This is (hopefully) the first in a series of interviews with costumers. It’s my intention to interview a bunch of folks from the wide world of costume that I come across in my wanderings. They won’t run all at the same time – just when I get the chance to sit down with someone and demand that they answer my barrage of questions. The first person I wanted to interview was my friend Angelica. I’ve mentioned her work on here before. Honestly, her work is what I aspire to. Very professional, which should come as no surprise when you consider she’s getting a degree in fashion design and has been costuming for some time. She was also one of the folks I know who regularly retires costumes and thinks pretty seriously about costuming in general, it was only natural that she be the first victim….er, interviewee.
How long approximately have you been costuming?
I think I’ve been cosplaying for about 5 years.
Do you remember what your first costume was?
My very first cosplay – though I didn’t know it at the time – was a Starfleet uniform I cobbled together when I was a sophomore in high school.
What was the Starfleet uniform intended for?
It was for Halloween. I really wanted to be a Starfleet officer and I couldn’t find anything I liked.
Have you ever entered your work into a masquerade? If not, do you think you might do so in the future?
I’ve never entered a masquerade. I want to but I’m too much of a chicken. I think if I had a group of people who wants to enter then I’d be all for it.
Do you have a favorite costume that you’ve made?
My favorite is a tie between Princess Leia – very comfortable – and Sheltay Retrac – the very first where I made up most of the patterns.
What do you think was the hardest costume you’ve ever made? The easiest?
Most difficult was the Sheltay Retrac. Easiest was my second steampunk ensemble.
Was your second steampunk costume based on pre-existing patterns?
No, I had the fabric and had an idea of how to make the skirt. I went off the construction knowledge of when I made my blue Victorian gown and I just drafted the skirt like I thought it should go.
Are most of your pieces based on pre-existing patterns or do you usually make it up as you go?
In the beginning most of my costumes were based on pre-existing patterns. Then I started making little adjustments. And now I’m starting to draft my own patterns.
Do you have a list of costumes you plan to make? What might it look like?
There is a list on my facebook account:
Elphaba – I’m not sure I’ll get to make this. I have an aversion to all this green makeup. And the yards and yards of ruffles on the skirt.
Glinda’s bubble dress – I’m in pre-production on this. Trying to raise funds and figure out certain technical stuff.
Snow White – I already have everything I need for this costume…except the time and motivation.
Sybelline Priestess from Dr. Who – Again, heavy makeup that makes me hesitate.
Steampunk Leia – I have the buns and goggles. Also have the fabric for the white dress. I just need to find the right material for the vest.
Kaylee from Firefly (Shindig dress) – This is a maybe dress.
Dorothy – I have everything I need to make this dress. I just need to find time. I even have the material to make my very own slippers (Are you going to make ballet-flat-type slippers or are you going to try to cover an existing pair of heels? I had a pair of shoes that I was going to cover with red sequins but my mom got ahold of them. I have to look for another pair I can use)
Alyss Heart from the Looking Glass Wars Book – Another maybe dress. It depends on if I can find the right fabrics and if the movie gets made.
Kaylee from Firefly (jumpsuit) – I have the overalls. I just need to cut off the sleeves. I also need the shirt.
Romana from classic Dr. Who
Beauxbaton student – I want that hat!
Chi from Chobits – Another costume that I have the material and not the motivation.
Lolita – I’m thinking I’m going to either go for a Wa Lolita (the one wearing the short kimono-like dress, or a sweet Lolita.
Alice from the new Alice in Wonderland movie
The White Queen from the new Alice in Wonderland movie – Also a maybe.
How much thought goes into the choice of who to cosplay as? Are you willing to dress as a character you don’t like if you love the costume, or do you feel you need to have some sort of connection or understanding of them as a character in order to dress as them?
That’s a difficult one to answer for me. There are times when I see a costume and I know right away that I have to have it, but then there are times when I have to hesitate and think if I really want to put myself to that much trouble. Most times it is the aesthetics of a costume that makes me want to cosplay that character. But I think there also needs to be some kind of connection or understanding. An example right now is my Snape costume. I think I’ve lost my connection to that character so it is a little difficult to get back to wearing that costume.
What was your original connection to Snape? Was it that you sympathized with him early on? Liked his personality? Why Snape and not, for example, Draco or Lucius?
I don’t think I liked Snape when I first read the book. I think around book 3 is when I started liking him as a character. It was mainly because he didn’t like Harry. Harry wasn’t my favorite and I understood Snape’s annoyance with him, if not the complete reason for it. Then, as I learned more about him, I felt really sorry for him. What with Harry’s father bullying him and everything. Then there’s the whole double agent. I think another part is that I saw a little of myself in Snape. That little part that felt angry at the world and a little hurt by it. That’s another reason why I think I’ve outgrown him. I started reading HP when I was twenty, I think. I was in a totally different mind set. But now I’ve grown a lot more than that twenty-year-old.
