Monthly Archives: November 2009

Plaids and Pallor: Vampires and Street Clothing Cosplay

In the past 48 hours, I have watched two drastically different vampire movies in terms of age, setting, and costuming: Interview with the Vampire and New Moon. Interview with the Vampire spans several distinct clothing periods, regaling the viewer with the best of everything from the era of Louisiana as a French colony to modern day (as of the 1990s), and seduces the eye with lusciously, nearly sexual textures and color palettes as much as with Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Antonio Banderas.

On the other hand, New Moon is just the opposite, so grounded and modern-day that Nordstroms sells a line of clothing based on the general costume scheme of the cast (well, of Bella at least. Clothing more in line with Interview with the Vampire’s aesthetics, like Alice’s amazing white trench, are either absent from the clothing line entirely or buried under heaps of plaid and Team Edward tees.)

But my argument with the quality of the Cullens’ vegetarian vampire contacts aside, the clothing of the Twilight saga does have a distinctive and recognizable style, which made me think about cosplaying characters who wear street clothing. Street clothing has a very distinctive, mass-produced (even if it’s tailored or possibly handmade like Edward’s suit jackets) look; people usually don’t notice how easily they can identify street clothing vs. a costume until they notice something’s not right, like a hem or a seam that hasn’t been pressed, or trim that’s been folded over instead of mitered. But whatever it is, is the cosplayer responsible for studying the intricacies of street clothing and replicating it exactly? Do the expectations of creating vs. purchasing your costume still apply the same as the costumer making Armand’s cloak from Interview with the Vampire; does it become more about portraying the character versus putting on the clothes, or should cosplayers do that anyways? Along that similar train of thought, do cosplayers who make their own costumes sometimes use their intricate costumes to get away with not studying the character?

For the curious, the New Moon clothing line can be stared at in intrigue/confusion/etc. here:


To-Do Lists

Sometimes one character speaks to you more often than others, and usually says something along the lines of, ‘hey cosplayer, make my other costumes too!’

When I know I have a situation like this, I like to take time during the event to note what parts of the costume are working, aren’t working, and what ways they could be made better from either talking to other cosplayers or simple realization after the fact. I think that doing this while actually being in costume, as opposed to doing it after the event, is helpful because the little things get remembered as well as the big things.

For example, Dissidia Final Fantasy Kuja has two outfits, but unlike some of the other characters, it’s the same outfit (essentially) in a different color scheme, making it easy to improve upon the last costume. The list has since grown to include style differences between the two costumes, but still contains points like:

4. Non-fusible interfacing with collars

5. Different material for shoulder armor than for trim, curvier shape. Amendment: fiber mache

12. Getting into costume would go much faster if the decorative buckles up ‘front’ were not also actually holding up the skirt ensemble

As you can see, some of them are comfort issues, some of them are me falling out of love with my material choice, and other notes. Even if a character has different styles of clothing spread across their wardrobe (like CLAMP characters), there’s always a few thematic elements that stay the same.  Lists like these make it easier to just get the materials together and go for the new costume, instead of having to backtrack when all of your energy is focused on the upcoming project.

Dissidia Trance Kuja Costume Construction Photo Gallery

I like to look at cosplay photos to see how the cosplayer put the whole thing together, but sometimes with the layered costumes pieces or the poses, it’s difficult to see how the individual pieces work. These are photos taken of my Dissidia Final Fantasy Kuja Trance Form (worn very briefly at A-Kon 2009, won Best in Class at San Japan 2009) with an emphasis on costume construction.

Scouring for a Level Dye?

Everyone knows you should dye with clean fabric. But if your dye still streaks after you’ve run it through the wash, then your laundry detergent probably isn’t doing the trick. ‘Clean’ fabric is free from chemicals that interfere with the dye process, like sizing and preservatives. But there are interfering chemicals in laundry detergent too—chances are the Tide sitting on top of your washing machine at home has color-protecting additives and ‘Mountain Breeze’ or ‘Cuddly Lavender’ scent (okay, I’ve never seen ‘Cuddly Lavender’.)

