Costumes and Cosplay, Part 1

BreakingModern — It’s the end of the day and heavy, layered fabrics weigh you down. Your prop slides through sweat-slicked hands in fading sunlight, while make-up, once perfect, leaves streaks on your face.

The convention is over: Your first cosplay was a success! You’ve tallied up the amount of times you were asked for a picture — score for being recognized!

The Basics

Cosplaying is as fun as it can be stressful. Read: a ton of fun, and a ton of stress. At least for me. It involves inordinate time management, learning new skill sets and the ability to adapt to unknown (and often baffling) situations.

Whenever someone asks me what cosplay is, I describe the hobby by mentioning Trekkers (commonly known as Trekkies). That’s the super-stoked army of fans that wear costumes and embody the world of Star Trek, the popular sci-fi franchise.

Cosplay, at its most basic, is a manner of dressing up as something from a series – anime, manga, novel, video game, television show or movie. It involves (obviously) being excited about a series enough to craft a costume, going to an event where other crafty fans meet and, most importantly, knowing how to craft.

My First Costume

My first attempt at creating a costume was for Harry Potter, the much beloved magical series that has touched the hearts of millions. Two and a half weeks after school began (years ago), my friends and I realized Halloween was fast approaching. Leading up to that spiritually oriented, ghost-filled night, I could be found every single day bunkered in my friend’s basement, crafting. I told my parents I was studying.

It was all about priorities back then.

Long flowing black fabrics swam with colourful ribbons. Painful needles stuck in fingers and wands were sanded with intensity. There were several magical realizations that came the second I started that first costume.

First, mathematics really is a necessity in real life. I know, not what you want to hear, but it’s true.

Finding the circumference of the bottom of a cloak, for example, required a certain lovely formula (c = π * d), as did the amount required to invert towards the shoulders and the dimensions of the hood. Who knew making clothes was so difficult?

Entering this world, I had to learn the basics of sewing and how to use a sewing machine. I had to learn the necessity of keeping said machine oiled and greased and ready for use. I learned how to create pleats and cloaks and ties, brushing up my 1+1 skills and, most importantly, I learned that not everything has to be done from scratch.

This light bulb moment came to me (well, us) after completing the wands. We sanded four dowels of varying lengths and thickness for hours. Once the wands were deemed “almost done” a friend, who happened to play the drums, commented that as drumsticks are already tapered at the end, it would have been much easier to buy drumsticks, rather than dowels. Insert palm to face.

We learned after that and reused old white blouses, bought knee length socks and fought dust-infested closets for old clogs. We borrowed ancient ties from the closets of our daddy dearests.

When our costumes were completed, we not only ended up winning our school costume contest (and were given props hand-made skills), but those costumes are still frequently used for each Harry Potter premier. Ironically, none of us ended up wearing the Gryffindor colours.

My First Cosplay

In that same year (rewind the years to 2004), I ventured into my first anime cosplay. It would be the second time I attended Anime North and I was absolutely psyched. A group of friends and I had fallen in love with an anime called Naruto. This was the year before Naruto hit international television and the mass appeal had yet to take hold — soon young teenage boys would all want to be ninjas and teen girls would become infatuated with emo characters.

Our group had many of the main characters: Naruto, Sasuke, Neji, Tenten, Hinata, Shino, Ino and so forth.  We were young, enthusiastic and creative — all valuable assets in beginning the journey of cosplay.

After our awe-struck drooling from our previous year at Anime North, the idea to cosplay lingered indefinitely in our minds. It was at this time we learned about the limitless possibilities of cosplay and a certain set of life skills that is usually hard to come by otherwise.

Beginner Advice

When you first start (a word to the wise) don’t pick an anime, manga or video game that is overwhelmingly detailed. You’ll only end up strangling yourself with the expensive (and completely unnecessary) fabrics you’ve decided to buy. Choose something that is feasible.

Naruto, despite all its latest drama and confusion, was once upon a time a wonderfully exciting manga to read. The costumes are simple, yet completely unique to each character. Done properly, the cast is easily put together.

You might think a certain costume is simple, such as D. Gray-Man’s black and white uniforms. They have monotone colors that could seem easy, but usually these simple-appearing costumes indicate surprising elements and hidden issues. I have seen many costumes from this manga that have failed due to the lack of attention – and skill, but that’s another matter.

Go for truly simple. One color, a certain cut or a recognizable hair style. Wigs help.

Also, pick a character that you will have fun embodying. If you and your friends decide to cosplay as a group, as my friends and I frequently do, keep in mind the strengths and weaknesses of each person. If someone is a talented sewer and another prefers to create props, assign roles for everyone. There is always time to pick up other skills in the journey of learning to cosplaying, no need to do it all yourself.

Actually, trying to do everything by yourself requires immense time management skills, and usually ends in tears. Here’s some great examples of cosplay costumes taken from the New York Comic Con 2014.

More important than learning how to sew and making your costume is the simple fact that when you cosplay, you become a part of a community. You bond with like-minded individuals over favorite manga or comics or anything geek-related and sometimes form life-long friendships.

Whether or not you decide cosplaying is your thing (because not everyone feels the urge to pull out the thread and needle) feel free to revel at costumes at conventions and consider the time and personal investment put into each one.

For BMod, I’m .

All Images:

Cassandra Chin

Author: Cassandra Chin

Based in Toronto, Cassandra covers fitness, apps and books for BreakingModern. Follow her @cchin01

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