2021 Year in Review

2021 Costumes

2021 was another roller coaster of a year. I alternated between periods of optimism and pessimism, which definitely affected my costuming productivity. I found it hard to concentrate on costuming when I was feeling really anxious. I never stopped crafting, but there were times where I focused on sewing modern clothes, knitting myself things, or embroidering pieces for our house. Having something crafty to do was soothing, but I could not always bring myself to concentrate on costuming tasks that needed a lot of experimentation or creative thinking.

Despite those roadblocks, I was productive in spurts, making or pulling together seven costumes. I focused a lot on doing cosplays from the Batman family, in part because I wanted to fill out our roster of characters for a photography project with colored gobos that we started back in 2019. I wanted to have twelve portraits, each of a different costume, and we needed three more to make that goal. Somehow I also, for the first time ever, finished every costume on my 2021 goals list. There were only three on there, but it felt great to finish all of them. Especially Stephanie Brown Batgirl, which has been on my wishlist for nearly 10 years.

I also did a lot more photography this year, driven by the need to wear a face covering at events. Some of my costumes do not work well with wearing a mask (particularly my costumes with cowls that cover my ears), so several times I opted to wear street clothes and go to events as a photographer. This gave me more opportunities to consistently practice my technique, both with and without off-camera lighting, which greatly helped with my confidence. I now feel much more able to handle photographing cosplayers in a variety of conditions. That is probably my biggest costuming-related achievement of the past year.

2021 goals
-Finish green 1780s round gown-Yup!
-Finish brown cotton regency day dress-Yup!
-Finish Stephanie Brown Batgirl-Yup!
-Continue to improve my skills and confidence at photography-Yup!
-Hang in there, both emotionally and physically-Working on it.

On to photos of what I completed!

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Graffiti Warehouse Shoot (Part 1)

What is this??? An event recap??? Yes it is!

For the first time in over a year, Mike and I attended a costuming event back in May 2021. DC Cosplay Photo Shoots hosted a meetup at the Graffiti Warehouse in Baltimore. It was a somewhat small group, and everyone was vaccinated. Mike and I were quite excited to see people in person, but we also felt odd to be going to an event again after so long. Mike noted that he felt really out of practice in terms of photographing cosplayers, because he had only photographed me and one other person, Sara, in over a year. I also felt out of practice editing photos of other people. However, once we started into the shoot, it was hard not to be inspired by the cool venue and the energy of the other cosplayers and photographers.

This post shares the photos that Mike took of others. I will follow up with an additional post of the photos taken of me.

A group photo of all the cosplayers Graffiti Warehouse

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2020 Year in Review

2020 Costumes

2020 was not the year anyone expected it to be. I had big plans for a number of costumes and events, particularly because we were hoping to go to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, UK in September. But of course, the Festival was canceled, and we did not do any events after early March. Hopefully 2021 will be better, at least in the second half of the year.

My productivity level swung all over the place during these past months. When I started working from home in mid-March, not having a commute or weekend commitments meant that I had more time for sewing, and I finished a couple of historical costumes pretty quickly. However, as the weeks at home turned into months, I lost some of my costuming enthusiasm, and instead switched to other projects, such as modern clothing or things for our house. It was nice to make something that I could wear or use without having to go to a costume event. I dove back into several crafts that I used to do more often, such as crocheting, knitting, and hand embroidery. There were a few times where I picked a costuming project back up, but I continued to intersperse that work with other crafting.

During this time of switching back and forth from costuming to other crafts, I slowly finished a couple more cosplays that built upon purchased elements (Nightwing and Batman Returns Catwoman), and finished one more historical costume (a regency outfit). I also started a few things that are sitting in pieces (one regency day dress, Stephanie Brown Batgirl, and a 1780s round gown).

2020 goals
-A new regency frock coat for Mike-Yup!
-At least one regency outfit for myself-Yup!
-Stephanie Brown Batgirl-No, but I did get about 50 percent of it done.
-Continue to improve my skills and confidence at photography-Sort of. I did okay at the few events we attended early in the year, but then did not have many opportunities to practice once we could no longer do events. I am hoping next year will be better. On the plus side, I have improved my speed and efficiency at editing.