 Try using Synthrapol, a scouring agent that also comes in handy when you’re rinsing your fabric. Not only does it clean your fabric before you begin to dye, but added to the rinse water after dyeing, it also removes excess dye from your fabric that will end up on your skin or on that nice white fabric you have on your costume.

Sometimes, fabric will need more than one scouring wash with Synthrapol. To check that it’s clean, use the water-droplet test. For most fabrics, if a drop of water sits on top of the fabric instead of getting absorbed into the fibers, your fabric still has some residue.

Dyeing with RIT: 7 Factors to Keep in Mind

You have your fabric, you have your dye, and you’ve read the directions on that back of your RIT dye box. But even as you’re doing this, you feel uneasy. Why? Because you’ve heard that RIT dye is fairly unreliable but it’s one of maybe two or three options easily available on the market.

If RIT dye didn’t work, trust me, I wouldn’t be so nice when talking about it. But it does work, you just have to keep in mind some things that might or might not be on the back of that box.

 1. Clean your fabric beforehand. You can’t expect your fabric to absorb dye if it still has the sizing and preservatives that make it look pretty on the shelf.

2. Consider temperature, concentration of dye, time, and amount of water in bath. RIT’s directions, because they seem to aim for simplicity, are pretty vague. Do you know how much your fabric weighs? Will denser fabric absorb dye differently? Are they telling you the truth when they say that following the recipe will result in exactly matching the box color? And, how hot is ‘hot’ water, by the way? You might have to experiment with test fabric before you go in for real. Luckily, RIT is pretty cheap.

3. Wet your fabric completely before you put it in the dye bath.

4. Stir. A lot.

5. Fabric will be about two to three ‘shades’ darker in the dye bath wet than when dried.

6. Don’t skip the rinse baths. Excess dye bleeds and smudges onto other fabrics, like the ones the other garments in your costume are made from.

7. You cannot dye everything with RIT, and colors of incredible intensity cannot be achieved with RIT. For neons and blindingly bright colors, you have to step into the realm of not-so-scary, but plenty annoying fiber reactive dyes.


Standing on the Doorstep

You know how you have those friends that you haven’t kept in touch with in years, the kind of friend that you really only knew through someone else but you think that if you had the chance right now, you’d be besties just because you’ve grown up or whatnot?

 If that friend showed up on your doorstep asking to come in, it would be kind of awkward, wouldn’t it? Awkward in the way that they wouldn’t be inconveniencing you in the slightest and you know that you would have the best conversation ever, but they’re not exactly expected and you haven’t gone grocery shopping, so all you have is an empty bottle of soy sauce and those suspicious-looking carrots.

 Some costumes make me feel like that. They’re, of course, the costumes that seem to choose me rather than the other way around.

 So you open the door, take a look at it, look at the materials in your sewing basket and shake your head, then open the door wider and tell it to go ahead and get comfortable because you don’t have the heart to send it away.

And then you put hot water on for tea, because you just now found that really good tea from way back tucked in the shadows of the pantry and you realize that if anyone would appreciate that tea, it would be that person. Or that character would appreciate your sewing time. You know what I mean.

Wig Walkthrough: Grell Sutcliff

The wig is one of my Franken-wigs put together from a Scruffy L in Dark Red and an Ivy, also in Dark Red. The Scruffy L is the base of the final wig, and the Ivy is essentially a ridiculous amount of pre-cut, pre-wefted wig fibers that are attached to the structure of the Scruffy L wig.



I wanted to approach Grell’s wig from this angle because, as everyone knows, most long-haired bishounen suffer from a medical condition in which they have ten times more hair follicles per inch close to the nape of their neck than the rest of their head, causing their hair to flare out because there’s just that much hair. Even more tragically is that like most long-haired male fighting game characters, Grell is haunted by the ghost of a wind machine and so his hair just goes everywhere regardless of whether a draft is present or not. The wig does not address this supernatural phenomenon to the degree of the first issue, but a portion of the long strands in front of his shoulders do suggest the go-everywhere nature of his hair in a way that will be explained at the end (because it makes way more sense with the final picture than it would with just text).

