Saturday, April 18, 2015

A Magical Transformation: My Sailor Moon Cosplay Story

When I was a kid, Sailor Moon was my favorite TV show. It tells the story of an ordinary teenage girl who can transform into a sailor-suited superheroine called Sailor Moon. Later she’s joined by a team of her friends, and together, these superheroines use magic to fight evil. This series holds a lot of nostalgia for me because it was my first foray into Japanese anime (now one of my favorite forms of media), my first motivation for developing internet literacy as I surfed around for Sailor Moon-related fan sites online, my first experience with reading and writing fan fiction, not to mention the first story I’d ever heard of that featured a whole group of female, rather than male, superheroes! Last year the series also got a reboot in the form of a whole new anime, so it remains current and popular. It thus seemed only appropriate that I chose Sailor Moon as my first cosplay.
When I first found out I was going to the Wizard World Indianapolis Comic Con (my first fan convention ever!), I had less than a week to finish my Sailor Moon cosplay. Not to worry; last-minute costume creation is a time-honored cosplay tradition!

In the process of completing and wearing my first cosplay costume, I learned a great deal about the math involved in sewing, the identity play involved in taking on a character’s appearance, and the resources distributed throughout both digital and in-person communities that make success in cosplay and sewing possible.

More on my first cosplay experience after the break!

I had already made the bow as part of a class project last semester, but now I had to rush to order those things that I couldn’t easily buy locally (thank goodness for Amazon Prime 2-day shipping!), like the wig, and buy the rest. When I told the young woman working at the fabric department in JoAnn’s that I was making my first cosplay, I found out that she was a cosplayer too! And she was very happy to point me towards fabrics that would be easy for a novice to work with. This is yet another example of how the community is an essential part of cosplaying!

I worked on as much of the costume as I could by myself, but mostly this was limited to accessories. For instance, I used some felt, craft foam, snaps, sequins, and a gold Sharpie to create Sailor Moon’s choker.

For the tiara, I tried using one of Chibitronics’ circuit stickers, along with copper tape and conductive thread, to make the red jewel shine. And it worked!

Unfortunately, it stopped working when I attached it to the wig. Disappoint!

Here you see all of the hair accessories assembled on the wig, except for the big red jewels that go on Sailor Moon’s buns, whose glitter glue was still drying at this point:

The feathery-looking “barrettes” fell off before I even got to the con, because the adhesive on the back of the pearl stickers wasn’t very strong. Another disappointment! But this is par for the course in cosplay. Cosplayers often have to improvise and/or make do when parts of their costume fall off!
Finally, I was able to hand-sew the rolls that go on the top of Sailor Moon’s gloves, using red felt:

Machine-sewing the skirt and sailor collar, though, would require more skill than I had. So I recruited help from two fronts:

  1. The internet, where I found patterns and techniques that other cosplayers had used to make these things, and then had graciously posted so future cosplayers wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel (if you want to know which specific sites I found, just ask in the comments!).
  2. Jeanne L., a friend from our local clothing-upcycling organization Discardia who is far more adept at sewing than I am.

With the online patterns and instructions to help us, Jeanne and I were easily able to finish the skirt and collar in an evening. She worked on the skirt, and it came out wonderfully, as you can see here, even though she said she’d never made a pleated skirt before:

Meanwhile, I made the collar, with a lot of guidance from her. I’d found some iron-on bias tape that looked like the white stripes on Sailor Moon's collar, and we agreed to iron it instead of sew it. Shortcuts to avoid too much sewing are another time-honored cosplay tradition!

Jeanne gave me a lot of help with setting up her sewing machine, but in the end I was able to use it to sew the collar.

Jeanne is aware of our Recrafting Math project, so we both paid special attention to the math concepts we used while working on this. Jeanne had to use a lot of precise measurement in order to cut the skirt’s fabric to the right length and then pleat it consistently, carefully alternating between measuring two- and three-inch intervals to create a tapered look in the pleats. Meanwhile I used concepts of symmetry when drawing the collar’s pattern on the fabric. Once I had drawn half of it, all I had to do was fold it over to trace the other half of it. Finally, I struggled a bit with visualizing in 3 dimensions what the complete collar would look like, based only on the 2-dimensional pattern I had drawn and cut out of the fabric. The collar consisted of two layers of fabric that were turned inside-out after I sewed them, so that the stitches would be hidden. I had to envision what that would look like beforehand so I could iron the white tape on the correct part of the collar before I sewed it.
Wearing the costume at the con was an amazing--and even somewhat surreal--experience. I felt I was being more myself than I had in public since I was a very young child, because I was embracing and publicly displaying my geekiness, my love for this character and series, and my academic interests, all at the same time. But  I was also more than myself, because I was also Sailor Moon, and this led me to act differently from how I would have normally, and others to treat me differently from how they would have normally. For instance, people kept coming up to me and asking to take my picture, which is very common at cons, but was a new experience for me--I’m the type of person of whom strangers usually take no notice. And I didn’t hesitate to strike Sailor Moon’s iconic pose for their pictures!

 My friend Amber was nice enough to accompany me to the con and take all these pictures of me. The costume was so high-maintenance that I couldn’t have gotten by without her! I later found out that the phenomenon of non-costumed “spotters” helping cosplayers in elaborate costumes at cons is quite common, yet again illustrating the role of community in making cosplay a success

I also took part in the con’s costume contest. For this, we had to parade onstage for a large audience and a group of judges. I didn’t win, but I did have the courage to walk out on that stage and do a whole series of Sailor Moon’s poses! I never would have found the courage to do that in front of an audience if I hadn’t been wearing that costume!
Clearly, there are a bunch of different phenomena here that are fascinating from an educational standpoint. There’s the math and materiality involved in creating the costume, expansions of identity when wearing the costume, and aspects of community involved throughout. I can’t wait to explore all this more in my next cosplay!

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