Full title, The Road to Best in Show and the Five Times I Entered (And the One Time I Dropped out Of) the SabotenCon Masquerade
It started five years ago when I created my first serious masquerade entry.
It starts and ends with Mami Tomoe.
Mami Tomoe was the first costume I ever made that I was really proud of. The first one where my friends stopped me, jaws dropped low as they said, “you look amazing!”
(Adding to the aesthetic: my mom dropped me off at the con since my car was in the shop, so I got to step out of the car like a movie star emerging from a limo.)
I don’t remember what spurred me to start entering masquerades – I don’t remember ever thinking “oh, I’m definitely good enough to start doing this now.” It just seemed like the thing you did if you were a craftsmanship cosplayer – and even during my humble beginnings when I didn’t know shit, I was always about craftsmanship.
At this time Baby Lulu had wrapped up her first and only formal sewing class so she felt pretty confident about making Mami. Mami was still a very ambitious project for Baby Lulu since she had to make everything – she couldn’t buy the gloves, she couldn’t buy the stockings or boots, she couldn’t get a pre-styled wig. But Baby Lulu did it all, and even though she was still picking basting threads out of her boot covers (her first pair ever, by the way) right before she went to judging, any nerves she felt melted away when she walked into the judging room and the judges said, “you’re a novice?”
Baby Lulu smiled. “I’ve never won anything before.”
“Well, we’ll see about that.”
Baby Lulu won Best in Novice that night.
Her friends pulled her into their arms as she stepped off stage, a whole crowd of them, including people she didn’t even know. They held her as she cried, though not too tightly, so as not to damage her now award-winning drill curl wig.
“You really deserve it.”
“You are a great cosplayer.”
She came home to a Facebook wall full of even more congratulatory posts. She was so happy and so confident that she wanted to enter masquerades at every con, ever.
So Baby Lulu sunk her claws into her hopes for winning Best in Journeyman and refused to fucking let go.
By now Baby Lulu had grown into to her “I thought I was hot shit but I actually didn’t know shit” phase, which isn’t that far behind me so I guess I’ll stop using the third person now.
I walked into Sabo 2012 already wounded.
It started with the cosplay group I was part of at my first ever Anime Expo. Our costumes and our friendship were held together with hope and safety pins. That same group was supposed to enter the Sabo masquerade together, but that fell apart a few weeks before con. I was still determined to finish (re)making my costume and enter the masquerade so I could impress the pants off of Vampy and Li Kovacs – and so I could prove my group wrong. I could do this without them, and I couldn’t return to Sabo after winning big without doing it again at the Journeyman level. I couldn’t.
Spoiler alert: these are not good motivations for entering a masquerade.
I’ll always remember when I went to Home Depot as soon as it opened (5 AM) on the first day of the con. I needed one more can of red spray paint for my sword. I saw myself in the small security monitor placed above the self-checkout. I already looked sunken-in and exhausted, but the fluorescent lighting made it so much worse. Still, I soldiered on.
I packed my costume pieces in a box and headed to the con, where I enjoyed my day at as best as I could.
The best part of that con was the bathtub.
My boyfriend and I were sharing a suite with eight of our friends, which had the largest bathroom I’ve ever seen in a hotel, complete with a giant Jacuzzi bathtub.
At the end of the day, my boyfriend and I boiled our stress away in the bubbling water, but I couldn’t fully enjoy it because just outside the door was a box full of pieces demanding assembly.
But I didn’t want to. I wanted to sit in this amazing tub and relax with my amazing boyfriend. I wanted to snuggle up to him in bed and sleep well. I wanted to enjoy my weekend.
I looked at my boyfriend, neck deep in bubbles, and I said: “I’m not going to finish my costume.”
Never before had I been smart enough to admit that I just couldn’t finish. Even if I tried it wouldn’t be something I was proud to show to the judges, my heroes. And it certainly wouldn’t impress the people I once called friends. So what was the point, beyond proving my own stubbornness?
So I soaked in the tub, I snuggled my boyfriend, I dropped from the masquerade and I wore the same simple costume for most of the weekend because it was the only thing keeping me happy at that point.
I also went home needing both hands to count the number of friends I’d lost.
This year is important to note for only one reason:
I’d never walked away from a masquerade empty-handed before.
I wasn’t prepared. I entered a costume that wasn’t quite masquerade ready because I didn’t finish the one I’d hoped to wear. I did a shitty, unrehearsed lip-synch on stage and I lost.
I didn’t necessarily agree with the judges’ decisions, but I also knew I could have done better.
The only way to go was up, right?
After I swore I’d never again drive home during the convention to pick up another costume so I didn’t have to drop out of the masquerade due to my competition costume not working out last minute – I did it again.
But this time I got a Judge’s Award and Alodia said I was like a real idol.
I was clawing my way up and out, however slowly.
Did I mention that Alodia Goddamn Gosiengfiao said I was like a real idol?
A month before Sabo 2015, something happened that has put my life on an uneven path ever since.
At the time I was working on Lucina, a character I’d fallen in love with so fast, she became a dream cosplay seconds after I met her.
After struggling to function around shock and depression for a couple of weeks, I realized I had to do everything I could to finish her.
I needed her strength, and I needed the accomplishment.
I painted my sword and my armor and re-recorded my skit lines in the hotel room. I blocked out my skit backstage. I had sworn over and over to never again be finishing major costume parts in the hotel room, but broke my own rules. I had to. I had to finish her, not to prove anything to anyone but myself. To prove that I could be a brave and thoughtful princess who could slay dragons without a second thought. I needed to be that person for myself, but it wasn’t going to happen unless I could literally don her armor.
In case I need to say it explicitly, here it is:
- Entering a masquerade to prove something to your former friends is a bad idea.
- Entering a masquerade to prove to yourself how talented and hard-working you are is a much nobler reason, and a much stronger source of motivation.
The day of the masquerade, I finally put everything on and I almost cried when I saw myself in the mirror for the first time.
I’d done it. The costume was on, without safety pins or hot glue or duct tape. I had brought to life the brave princess that inspired me so much. Despite a few last-minute rushed parts and mishaps, Lucina was and is the best thing I’ve made to date. I’m still so proud of her. I had come a long, long fucking way since Mami’s taped-on boot covers.
I performed my skit – my first ever, and I was completely by myself – and when it ended the audience exploded.
I honestly couldn’t believe what I’d accomplished. Everything was stacked against me, and yet there I was. Lucina had defied her fate, and I felt I had too.
I walked away with a judge’s award from the queen of Nintendo cosplay herself, and I was absolutely devastated.
I can’t fully go into why without causing drama, but I wouldn’t have had such a strong reaction either way if it hadn’t been for this:
I’d entered the best thing I’d ever made. I’d learned so much and used so many different techniques. I had fought for so long to take home Best in Journeyman. And I was only as good as a minor award.
It was technically a win, but it wasn’t the one I needed.
I cried a lot after the show. I’m tearing up as I write this.
Later that night, a whole crew of friends took me to get ice cream. It’s pretty incredible to be loved that much.
The next day I was still crying when I got a text from someone very special.
They asked me to enter with them next year.
I didn’t want to do it. I was burnt.
Eventually, I said yes.
Part 2 will be posted here two weeks from today. If you’d like to read it now, you can get instant access by pledging a buck to my Patreon. Otherwise, come back later to read the THRILLING CONCLUSION.
Yes, I have a Patreon now – I recently lost my job so every bit helps. Thanks.