For New York-based cosplayer Tom Catt, dressing up as someone else is, well, the truest expression of yourself.

After attending their first New York Comic Con on a whim at a friend’s suggestion wearing a Cruella de Vil costume they already had on hand, Tom embarked on what is now an eight-year adventure of representing strong female characters through cosplay.

“Because I am a drag queen, I pull a lot of inspiration from strong, powerful, imposing female characters,” they say. “I’m also inspired by things that are different. I don’t get pulled in any one general direction.”

Although their cosplay runs the gamut from Disney characters to Poké Bomb cosplay (bombshell versions of Pokémon), there are a few characters who are favorites.

Catwoman has always been near and dear to my heart. I’ve read the comics since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. … When Arkham City came out, … I made it my job to do whatever it was that I could to make sure that I had that costume because it was just everything that I wanted,” they say.

Although Tom doesn’t make all of their costumes — the Arkham City Catwoman was commissioned; others, such as their Winifred Sanderson look, are handmade, therefore making the top of the list of Tom’s favorites. The fabric was actually gifted to them and their two fellow Sanderson Sisters by a friend who had always wanted to help do a Hocus Pocus cosplay.

“She was like, ‘here you’re doing this.’ And I was like, ‘wait, what?! I don’t know what I’m doing. You got the wrong witch here,’” they say. “But yeah, … we turned it out, and every time we get into costume — regardless of if it’s a bad makeup day, if our nails are falling off, if our makeup just doesn’t look the way we want it to — we just have a great time just camping it up”

Arkham City Catwoman; Photo: Douglas Shaune Photography

Living for the Villains

And if you’re thinking, these cosplays all have a common theme, you’re right. Forget the Disney Princesses — Tom’s cosplay features the most bold and powerful of all female characters: the villains.

“There is nothing — I repeat, nothing — more fun than playing the villain,” they say. “I pride myself on being the Disney villain because I’m tall, I have a deep voice, I can sing the parts, I can act the parts, I can perform. … Oh, it is so much fun! There’s so much juice in those characters and these characters are just so delicious to cosplay as and dress up as. …  I live and breathe for villain characters.”

Tom’s villain repertoire ranges from Cruella de Vil and the Wicked Witch of the West to Mother Gothel. While the looks are all inspiringly detailed and polished, the thing that makes Tom’s villainous cosplay stand out is the attitude they bring to each and every one.

“Tom’s cosplay is unique in that I think their cosplays are always a reflection of them,” says Kristen Corradeno, friend and co-collaborator on Catt and Kristen (more on that later). “Tom is glamorous, sultry, and confident, all things that there are hints of in every costume they make. When Tom cosplays a villain like Ursula, it’s not just because they love the character, but because the character feels like it’s a part of their (poor, unfortunate) soul. When Tom cosplayed Winnifred Sanderson last year, I said I never had seen Tom be more themself — and not because Tom is trying to scoop up children on Halloween, but because the wild, funny, and maybe even a little devious qualities of Tom were reflected in that character.”

Their affinity for villains is nothing new. A few years ago, Tom asked their mother who their favorite Disney character was when they were younger — and got a surprising answer.

“I said ‘Mom, I have a silly question for you. Who was my favorite Disney character?’ Like the original magical six — you know, Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, Daisy. She turns to me and she goes, ‘Thomas, your favorite character was Ursula.’”

But just being bad doesn’t help make the cut on Tom’s list — for example, you’ll never see them cosplaying as Gaston despite his “fabulous musical number.” Tom says he’s too “outwardly narcissistic.”

“I like villains who are vain but they don’t make it obvious,” they add. “The Wicked Queen is supposed to be this radiant beauty, but her beauty is fading. She’s vain, but she knows she’s losing her touch. Ursula is blowing kisses at herself in the mirror, primping her hair, and she’s this corpulent, oversized character. Cruella — she has the high cheek bones, the dramatic makeup, she preens around like a peacock, and she’s not outwardly attractive. … They are vain, they are narcissistic, but they are not attractive, which is, you know, kind of how I view myself. I share so much in common with them.”

