Learn From My Fail: more detailed doesn’t always equal “better”

By RustyNeedle

So lets talk about competition. Rusty Needle here and I’ll be honestly, 99.9% of the reason I cosplay is for competition, to put my skills to the test and get better. Back when I started in 1998 competitions were a lot different.

  • –For a basic con there were like 15 people (tops!)
  • –There was no “Craftsmanship” prejudging. You walked by the judges table and talked to them on your way off the stage, if they really liked you they’d grab you after the walk ons and skits. They DID NOT TOUCH YOU!
  • –At a convention maybe 25% of the people at a con costumed and that was tops and very few of them entered the competition
  • –Awards were given based on how much you looked like the character, how well your skit was (Where I competed skits were pretty much expected…), and what you did.
  • –Nobody was flipping your seams or looking down their nose at you at your lack of serging; home sergers weren’t mainstream anyway
  • –You could win with an original concept: Best costume I ever saw were the Harlequents who acted out part of A Brief History of Time while dressed as crazy quilted  carnival harlequins.
  • –There was no “Cos-famous” (or internet)
  • -and most importantly: detail was treasured! You made shit from scratch!? Go you! You coughed your way through the entire con with bronchitis as a character who had perma smokers lung? (Raistlin from Dragonlance in 1998 thank you very much!), well the authors who made the characters sure cared!
  • –Simple and perfect could win over flashy and shitty


Now however…and note that this is my personal opinion of someone who competed hard core from 1998-2003 then took a break until 2011 and was trained in hard core sewing by a professional wedding dress and couture seamstress….

  • –Everybody dresses up at cons! Maybe 10% of people AREN”T IN COSPLAY!
  • –Craftsmanship prejudging is a hard core thing. They’ll be touching you all over. At a recent con I said the judges could look at my petticoat and the next thing I know my entire skirt was over my head including half my under skirts (Guess they were looking for the bloomers I told them I refused to wear?!…glad I wore undies!).  Your seams will be flipped, you will be snarked on for not using a serger even if it’s not period..(we’ll get to that below), and you will be expected to bring the sort of right up that until recently only costume history majors were required to do.
  • –Despite their hard core “craftsmanship matters” mantra, if you do period correct work you will lose points. To the left is my madame red, done in period correct style. I boned the coat, lined it, underlined it, sewed it on a sewing machine from 1910, hand finished it, hand applied the VELVET bias tape, hand beaded it,  made my own patterns and hand. made. my. goddamn. button. holes. The costume was so period that Record Needle who works at the history center suggested I not wear it to the museum outing because I would get questions. I based the entire build on a real coat from 1890. Did I even get a judges nod? NO.
  • –Depending n the judge they may care that you wrote all of a sailor moon theme in Japanese on your scarf for your Chinese character done by a Japanese artist that isn’t in a show but will they care that you hand painted 200 batik flowers and spent a year embroidering them on your kimono? Naaaaaaah
  • Simple and perfect can still beat flashy and meh but the flashy had better be falling off. In Journeyman/Masters: if you don’t have LEDs, armor, props and wig styling then don’t bother. Yeah I know that limits the pool of characters to play but if you want to compete you have to play the game, and the game involves armor that lights up and props.
  • T&A trumps hours of crafting just about every time unless your costume lights up

End lesson: spend your time making details but keep in mind that if it doesn’t show up from 10 feet baby nobody gives a shit. Depending on your chance case of judges they will only care about detail if it suits their needs. If you go full historical authenticity nazi save it for SCA-able gear because at least at Ice Dragon they give points for how fiddly you get. Details are going to be there for YOU and not for the judges. Go ahead and do something special for you. You want to embroider waves and spiders on your under kimono? Good do it for you. Want to spend a month hand stitching a hat out of taffeta? DO it for you because the judges don’t care. I have seen really simple costumes win best in show, costumes so simple it made everybody go WTF. Ive seen costumes that were a train wreck up close but looked good a few feet away win vs costumes that were 100% pristine no matter the distance. I’ve seen hot glue, trailing threads, and boobs beat a fully articulated Iron Man. Like all arts, when it comes down to competition it comes down to what the judges like personally. There are no real standards This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work harder to improve your craft. In my case, I lose every competition I enter now vs winning every competition in the 90s and early 2000s. Competition is a lot harder and standards are higher. I get this, doesn’t stop me from having to bite my tongue every time I lose. This is why I bring tons of booze to cons.


yeah again flash trumps substance and screw your 3 year long slaving; someone in a costume satin ball gown covered in halloewen glitter will beat out your perfect historically accurate  costume made of vintage moire silk every time.


In the end cosplay should be for you and not for the judges because you are wearing it and you should be having fun making it!*



I have to tell myself this all the time because I am a competitive jerk. And yes I did get a little tweaked that my painfully authentic Madame Red didn’t even get a nod and because the same judges just all the cons within a 4 hour drive I can’t try it on anybody else. But learn from my fail, nobody cares about historical authenticity in the Ohio/PA convention circuit…or the WV conventions. Wore an authentic miko costume with hand embroidery to Tsubasocon and lost to a sailor mars with black thread whip stitches visible from the third row in a dimply lit theater. Not pretty.

 Category: cosplay history opinion

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