I started costuming making Star Wars & Star Trek costumes. My first anime cosplay was at Anime Weekend Atlanta 3. I have always liked costuming, but didn't have the money or transportation to go very far. That changed in late 1996, when I bought my car. I had just missed AWA that year, so aimed for the next. The job I was working then wouldn't give me an official okay on getting time off til the week before. When I got the okay, rushed to try to get a costume ready. I knew the costume would be from Fushigi Yuugi, as it was, and still is, one of my favorites.
I choose to do a costume loosely based on one of Nuriko's court robes. The inner robe was bought, the contrasting waist belt was a folded up skirt. The outer robe was hand sewn at a frantic pace. I didn't have a purple wig, so I sprayed a gray wig with purple hair spray. I had a great time at my first convention meeting lots of other costumers, I am sad I forgot my camera. AWA3 was also one of the few times I have received a snide comment about my costume, but I shrugged it off as I was not going to let someone's rudeness ruin my fun.
What is the most important distinguishing factor between an amateur and award winning costume?
There are a couple: that the costume is well fitted, attention to details, and an overall finished look. Costumes that are too loose or tight on a person detract from the appearance. Also, I sometimes see a nice costume, but the jewelry and other details are wrong, or missing - if someone is going to put the time into making something nice, I think all the pieces should be there else it looks unfinished. Also another thing I notice is costumers wearing inappropriate shoes for a costume - nothing like dirty tennis shoes to ruin the overall look.
How has your choice in characters to portray changed since you started?
When I started out, I really had no idea about sewing. I would go for characters that wore loose robes, as didn't use any patterns so fitted was out. I would pull clothes out of my closet similar in style, lay them on the floor and cut out costume material by the guideline of the normal clothes. I got a sewing machine and a dress form late in 2000 and started experimenting. My first fitted piece of clothing I made was rose bride top, I was so nervous I would screw it up. When it turned out okay, that gave me the confidence to branch out and try other fitted costumes I had wanted to do, but was afraid to try at first.
What tips can you offer to anyone looking to improve their costumes?
If you are hand sewing - get a sewing machine, it was so worth it. Also, if you don't fit into patternmaker's conventional measurements get, or make a dress form. The dress form has helped so much, as instead of pinning stuff on myself, then taking it off and loosing the pins in the process, I pin and adjust on the dress form. I can see all of the angles of the costume much better this way and it lets me adjust in a more timely manner.
Also, if they see another costumer has done something they might want to do, don't be afraid to ask them how they did it and if you can take a closer look, Most cosplayers are willing to talk about their outfits, and seeing others' ideas has definitely inspired and helped me.
In costume contests, should it matter that the costume was made by the contestant?
Most definitely. I actually help run a contest, and costumes created by the person wearing it, or by someone in their group are regarded more favorably then commissioned or piecemealed costumes. That a person takes the time to create a costume with their own hands shows their skill and dedication. Cool props made by the person competing can help too.
What's your life's inspiration?
Whoa, I don't know - staying employed so I can have money to travel and make costumes. Costuming inspirations I would have better time answering. Sometimes I am inspired to make costumes from shows or books I enjoyed in my childhood - like my Gatchaman and A Distant Soil costumes and another work in progress. Other times its because I loved the show they are from. One of the projects I would like to do someday is a armored outfit from another show I grew up on.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Well, I hope eventually to get into woodworking and possibly working with fiberglass - but don't see that happening unless I get a house. Landlord would not be thrilled with me making more of a mess then I already do. So most likely will see me mainly hall costuming and possibly staffing, as a nice break from my programming job.
Why do you continually make the investment in costuming?
Its a fun and relaxing hobby, and it's great to travel and meet people with the same passion for the hobby. I also like taking photos of new costumes I see, and when I see new costumes, I then want to make a new one too. I try to have a new costume for each convention I go to, most of the time I make that goal.
What is the most rewarding aspect of cosplay?
Since I am not the most outgoing person, cosplay helps me meet people with a common shared interest which helps me relax and actually talk to people where I normally wouldn't. Being recognized for good work is great too. I think everyone likes to hear compliments on a good job, and I am no different.
If you could improve the cosplay scene, what would you change and why?
I would try to get more people who costume themselves to be involved with the running and/or the judging of the contest. A costumer usually knows more what to look for in costume design. They also would more likely be actively involved in trying to promote and provide the means for cosplayers to enjoy their contest experience. I think it really helps if the coordinator or judge has been 'in the trenches', as they can see things from the participants viewpoint.
Melissa ( Hikaru ), your level of craftsmanship is certainly an inspiration to me, and I'm glad to have met you at AWA7 - our first out of state convention. One of the most exciting things about cosplay, as you said, is being able to travel and know that no matter where you go, there's a new friend waiting to be met. Good luck in your future pursuits, I know you'll accomplish great things.