On to the photos of what I completed!

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Rust Manor Shoot March 2020

This was the last group event I attended this year, back in early March. It was hosted by D.C. Cosplay Photo shoots at Rust Manor House in Leesburg, Virginia. The early 20th century house is nestled in a lovely park, Rust Sanctuary. I went to the shoot without Mike, as he was not feeling well that day.

I wore a new-to-me regency redingote and hat, which I had purchased from Margarita. The redingote and matching muff were made by Mayra, and the hat was made by Alena. They were nice and warm on a late winter day. Underneath I wore a white embroidered cotton dress that I made several years ago. I accessorized with some large pearl earrings I had made (you can get your own in my Etsy shop). My shoes are by American Duchess, and my wig is the “Benny” by Arda Wigs.

Here is a group photo by Donald Holmes.

Photo by Donald Holmes

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Katsucon 2020 (Sunday)

We had originally only planned on attending Katsucon on Friday and Saturday. But we heard that some of our friends were doing historical mashup cosplays which are right up our alley to photograph, so we decided to stop by during the morning to meet up with them. I am very glad we did, because we got to see some more excellent cosplays and take several cool photos.

Having our morning caffeine before starting our shoots.

Katsucon 2020

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Katsucon 2020 (Friday)

I am sorry that my blogging has been so inconsistent lately. It is hard to stay motivated on event recaps during the current situation. The bright side, I guess (?), is that I have not fallen any farther behind on recaps, since we have not been to an event since early March.

Anyway, I last left off at Katsucon, which took place back in February. This being our first time there, we were excited to get in and start taking photos of cosplayers. But, as with most cons beyond a certain size, we first had to navigate the long entrance line. Katsucon has switched to a policy of not allowing anyone in the building without a badge. This meant that we had to walk a pretty long way around the convention center to join the line for registration. They also do not mail badges, so having pre-ordered tickets did not make things go any faster. Ah well, it turned out okay. I think we waited for about an hour.


A selfie while waiting in line
Katsucon 2020

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Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen Costumes

As I mentioned in my last post, Mike and I cosplayed as Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane on Friday of Katsucon. We wanted to do costumes, but we did not have time to make anything elaborate, and we did not want to wear something that would be cumbersome while photographing people. These costumes fit the bill nicely. Plus, we thought it would be cute to cosplay as reporters covering the Met Gala that Friday.

Mike based his costume on the design by Steve Lieber in the current Jimmy Olsen series.
Jimmy Olsen Issue 1

I decided to use art by Jim Lee from Hush as my reference for Lois.
Lois Lane in Hush by Jim Lee

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Katsucon 2020 Cosplay Met Gala

Believe it or not, Mike and I had never been to Katsucon until this year. It is held only about half an hour away from where we live, but somehow the timing never worked out for us to attend. However, when we heard that Cowbutt Cruchies Cosplay and Jedimanda were hosting an event called the Cosplay Met Gala at Katsucon 2020, focused on showcasing designer takes on pop culture characters, we knew we had to see that.

The event was organized as a meetup and runway walk on Friday afternoon. Mike and I were there primarily as photographers (though we did a casual cosplay as Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen–reporters covering the gala!). Before the con, cosplayers had the chance to submit their designs, some of which were then chosen to have featured runway walks. Others that were not chosen were still welcome to come pose in groups for photos before the walk.

A photo Mike took of me among the other photographers waiting for the runway walk

A photo I took of Mike (sitting on the ground in the green khaki jacket). Closest to me in the foreground are our photographer friends Angela, Lea and Dan.

Some of the cosplayers in the group photo portion of the event

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I have been thinking a lot about the state of our historical costuming and cosplay communities lately. Specifically, I have been pondering the extent of racism and other forms of bigotry and discrimination. These thoughts were brought forth in part by my friends Christine and Samantha writing, late last year and early this year, about the racism they have experienced as historical costumers of Asian descent. As an Asian American costumer and cosplayer myself, I could relate to a lot of what they were saying. Then the whole Asian American community was thrown into turmoil over racism and attacks stemming from the coronavirus. In addition to being worried about getting sick, I was (and still am) scared of being harassed in public as some sort of foreign disease carrier only because my family was, multiple generations ago, from China. And then came the horrific murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests against police brutality and against the systemic racism that Black Americans face every day.

