06 January, 2011

The Pink Dress

(Continued from yesterday)

And now we come to The Pink Dress...

Contrary to what you might think (knowing my personality), not a lot of thought went into choosing this dress to cosplay. Chii wears so many beautiful dresses and outfits, that if I wanted to, I could spend countless hours evaluating all the dresses she wears, deciding which ones would be good to wear and why. But in this case, I simply picked this dress, without really considering any others, because it's pink, it's pretty, and I was able to find it at a cosplay shop (not all of Chii's dresses are available pre-made). I'm not a seamstress, and I don't know any seamstresses, so I'm committed to wearing a pre-made dress and not bothering to make my own (more on that later). In any case, I absolutely love the dress, and I doubt I could be more happy with a different one. It epitomizes the dual appeal of Chii herself - pretty, and sexy.

Naturally, I'm concerned about how I'm gonna look in that dress, because although I may be more feminine than the average guy, I don't exactly have the delicate, lithe frame of a young girl. So my expectations are tempered, but I still think I can look good, if not as good as Chii herself, and I could certainly do a lot worse (even for a crossplay, I'm convinced that if I'm careful, I can avoid total cosplay fail). Anyway, the jokes about ugly crossplays - fat sailor scouts and all that - usually result from ugly old men who seem to be unconcerned about their appearance, or intentionally trying to gross people out. My goal is not to look as if I'm wearing something I really shouldn't be wearing, but to actually look appealing in my cosplay, and I really do think I can pull it off.

Still, I've been looking at every picture I can find of others who have cosplayed this same pink dress, so I can see what I'm up against. I've found some that look pretty good. I've found others that are iffy, and one or two that are downright failworthy (see the last picture on my post last September). The iffy cosplays give me confidence that I won't be the worst looking cosplayer to ever wear this dress, and even the good cosplays fail to discourage me from giving it my best. I may not have the perfect figure for a girly cosplay, but I do have other things that even the majority of female Chii cosplayers lack.

First is the hair. I see an awful lot of wigs, and while they give the right look for the cosplay, it makes the whole ensemble seem more costumey and less real. My natural hair (at a length that even few females possess) is perfect for this cosplay, and not using a wig contributes to my cosplay philosophy of making it look like a real life version of the character and not simply a walking 3D cartoon.

My other natural advantage is my legs. Chii's got long, slender legs, and I've been told that my legs are one of my better features (and I believed it :p). Some Chii cosplayers opt for flesh-tone tights, but while they have certain practical advantages, I feel it detracts from the natural appeal of the cosplayer (underneath the cosplay). Not everyone's legs look good enough (or are shaped right) to pull it off, but again, I think that's one of my advantages.

I'm about to show you a bunch of different cosplayers wearing The Pink Dress, but first, let's talk about the craftsmanship of the costume itself. I see lots of variation in this dress. The same pattern, but different materials and alterations. I can't say how many of these dresses were handmade either by the cosplayer, someone the cosplayer knows, or someone the cosplayer commissioned to make the dress, and how many were pre-made and bought commercially (like mine was). I feel that in the cosplay community, there is a certain amount of pride in designing one's costume by hand. Many cosplayers have to, because the characters they want to cosplay aren't popular enough to have ready-made outfits available on the market. Or, having a complete outfit involves mixing and matching and adding and altering and whatnot.

My concern is that the quality of the costume must inevitably be taken into account when judging the aesthetic success of a cosplay. And where a costume may not be up to snuff, the cosplayer may argue that it was homemade, required lots of care and effort, and therefore deserves special consideration over a store-bought costume. And while this is true, it depends on what aspect of the cosplay experience you're concerned with, and this varies from person to person. I'm not a seamstress, I'm not a LARPer (a.k.a. adult make-believe) either, and I don't really do cosplay for the fun of it (although I hope that fun is a part of it). I'm a photographer, and an aesthetic artist, and in less flattering terms, a right vain bastard. So I care little who made the costume and how; what matters to me is how it looks in the end. And whether I end up looking fantastic or not, I hope nobody will slight me for taking "the easy way out" and buying my costume rather than making it. Because that's just not the point for me. The costume I have looks great, and much better than I could ever make on my own. Anyway, I'm a model, not a seamstress. :p So take that into account.

Now, onto the pictures!

I've always said, the best cosplays are done by the models who look like the character to begin with. That way, you have the likeness naturally, without having to reproduce it through costume accessories. I have the advantage of bearing at least a superficial likeness to Chii, but not everyone has that advantage, and it shouldn't stop you from cosplaying a character you really like. But there's a tradeoff to consider. Aesthetics versus accuracy.

The girl above doesn't have the right hair at all for Chii. She can choose to wear a wig to increase the accuracy of the cosplay. But wigs look much less "real" than real hair (obviously). Personally, I think she looks great with her natural hair. It's not accurate, but it's appealing, and perhaps more so than if she chose to wear a wig. It's a personal choice, and for some people accuracy is paramount, and certainly it's something to strive for in general, but you needn't think that a good costume depends on perfect accuracy. In the end, I'd go for appeal over accuracy. And you know you've got a special cosplay when those two qualities intersect.

Getting the right fit and proportions for a costume are difficult. If you're making it yourself, you can cater it to the model's exact measurements, if it's convenient to do so. With store-bought costumes, you gotta make your best guess on the size and then cross your fingers. I think a problem with a lot of costumes (particularly Chii's dresses) is that the cosplayer drowns in it. Would you wear the dress above to a formal ball? If the costume doesn't fit well, it comes off as being that much more costumey. Fortunately, my dress isn't too big for me, and I think it looks great on me, but I may have the opposite problem - more on that later.

