generic antibacterial spray after each use. Usually fursuiters select a product that will kill bacteria, rather than just mask odours. During storage, the fursuiter may keep it stored with a fabric softener sheet, or a box of baking soda like the ones used in a fridge or freezer.
The fursuit is regularly brushed. Fursuiters usually try to brush the in such a way that it doesn't pull on the fur backing, as not to weaken it.
When it comes time to wash the suit, fursuiters consider each part individually. If foam is soaked in water, it may not dry quickly enough and start to grow bacteria or fungus before it does. Airbrushed patterns may fade if washed. Glue used to hold parts of the suit together may weaken if washed. Leather is usually not advisable to soak in water. If the suit has any electronics, those may be damaged by water. It wire or plastic canvas gives part of the suit its shape, it may not be advisable to soak that part, or at least not to machine-wash it.
The parts that will not be washed can usually be wiped with a damp cloth. Stains may be removable with a product like Bubble Gund.
The parts that will be washed can either be machine washed or hand-washed. Usually the fursuit is turned inside-out and zipped up to avoid extra stress to the fur. No heat is used during the process as this can shrivel the fur. For detergent some will use a regular laundry detergent, while some may use a special detergent like Woolite. Putting undiluted detergent directly onto the fur may cause fading, so fursuiters try to avoid this except for treating stains. For machine-washing, the fursuiter chooses one of the more delicate cycles. For hand-washing, the fursuiter tries not to stretch the backing, and not to squeeze the fur into an alignment other than its natural lying flat state.
After the suit is washed, it is then dried. The fursuiter may fluff it up in the dryer in an air-only cycle. No heat is used in any step. Usually the fursuiter does not dry it completely, but takes it out and brushes it periodically until it is completely dry. Since waterlogged fur is heavy, the fursuiter may go to some lengths to lay it out flat while drying, so it doesn't stretch from the extra weight. Fans may be used to accelerate the drying process.
Fursuiters are divided over whether dry cleaning is advisable for fursuits. Since drycleaners can choose from many different methods and settings, and there are many types of fur, it is likely that one answer does not apply to all situations.
- The Furry Costume Information Exchange
- Fursuit FAQ Wiki at The Furry Costume Information Exchange
- The Fursuit community (on LiveJournal)
- The Fursuit Archive
- Nicodemus' Fursuit Pages - a good source of information by Adam "Nicodemus" Riggs; consider his book, Critter Costuming: Making Mascots and Fabricating Fursuits
- Costuming and fursuiting at Matrices.net
- A map dedicated to fursuiters around the world
- The Bitter Ex-furry's Guide to Fursuiting at Crush Yiff Destroy (mostly bitter, but a few good points)
- A list of movies with fursuits in
- Fursuit.co.uk The British fursuit site
- Example of fursuit dancing on YouTube
- How they make mascots - video describing professional mascot-making at YouTube
- Critter Costuming: Making Mascots and Fabricating Fursuits by Adam Riggs, Ibexa Press, September 2004, 208 pages (spiral-bound), ISBN 0967817072, (Amazon link)
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