How do you go about picking which piece to do next?
I’m a very impatient person, so most times I pick the costume that I’ll be able to finish quickly depending on how much time I can invest in it. Right now with school I barely have time for cosplaying so I’m picking costumes that either won’t take too much time to finish or costumes that I’m not that into so there is no rush.
Are most of your pieces made with a specific purpose in mind (balls, contests, etc) or just for personal enjoyment?
A little of each. I’ve made gowns for balls, for conventions and at the moment I’m working on a Wa Lolita costume because it’s more enjoyable than doing homework.
To what level do you immerse yourself while cosplaying? I know you’ve interacted with people as Snape. Do you do this with any other “characters”?
It depends. I know I don’t stay in character all the time when I go to conventions. But when I was doing Snape for the Library I was in character for the whole event. For the Pride and Prejudice ball I was in character for the whole ball. It was easy because everyone was in character as well. I think it all depends on if there is an audience as well.
Do you have a background in theatre? Do you think an approach to cosplay comes from a desire to perform?
I was the president of my high school drama club. Before that I was also in the glee club in middle school. Performing on stage has always been part of me. I can still remember going up on stage in the Philippines to recite a poem for a contest. I think I was five. And yeah, I think part of cosplaying is the desire to perform. What would be the use of it? If performance wasn’t part of it then it would just be wearing a costume on Halloween.
How many times do you wear a particular costume, in general? Are there many costumes that you’ve only ever worn once?
Princess Leia is my default costume and one I’ve worn many times. The next one is Snape only because of the books and the movie events. Then Rose from Idiot’s Lantern about 3 times. Then Belle, also about 3 times but all for Halloween related events. Those are the only ones I’ve worn multiple times. The rest I’ve only worn once.
I know that you have retired costumes from time to time, and not just because you needed to clean out your closet. What costumes have you “retired” and is there anything you do to commemorate them – trot them out one last time, etc. Do you keep them and just not wear them or do they get sent off somewhere?
Most of my Renaissance clothes have been retired. I haven’t gotten ride of them though. I was Violet Baudelaire once and I gave that to my friend’s niece. It wasn’t very accurate but she loved it. I also gave that girl my very first Slytherin cloak. She also wanted my very first Snape costume but it didn’t fit her. It barely fit me. And as much as I say I don’t want to wear Snape again I probably will end up wearing him again. That costume was the only costume I’ve ever made twice and I’m really proud of the improvements. But, like I said, I think I’ve lost my connection to Snape. I still love the character but I feel detached from him. Also I think on a different mindset now. I’ve noticed most of the costumes on my list are really girly. [laughs]
What were some of the alterations you did between the first and second Snape outfits?
My first Snape costume was way too small for me. It was a man’s costume pattern and I totally forgot to accommodate for the chest area. I also didn’t have a sewing machine at that time and had no way of making buttonholes. Snape 1 had snaps on the front. The second was a lot better. I used a better fabric, added allowance for the chest. And it actually fit. I also added a more accurate teacher’s robe.
Have you ever “bequeathed” a costume to someone else?
My friend’s niece has gotten most of my older costumes. Also, a while back I gave my old school some of my costumes from when I was doing theater, but I don’t count them as cosplaying costumes.
Do you make costumes for others very often? One of my aunts doesn’t like taking orders for items because she thinks it limits her creativity. Has this ever been a similar problem for you?
I’ve only been asked to make costumes for others three times. Once, my cousin really wanted a costume from Alexander for Halloween and I made it for her. Then some of my friends wanted robes for the Harry Potter event at the library. Then, recently, the teachers at the school where I worked wanted poodle skirts and I ended up making 5 of them, each with a different design.
Do you charge anything for the costumes? Do you take people out with you to get the fabric or have them leave money and get it yourself? Do you barter services? Make an arrangement to keep the extra fabric?
I charged the teachers a flat $20 to make the poodle skirts and they also had to provide the fabric. For my cousin I had the fabric already and I didn’t really charge her anything. I did make her pay for the trimmings on the costume.
How many costumes do you typically make in a given year? How long does it usually take you to make one, when you’re not having to worry about homework or a class project?
In prior years I’d make about 3 or 4 costumes but recently they’ve decreased in number. It depends on how complicated a costume is. The Sheltay, Snape and – recently – the bustle gown took the longest. Maybe about 3-4 weeks. Without homework and if I have all the supplies it takes me a week to make a costume. Provided there are no distractions.
Any final words of advice for new costumers just starting out?
I guess it would be don’t be afraid to try. There are times when I was all “I can’t do that costume. It looks too hard.” And in the end it was hard but it was also a learning experience. There are costumes that I have on my list now that, two years ago, I’d be all “I can’t do that” but now I’m all “I can do that.” [laughs] Each costume experience builds on each other. And there are costumes I see and I don’t say never. I say “not just yet.”