Winifred Sanderson; Photo: Jason Laboy Photography

Con Mom, Etc.

Tom’s Instagram bio (@thattomcatt) reads: “Co-host of @cattandkristen,Co-admin,, Performer, Female Impersonator, Sea Witch, Con Mom.” While most of it is self-explanatory, one may be unfamiliar: Con Mom.

“In drag lore, when you are the drag mother, you have helped drag queens put on makeup for the first time, have given them your last name, you’ve helped them turn looks … and sort of helped them along in a way,” Tom explains. “When it comes to conventions, it’s sort of the same. But instead of helping with getting into makeup for the first time, … [I] advise and talk to people who are going through certain types of crises, certain types of emotional distress.”

And they are well known for being a Con Mom throughout the cosplay community, with people yelling out “Hi, Mom!” across convention floors or writing Mother’s Day wishes on their Facebook wall. But that same passion that makes Tom love cosplaying villains is also what makes them a caring, motherly figure.

“They are honest, but also loving and understanding,” Corradeno says. “If you are in trouble at a con and Tom finds out about it, they will be by your side as soon as they can get over there in their heels and corset.”

After meeting on the five-hour drive home from AnimeNEXT 2016, Corradeno and Tom realized how much they had in common. Fueled by the conversations from that drive, they met to discuss starting their own live show that would focus on topics that affect the cosplay community. This show would become what is now Catt and Kristen, a live show on Facebook where the two friends spill the tea on all the issues impacting the community.

“The hierarchy, the elitism, the racism, the homophobia, the problem areas, the rumor mill — discussing all of this without calling anybody out,” Tom says. “Because call-out culture and cancel culture is so prevalent and prominent, if you say the wrong thing, you yourself become canceled and called out. So we take quality and care whenever we bring up a topic.”

In one of episode of Catt and Kristen in particular, the pair discusses whether or not politics belong in cosplay, which is a common discussion that any sort of performance-based artist often faces (Remember the uproar after the Hamilton cast took time during curtain call to speak directly to Mike Pence, who was in the audience during that performance?). But according to Tom — and many artists — isn’t that the point of art in the first place?

“One of the great things about cosplay is that your cosplay is your political statement,” they say. “Who you cosplay as, how you cosplay, that’s your political statement. You can change a person’s perception just by wearing a costume. I do gender-bend cosplay; I spit in the eye of gender norms. I do drag; I spit in the eye of social norms. There’s so much meat in being a cosplayer, in being a drag queen, that I don’t think the general public really understands.”

In true Con Mom form, Tom is here to help break down those walls of people’s perceptions of cosplayers, which can be biased and generalizing. “When they say, ‘Oh well, conventions, those weirdos are always dressing up,’ those weirdos are people … just like you — they just have a fun hobby. They just have a fun reason to put on a costume and say, ‘I am making a statement by doing this.’”

Featured photo: The Portrait Guy

This article was originally published in the Pop Insider’s Summer 2019 Issue No. 4, click here to read more!

About the author

Ali Mierzejewski

Ali Mierzejewski

Ali Mierzejewski is the editor-in-chief of the Pop Insider, and senior editor of the Toy Insider, the leading consumer holiday gift guide and toy review and news website. As a professional toy reviewer and an industry expert, she consistently reports on toy trends and hot products. Ali also contributes to leading toy industry trade magazines The Toy Book and The Licensing Book. Oh, she looks familiar? That's because Ali has been featured on news outlets nationwide, including ABC World News Now, ABC7, and CBS, NBC, ABC, and FOX affiliates. If you wanna talk about Bachelor Nation, @ohsotrendy on Twitter. If you wanna see sick pics (✌️mostly of Ali doing comedy✌️), @hashtagtrendy on Insta. She knows they aren't the same—branding is hard.