I feel like I hold myself to a pretty high standard when it comes to costume construction and masquerade presentations, when I don’t meet my own expectations I get all sad and find a corner to sulk in. Usually with a bottle of wine. It may or may not look like this:
Thing is, not everyone’s great at seeing their own shortcomings. OR we fixate on things that we think aren’t up to par, but can’t see where we really need work. Other times we can look at another cosplayer and immediately see what needs improvement while not being able to see our own shortcomings.
There’s a saying from a book about that exact thing:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye,
but don’t consider the beam that is in your own eye?
Regardless of religious leanings, it’s pretty sound advice. If I walk up to someone and complain about a stray thread when my hem is held up by duct tape… yeah you can bet they won’t give two shits about what I’ve got to say. BUT! Today isn’t about how to give advice, it’s about how to realise when we as higher-tier cosplayers have hit a plateau.
NOTE: This isn’t restricted to ‘Master’ Level cosplayers, but I have noticed that it is more prevalent amongst them, myself included.
What the Shit’s a ‘Plateau’?
pla·teau – /plaˈtō/
1. an area of relatively level high ground.
2. a state of little or no change following a period of activity or progress.
Basically: You feel like you’re stuck. The same effort and quality that used to earn attention/awards just isn’t as effective as it used to be, and you’re not sure why.
I’ve noticed that this ‘stuck-ness’ is more prevalent in Master level costumers. Once you reach the Master division, there’s no more ranks to climb via awards. (Which is and of itself a flawed system these days but that’s a whole other post). Or maybe it’s that you’re looking at social media metrics and you notice a slow, steady decline in responses and reach that can’t just be blamed on Facebook’s crappy pay-to-reach-the-people-who-already-like-your-page algorithms.
What the Shit, Right?
Okay we know that this happens now but let’s look at why we may hit a plateau. Take a deep breath because this part might sting a little, (anyone who’s been to a doctor knows ‘sting a little’ can be a gross understatement) but until we learn to look at ourselves critically, we’ll never be able to spot what we need to improve on.
Note: By critically I don’t mean ‘oh my gawd I’m terrible’, but being able to step back and recognize strengths and weaknesses in ourselves.
Kids These Days
Okay. Here’s the deal. Ten, fifteen years ago the cosplay community was nowhere near as big as it is now. There were no online wig shops that I knew about (or I’d never have tried to sew my own with yarn) let ALONE patterns and tutorials for armor and worbla and just. Wow. Things have changed a lot.
You know what might not have evolved along with the knowledge?
Us. Or at least our skill base.
Back in our day, we had to figure out how to use funfoam the hard way. We didn’t have access to tutorials the same, so we didn’t have as fast a learning curve as people who are starting cosplay in the last five years. This is amazing for them, (and, by extension, me since I got back into the game) but! The amount and quality of information available means that ‘novice’ cosplayers can rapidly expand their skills and the quality of their cosplays if they’re inclined.
And have you been to a masquerade lately? They’re inclined.
So, for some of us older more experienced cosplayers, it’s been hard to keep up with this rapid growth of techniques and quality. We might be stuck with out of date information, or still producing the same quality as we always have, only… it just doesn’t measure up to the new work out there.
Get it? ‘Measure’ up.
Basically, we’ve hiked up the mountain to get where we are, and by golly, hiking’s worked for us so far, so we’re going to keep hiking. Only the kids these days are learning how to build jetpacks, and we’re wondering why they’re passing us.
Get Your Fix:
Okay, let’s not get disheartened here. You know the easiest way to catch up? Just look up the tutorials and find out what works for you. Maybe there’s an easier way to sew through faux leather than what you’ve been doing. Or, a simple, cheap way to make a corset pattern. (duct tape. Duct. Tape.)
Just because we’re used to doing something one way, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best way.
See someone with beautiful armor? Ask how they did it.
Google different techniques on how to finish your seams. Or make ruffles. Or how to line your garment.
Take out a book from the library to learn new techniques. Look for books about couture techniques, draping patterns, tailoring sculpting techniques, or painting how-to. Really, just don’t stop learning.
There’s always something new to look into, and you’ll never know how what might help take your costumes from good to great.
Welcome to the
DANGER Comfort ZONE?
So. Think back to your last….4, or 5 costumes. Is there a trend? I’m talking about a trend more than just a colour (which is fine) or a type of source material (Anime, video games, movies). I’m talking about trends like ‘ballgowns’, ‘bikini armor’ or ‘flowing mumus with beaded collars’.
Even within video games, there’s often a lot of variety. check out these Aion armors.
Sometimes we find something we really like and we tend to stick with it, doing multiple variations on the same theme. Which, if that’s what you really like, is fine! But when we expect others to share our love of bedazzled jean jacket costumes, then we’re likely to run into viewer boredom.
Now this next bit is very, very important: Do not feel like you need to make any cosplay just because your ‘fans’ like it.
There is a difference between getting stuck in a rut and catering to the wants of anyone and everyone, and breaking out of a rut you’ve found yourself in. Think about the last four to five costumes. Have there been any that stand out as different? No? Then you might be stuck in a box of your own making, with your goal of shares or likes just out of reach.
silly cat, that paper isn’t going to get closer.
After a while viewers and fans can get bored of the same thing all the time. But it’s very important to weigh what you like doing against the publicity you may gain from shares and likes, otherwise it’s easy to fall into an equal but opposite trap of doing things for others rather than enjoying them.
Get Your Fix:
Still, if all you make is ball gowns, and you’re noticing that you’re getting substantially fewer likes than you used to, then maybe it’s worth taking a hard look at what kind of cosplays you tend towards. After a certain point, we cosplayers learn what we really enjoy working on, and what we don’t. As a result, we can tend towards producing similar costumes time after time, and this, for fans, can get…boring.
So try breaking out of your box. If you like armor, try something that’s mostly sewing, or if you make ball gowns, try a set of armor. The chance to really expand your skills and improve on your level of cosplay is worth it, especially if you choose a design or character that you really enjoy.
Just because you may enjoy sewing more than sculpting worbla, doesn’t mean that you have to pigeon hole yourself into a single ‘style’. Try new things, take risks. They may not work out, but at least you may learn something, or give your fans a chance to see you do something new.
This isn’t just limited to costumes, but also masquerade entries. If you’re used to doing walk-ons, try a skit with friends. Tend to do glamorous entries? What about something silly?
Everyone’s got their own comfort zone, and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing, but, try testing the boundaries once in a while. You might surprise yourself.
Keep in Mind…
We all have our challenges as cosplayers. If you’re happy doing what you are, for yourself, and aren’t looking to compete through masquerades or social media, then you do not need to push yourself. Do what makes you happy, and if that’s fluffy ball gowns with thirty-two petticoats, you do you.
This column is for the cosplayers who are looking for ways to improve and are at a loss as to how, because sometimes it’s hard to step back and look at our work critically. Good questions to ask yourself are:
- Did I cut any corners that I would notice on someone else’s costume?
- Did I weather any armor or props? Is there anything I can look up or do to make these props really stand out?
- Is this costume something I’ve done before? Is it something completely different?
- Is this cosplay something new and exciting? Is it something that no one else has really done before?
These, as always, are just suggestions to help you get ‘unstuck’ if you’re suffering from Cosplay Plateauing. (totally not a real word but we’ll roll with it).
Wishing you all the best in yoru costume adventures!