In addition to the loose fit, this costume (as well as the one below) adds the option of thighhighs. Thighhighs are incredibly sexy, and the zettai ryouiki fashion is popular among the otaku crowd, but this particular outfit calls for bare legs - which can also be incredibly sexy, by the way. Yes, it's a matter of personal choice, but the bare legs (and feet) are one of the aspects of this particular outfit that appeal to me. Chii has beautiful legs, and she loves to show them off. There are other outfits she wears where thighhighs would be more appropriate (and accurate). I wouldn't say that they ruin this outfit, or are unforgivable (there are reasons for people to want to keep their legs covered), but I can't help rating them a bit lower than those cosplayers who dare to brave their bare legs.

This cosplay I like a lot. The dress does look costumey, but it looks appealing at the same time. And the model is, of course, attractive. One conflict with this outfit is that Chii doesn't wear shoes. And while it's an easy detail to change, I think the fact that she spends so much time barefoot is part of the appeal of her character. Again, there are other outfits she wears where nice shoes are appropriate (very elegant heels and the like), and it is therefore easy to want to accessorize every Chii cosplay with a pair of pretty shoes. Plus, the fact that you're usually not allowed to walk around barefoot at a convention (nor, perhaps, would you want to) kind of necessitates some footwear. My solution is to compromise with something that maintains the illusion of being barefoot - a pair of subtle flip flops perhaps - that can easily be tossed aside for pictures. All that having been said, the girl above has managed to choose a pair of shoes that goes well with the dress, and it's one of the better substitutes for being barefoot that I've seen.

Another problem I notice in a lot of cosplays is that the costume tends to emphasize certain elements, usually by making them bigger (and perhaps more cartoony) to draw attention to them. This is sometimes the case with the actual costume itself (which goes back to the loose fitting argument). In the cosplay above, I think the flowers (on her neck and thigh) are a little bigger than they really need to be, but it's not so bad as to ruin the costume. In Chii cosplays, the characteristic persocom ears are most often guilty of the embiggening effect. Those ears do vary greatly in size and quality, though, which I believe I talked about in my post last September.

Prettiness wins out here, in spite of the wig and tights. (What is she trying to hide?)

Always bonus points for bare feet. ;-)

I am definitely going to have to work on my poses, and learn how to carry the aura of Chii. I hope people don't expect me to actually act like Chii - after all, I'm a model, not an actor - but pose and poise are both important elements of looking like Chii!

Come to think of it, I'm not used to being popular with photographers at a convention. I wonder how popular I'll be, and whether I'll be able to handle the attention (hopefully more positive than negative).

This looks like a crossplay, and it's dreadfully costumey (and I have no idea how that dark blue petticoat is supposed to match the outfit), but it deserves recognition for its unbridled sensuality. Maybe Chii has a more submissive, restrained sensuality, but you see her prettiness all the time, it's refreshing to see someone not afraid to depict her sexy side.

Very pretty, but the ears here are definitely too big. I haven't got mine yet, but I'm hoping they turn out to be decent.

This is a decent cosplay, if you don't mind it looking like a cosplay - in spite of the heels, and the somewhat dark shade of pink. Also, the skirt could stand to be a bit shorter in the front, although I like that it doesn't touch the ground in the back. I think the train is supposed to touch the ground (and mine does), but I don't look forward to having it dragging all over the ground, getting nice and dirty. But this cosplay demonstrates the significant difference that having an attractive model makes.

On the other hand, it doesn't take being a supermodel to avoid total cosplay fail. Even if you're not your home town's beauty queen, you can still look decent in a cosplay, and have a good time. I suppose the key is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and being able to tell if something looks ridiculous on you (we all have certain styles we can pull off and others we can't), and having the sense not to wear it if it does. Unless you're one of those people, and your goal is to freak people out. I'm not in that camp, though. (I do freak people out, but for good reasons, not just for the hell of it. :p)

As you can see, there's a lot of variety out there, and I'm convinced I won't be the worst looking Chii to ever walk the convention halls - even despite my gender disadvantage. And unlike some Chiis, I'm not afraid to show a little skin.

Then again, that might be my problem, because I'm afraid of the consequences of showing too much skin. I have no intention of being lewd or indecent, but where skin is called for (and legal), I plan to deliver. The problem, however, is that the skirt on my dress is perilously short, and there doesn't seem to be any way to avoid showing my underwear. Luckily, this convention is pretty lenient with their cosplay rules, and while they don't seem to want anyone's underwear showing, there are alternatives that will likely (fingers crossed!) prove to be acceptable. But if I end up getting kicked out or forced to change, you'll know why. (Like everywhere else I've been kicked out of, the reason will be "too sexy").

To end on a positive note, here's what I would call a successful cosplay. It's not perfect, by any means, but it's effective. It successfully manages to be pretty. The cosplayer is attractive (without having to be flawless), there's enough skin showing, and the fact that it's a costume doesn't detract from your enjoyment of the cosplay. (Bonus points are awarded for the photo quality - both technically and artistically - actually being good). Observe:

And now, since you've done such a good job of indulging my cosplay mania, I'll give you what I'm sure you've been waiting all this time to see. A preliminary look at me, in my costume, wearing The Pink Dress. You only get a poorly lit low quality image at this time, because it hides all my flaws. :p

And one from the back, because my hair is just gorgeous.

See you in the spring!

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