I have always loved dressing up. When I was very little, the first thing I would do each morning after I got up was play dress-up. My mother sewed a lot of dresses for me, and I loved going to the fabric store with her to pick out fabric and patterns for new dresses. She also made my Halloween costumes, of course. I even had two Halloween costumes that were inspired by my love of video games — a white magician inspired by Final Fantasy and an adventurer inspired by the American design for Princess Moonbrooke from Dragon Warrior II. I was never interested in learning how to sew for myself though until I started cosplaying and going to conventions.
When I got into anime, I naturally started wanting to dress up as some of my favorite characters for Halloween. My mom even said I should dress up as Sailor Mars! But Halloween only comes once a year. As I scoured the internet for any Sailor Moon and anime web sites I could find, I came across some sites that included cosplay photos and photos from conventions like Anime Expo. I was really excited that there were people of all ages who dressed up in anime and game costumes outside of Halloween.
I looked up Anime Expo and found out that it was in Anaheim and that the next one (AX’98) would be exactly one week before my family trip to Disneyland. So close, yet so far. I was bummed that I couldn’t go, and when we made it to Disneyland I kept thinking, “Just a week ago, there was an anime convention here, where people dressed up as anime characters.” My parents said that maybe we could go the next year. (Yessssss!) At that time I was hanging out on IRC with a group of anime fan artists, and many of them had cosplayed and gone to conventions. When I found out they were doing a panel and meetup at Anime Expo ’99, I was even more excited to go. It was a chance to meet my online friends, wear a bunch of costumes, and even enter a costume contest!
The 1999 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival Anime Costume Parade and Contest, my first cosplay event. Photo by Eurobeat Kasumi Photography.
My first cosplay experience, however, was not Anime Expo. I was with my family in San Francisco’s Japantown one weekend when I saw a flyer for a cosplay contest and parade during San Francisco’s Cherry Blossom Festival. The event was in two weeks! There was not enough time to make a Sailor Mars costume, so the night before the contest my mom and I threw together an extremely ghetto Tifa costume from Final Fantasy VII. It was the easiest thing I could think of and didn’t require buying anything (yes, I already had kickboxing gloves). I met a lot of fun people at the event and even won a DVD box set in the contest. It was a great introduction to what I could expect to see and experience at anime conventions.
After that, I was inspired by all the costumes I saw. With only two months left before Anime Expo, my mom and I got to work on making a few more costumes so I would have one for each day. My mom sewed while I worked on accessories. I started by upgrading my Tifa so I had all the accessories. I knew I wanted to be Sailor Mars for the costume contest, but I felt that the regular version was too common and plain for a contest, so I chose the Eternal version. I hadn’t even thought about the third costume until I happened to find a blue and yellow Adidas bodysuit in my size at Ross. It didn’t have the right number of stripes, but the moment I saw it, I thought, “Chun-Li!” … and it was cheap. It was close enough that I knew I could get away with it, and then I would just need a vest, armbands, and hair ribbons. I have to admit, I actually hate that design of Chun-Li, and I’m more of a Cammy fan (in junior high I was obsessed with black lace-up boots because of her), but this was too good of an opportunity for me to pass up. My Chun-Li costume was well received at AX and some people even told me, “Wow! You have the legs for Chun-Li!” (I was active in martial arts back then and was fairly muscular.) To this day, I am still not sure if that is a compliment.
So I went to Anime Expo 1999 with three costumes: Alpha Chun-Li, Eternal Sailor Mars, and Tifa. I had so much fun, met so many people, and took pictures of EVERYTHING. When I got home I connected with the people I’d met online and started joining more communities and looking up more conventions. In 2000 I graduated from high school and I went to as many conventions as I could — FanimeCon, Sakura Con, Anime Expo, Otakon, and Ani-Magic. The most fun for me was participating in cosplay groups and meeting other cosplayers who were fans of the same series. I am thankful to my parents for allowing me to travel to all of these events — especially the out of state ones, because for the next ten years I was only able to go to California events.
My mom taught me how to sew so I could make my own costumes. Although she still occasionally sews something for me as a favor, I make most of my costumes myself. Unfortunately in recent years I have not been able to make as many costumes and travel to as many events as I would like (real life comes first), but cosplay is a hobby I know I won’t be giving up any time soon. I have an insanely long cosplay wish list and am constantly adding new ideas. I also met my best friends and fiancé through cosplay and conventions. I have so many great memories from cosplay, so as long as there is more fun to be had, I will continue making new costumes and dressing up with my friends.