First, I cut the bottom five layers from the Ivy wig off and pinned it on the underside of the Scruffy wig so that the bottom of the final wig is lengthened by about two inches and it sits much more snugly on the head. I would not suggest doing this for a wig with a higher concentration of fibers or a costume with a lot of fabric sitting at the nape of the neck because it does obstruct ventilation and air circulation somewhat. Good thing Grell’s too lazy to put on his coat properly…



I attached all of the wefts using hot glue. Hot glue works in this situation because even if it doesn’t melt the acrylic fibers, it works around the fibers and seals them in once it cools.

After flipping the Scruffy L wig to fiber-side facing, I pinned back the fibers on the fifth or sixth row up. At this point, I cut out the rest of the Ivy layers in sets of three or four up to the lace area surrounding the top of the scalp. Two of them were glued, layered on top of each other, over the exposed weft of the Scruffy L wig. Some of them had to be folded in on themselves to fit the length of this layer.



The remaining wefts were placed along the bottom weft on weft-side facing of the Scruffy L wig. After this, two or three layers of the laced area of the Ivy wig will be centered over the recently attached previous weft (it should be shorter than the previous weft.) One-inch sections of wefts were placed close to the temples, forming the sections of Grell’s hair that sit in front of his shoulders.




This is what the wig looked like before styling. Pretty exciting…


Even though Grell’s spikes are fairly soft, I saturated the to-be-spiked area with disturbing amounts of Aquanet because the Scruffy L fibers settle pretty close to the head. The most important thing to do when applying Aquanet is to apply it in layers (though it’s more of a concern later on than right now) and I’ve found that it’s helpful to treat the Aquanet almost like mousse rather than hair spray if you want it do something specific like form spikes.



After letting the Aquanet settle, I brushed it out with a plastic-nubbed hair brush, making sure that the nubs didn’t go anywhere near the weft because they tend to sneak into the structure of the wig and pull at it. Then, I sectioned off the spikes and let gravity help them form into Grell’s morning-after hair. Because the tips of the spikes couldn’t be allowed to droop, I folded them back in on themselves with bobby pins before applying more Aquanet.


I left the wig alone for about twenty-four hours after this, spraying it with a layer of Aquanet every time I remembered. That sounds bad, but bright red wigs are halfway decent at grabbing attention (it was about eight to ten layers in the end). Later, I pulled off the bobby pins and gently detached the folded-over ends from where the Aquanet had stuck them to the rest of the spike.


I let them sit for another day or so, but those spikes didn’t even budge with brushing, much less gravity. Which was great, since they were going to get cut off anyways.


Here, you can see that the first few front spikes are trimmed and shaped, in comparison with the untrimmed ones. During the process, some of the larger spikes broke apart into smaller component spikes. I wanted the spikes to look somewhat natural, so having a variety of sizes was important. It’s especially beneficial in this step to use the Aquanet more like a mousse and spray it into your hands and shape the spikes instead of letting the Aquanet go all over the wig.



And here he is! Since this photo was taken in the mirror, it shows his spikes radiating from my right. They really spread from the left side.


The wig’s final style has structured spikes near the top of the scalp and drastically cut layers alluding to those spikes (the bottom of the Scruffy L wig) sitting at the nape of the neck, with a slightly flared, hip-length cut in the back. Sections of the long hair are meant to come forward and sit in front, with one section left loose on each side and one section looped over the shoulder on each side (and optionally bobby pinned to the underside of the base of the wig for stability) to suggest at the personal wind machine nature of Grell’s hair.

(Fun story about the personal wind machine thing. The concept of each long-haired bishounen having his own wind machine to make his hair flow about came from playing Soul Calibur III, when my sister and I noticed that Siegfried’s hair had no business floating about in the Underground Labyrinth stage, since there was no wind.)