So continuing on in the vein of competitions/masquerades, here’s a guide to how to actually win a thing! This is mostly informed by my experiences of epic failure! This part will be focused on the craftsmanship portion of stuff, and I’ll be writing another guide soon about performing.
1. Compete in the right division. Different cons have different rules, but generally if you haven’t won anything or have only won a few minor awards (i.e. judge’s awards and not “best in…” or “1st place…”) you belong in the novice division. As you win awards, you’ll be forced to compete at higher tiers. If you have a lot of experience but have never entered a masquerade/contest it’s probably best for you to compete at the Journeyman/middle division; there’s less competition because there’s fewer people at the higher levels.
1a. If your convention has a theme, like Anime Boston often does, you will probably get brownie points for doing a cosplay from that theme. 2011’s theme was “music”, so I did Sheryl Nome & Ranka Lee that year; and communicate this to the judges in order to score those delicious brownie points! Otherwise they’ll think it was a coincidence.
2. Challenge yourself!! Go a little bit out of your comfort zone and make sure you communicate this to the judges – taking risks are often rewarded. Take competition as an opportunity to teach yourself a new technique (like embroidery or a new way of fabricating props); even if you don’t win you’ll have added valuable skills to your repertoire. Do your research on who’s done what in your division in past years to give yourself an idea of your competition; make something with equal or higher complexity to those around you. This isn’t to say that more complicated = better; because if it’s poorly executed it’s not going to make a difference. Simple costumes done well will beat complicated ones done poorly.
Birb says “go big or go home” and did these two for my first ever costumes from scratch. Still have no idea what the hell I was thinking, but this risk won me a candy crown and a kawaii af trophy!
3. Give yourself enough time to get stuff done WELL. It’s easy to procrastinate on competition pieces and finish them in your hotel room, but if you’re rushing, you’re probably not putting out your best work. You also won’t have time to make sure everything looks right and won’t fall apart as you’re walking around. Costume malfunctions are a lot easier to deal with at home than at the con. Make fake deadlines for yourself of when different components need to be complete (that way, when you inevitably procrastinate, you won’t be completely screwed) and try to stick to them. Stressing out before the con can often cause a dark cloud over your con experience itself, which isn’t fun.
Ada/K-san from AB staff saves my ass LITERALLY every year I compete; this year I didn’t give myself enough time to finish my sleeves for Small Lady, they fell apart (kinda, and Ada was there to save the day!) and I wasn’t happy with the way they turned out.
4. Make everything as neat as possible. This means top-stitching, ironing (bring your own iron if possible, because hotel irons cannot be trusted, but in a pinch, hanging stuff up in the bathroom while showering should get out a lot of wrinkles), lining stuff, cutting all your stray threads…etc. All of this stuff alone doesn’t seem like a big deal, but added up it makes a big difference (especially for judges who like to come up close to inspect your costumes!) This also includes your wig and makeup! Make sure your makeup is a) a thing (because it makes a big difference, especially on stage) b) blended out & c) not running, caking, flaking, etc. Bring a touch-up kit with you so you can fix your face before judging. Wigs should look smooth, have little to no flyaways/frizz (although, if you’ve been standing outside in a security line there might not be a ton you can do about that).
5. Show up on time! Punctuality is important, if you miss judging you might get booted from the Masquerade entirely or DQ’d from craftsmanship awards. You want to be at the place where judging is at least 15 minutes before your judging is scheduled; usually things run late, but sometimes they run early! So make sure you give yourself enough time to get into your cosplay, into the con, and down to the place where judging occurs (people will try to stop you for a bajillion photos if you’re in a group or have a really impressive costume). If I have a 10am judging time, my ass had best be up by 6:00 at the latest and out the hotel room door by 8:15 because getting elevators downstairs (10-15 minutes), security lines (who knows, potentially up to an hour or more), and endless photos (15 min for turning folks down; 30 if you’re being nice and letting them snap) add up quick. If something’s holding you up (i.e. medical emergency, stuck in a security line), do your best to get in touch with the Masquerade coordinator and they might be able to re-schedule your judging for a different time. Communication is the key!
6. Rehearse the main points you want to hit in judging. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to get frazzled in the presence of your senpais and everything you wanted to say about your costume goes rushing out of your head.
You only have about 5-7 minutes so hit the stuff that you think is most impressive (i.e. you taught yourself this cool new technique or you spent 700 hours working on this costume). Print COLOR reference photos with as many angles as possible (i.e. front and back) to give to the judges (not everyone is familiar with that cool indie anime). You can also print out progress pictures to give the judges a better idea of how your costume was constructed, and if you know your costumes have too much stuff to get through in 5-7 minutes, you can do a little write-up essay of how everything came together (try to keep it short and sweet; judges’ time is limited and they won’t be able to read a novel before the contest!).
If you do all this biz, you’ll be giving yourself the best possible chance of at least taking home something shiny for craftsmanship! Stay tuned for how to do well in performances!