Cosplay and historical costuming are meant to be hobbies that allow us to be someone other than who we are in our non-costuming lives. By their nature, they should be inclusive and have no prerequisites in terms of a person’s appearance or background. They allow us to express our love for a character or for a period of fashion. However, that ideal is not equally available to everyone. The US power structure and the media that reflects it is very white, and largely Christian and straight. That fact permeates everything, including our hobbies. If you were to form an image in your head of a canonical historical costumer, chances are it would be a white woman. And that default creates conscious or unconscious biases, even for well-meaning cosplayers and costumers.

People who do not fit the standard mold are made to feel lesser, or are singled out as exotic, or or are just plain ignored. Several times at historical costuming events, I have had someone come up and start talking to me as if they had met me before or knew who I was, when I had not met them before. At some point in these conversations, it became clear to me that I had been mistaken for another Asian costumer. And I would wonder, “do we really all look alike to you?” Many other cosplayers and historical costumers have reported similar things happening, if not much, much worse. As a result of experiences like these, many people are discouraged from participating in cosplay or historical costuming, which then perpetuates a lack of diversity going forward. And the cycle continues.

A photo of me with (from left to right) Vivien, Christine, Bunny, and AJ. We have all been confused for one another at some point.
Costume College

The question becomes, how can we stop this cycle? First, we must each consider whether we have biases that have caused us to act unwelcoming, or worse, bigoted. Some of these things may be unintentional, but still hurtful to others. Identifying these behaviors and making a conscious effort to change them is important. Second, we should increase the visibility of costumers and cosplayers that do not fit the standard mold. For people with large online followings, that means sharing other people’s work and collaborating with diverse creators. For cosplay photographers, that means working with models that are, to put it frankly, not only thin white women. Seeing a portfolio that only features that type of model is discouraging to cosplayers that look different from that, and makes them way less likely to hire or collaborate with you for shoots. I have definitely been turned off from some photographers when I see the lack of diversity on their Instagram feeds. For all members of the community, that means considering ways to foster diversity when doing things like organizing events, attending an event, or interacting online. Reach out and encourage new costumers who are different from you. You already share an interest in common, so that is a great place to start.

Remember, this process is a marathon, not a sprint. Every February, when 28 Days of Black Cosplay (or 29 Days of Black Cosplay for leap years) comes around, I have seen people worry that the shows of support are fleeting or just bandwagon participation for attention. To be blunt, when Black cosplayers see that others only post about them once a year, that behavior comes off as fake or crass. Other times POC costumers are disappointed when the only other people interacting with awareness campaigns are themselves POC. That does not widen the reach of the community. In February and May of this year, I did a series sharing Instagram accounts of Black historical costumers and Asian historical costumers, respectively. I was saddened to see that the vast majority of people engaging and sharing those posts at that time were other POC. It was not until this past couple weeks that I saw major support from white members of our community, sharing my posts and linking directly to POC and LGBTQ accounts. I fervently hope that current momentum will continue. Because if it does not, that is doubly discouraging to those who feel like they were taken advantage of for a fad.

When I first heard about 28 Days of Black Cosplay several years ago, it made me stop and consider what photos I was posting, particularly as a photographer. I saw that Mike and I were photographing some POC models besides me, but also that our work could still be more diverse. Since then, we have made a concerted effort to do better, both in terms of who we work with for pre-arranged photo shoots and who we photograph in hall shots. But we can still improve. Now, each year at the beginning of 28 Days of Black Cosplay, I use that time as an opportunity to take stock of whether we are maintaining our commitment to diversity, in terms of engaging with Black costumers, other POC, and other people from diverse backgrounds. It is a reminder to me that these issues are ones I need to think about year round.