In a world where most aspiring designers wants to be the next Michael Kors, Tegan V. Doucet just wants to design costumes.
Above Photo by Pamela Cyran
The work of this 26-year-old Salem, N.H., resident goes something like this:
She’ll take a pair of red and black platform low-top sneakers from Hot Topic and transform them into a pair of boots belonging to the character Charmy on the Japanese video game Dance Dance Revolution (DDR). When she’s done, she’ll have transformed 18 other pieces of clothing to create the complete Charmy—complete with leggings, shirt, gloves, and a helmet.
That is Doucet’s passion. She’s a cosplayer, and has been cosplaying for more than eight years.
Cosplay, or costume-play, is the act of dressing up and performing as a specific character or representation of an idea. Generally, these costumes come from a specific fandom, such as video games, movies, TV shows, and books or comics. Cosplayers show off their costumes at themed conventions.
Doucet devotes her time to creating elaborate costumes from scratch. She cosplays within the realm of Japanese anime, manga and video games—hence Charmy. The Charmy costume, her most recent creation, was worn at last year’s Anime Boston 2012 convention held at the Hynes Convention Center.
“Costuming and fashion is my life,” said Doucet. “Cosplay is just the outlet.”
“Cosplay is a subculture like any other subculture,” said Ejen, author and photographer of Cosplay in America, a book showcasing 260 cosplayers representing 30 states in the country. “At a bar, you may spy someone else with a similar jersey and give each other high-fives for that team. Cosplay is similar. You got to a con and see someone else dressed from the same movie, TV, comic, anime, whatever narrative media it is and you give high fives.”
Costumes can take months to make and cost hundreds of dollars or more. Doucet however, cosplays on a budget. Every costume she makes, at least two big projects a year (with smaller, less elaborate ones on the side), has to cost under $200, she says.
She has another requirement: any costume she makes has to be something she can easily store.
“My walk-in closet is no longer a walk-in closet,” says Doucet, whose is stuffed full of costumes, extra supplies, and props—like the two giant “magical” staffs that belong to Sailor Saturn and Sailor Jupiter from the popular anime and manga series Sailor Moon.
She has multiple drawers just for wigs.
Doucet starts by sketching out her costume and placing appropriate measurements next to the pieces in the drawing. She writes little notes to herself as she contemplates what fabrics to use, and what items to use to make the props. Brocade and silk are among her favorite fabrics, though when she first started, Doucet went by what “felt good to her fingertips,” a trick she still sometimes uses.
Doucet scans her sketches into Photoshop, where she plays around with the colors.
“Time spent in Photoshop/Illustrator/those graphic designery places depend on the project,” said Doucet, who adds that some costumes are only in a black-and-white comics so she needs to guess the colors based on dialogue.
Doucet loves to try new techniques with sewing, bonding, and construction while making the costumes and props. That challenge becomes a big factor in choosing a project for a con.
“Cosplay is the reason for me to keep learning,” said Doucet, who graduated from MassArt in graphic design while taking electives in fashion and sewing. “I just want to keep learning and figuring out new techniques.”
While in school, she took an internship in Japanese Shibori silk dying, a technique that encompasses binding, stitching, folding, twisting, and compressing the silk, or capping it in a way westerners tend to call tie-dying.
Doucet says her love of costuming began as a girl when she danced for 14 years out of a studio in Bradford, Mass. There, she took tap, ballet, and jazz. She later participated in theater productions there.
“That was the beginning of my fascination of costumes,” said Doucet, who’s favorite costume from that time was a vintage outfit for “American in Paris.”
Her best friend, and partner-in-crime at cons, Amanda Henderson, introduced her to cosplaying in high school. Amanda was president of their school’s anime club when the two decided to go to their first con together.
“It’s like walking into a new world,” said Doucet about conventions.
“It’s an excuse to dress up and have fun,” said Henderson, who loves wearing the costumes Doucet designs and makes for her. Every year, they take turns deciding who gets to choose the characters.
As a girl, she says, Doucet had a trunk full of costumes, including a nurse’s outfit—“She used to put it on the cat, the nurse’s cape and nurse’s bonnet.”
“She had sunglasses,” she recalled, laughing.
Doucet also developed the patience to design as a child, Vacirca says.
“She had a persistence. If she wanted to do something, she would stick to it. One day, her brother taught her how to blow bubblegum. And she practiced all day long until he came home and she showed him she could do it,” said Vacirca.
Doucet not only loves to design and wear the costumes, she also loves to compete.
The Sailor Scout costumes, worn by Doucet and Henderson, won “Best Duo” at PortCon 2012, Portland Maine’s anime convention.
There are two types of competitions, typically called a “masquerade” at conventions. Cosplayers can choose to do a walk on, which is just modeling your costume for the audience in full runway-fashion, or perform a skit that pertains to the characters.
The categories are novice, intermediate, and masters (sometimes called craftsman). Awards vary by con, but include first through third place for each category, and a “Best in Show.” Sometimes a single “Judge’s award” or “spirit award” will be given, as well as some “honorable mentions.”
Cosplayers who do the walk-on get judged on movement, creativity, and technique. Technique is looked at more closely with judges earlier in the day.
“No fraying [in the fabric], that’s a huge thing,” said Darcy Dillon, a cosplay judge who managed her own masquerade and team of judges for four years.
Cosplay competitions have been a growing trend since 2007 and more and more cosplayers are getting creative with their technique and skits.
But this growing trend brings controversy.
“It’s always better to choose popular characters so people know who you are,” said Doucet, but she prefers not to follow that rule.
“You’re more likely to win in a competition when you chose someone that people know,” said Henderson. “But Tegan likes to choose more artistic costumes where it’s more of a challenge to make and shows her skills.”
As Ejen put it, “If there was a national organization that organized the masquerade at each convention, it would lessen the controversy. Right now, almost anyone can come up with whatever rules they want for the convention—leading to very subjective judging.”
Doucet pays no attention, and focuses on creating what she wants to make.
Doucet says each costume has a “worst moment to it.” For Ichihara Yuuko from the series xXxHolic, sewing the ruffles that line her long red and black dress was it. She pulled an all-nighter to get the ruffles just right.
“I was cold, tired and hungry … Is that the sun? This is depressing, cats keep bothering you, and coming off of school the year before I thought there was a proper way you had to do all this crap,” said Doucet, ranting about her tribulations.
But then, said Vacirca, perfectionism is part of her daughter, too.
“She is kind of persnickety, she gets that from her father,” said Vacirca. “Everything has to be…’it’s an eight of an inch off, oh no we’re all gonna die!’”
But Doucet survived the challenge. She walked away from the costume, took a hot shower at 4 in the morning, ate some food, and got back to it.
The costume won second place in the intermediate division at Anime Boston 2011.
“First time I understood in my fashion career that going back to school doesn’t have all the answers,” she said. “You can figure this crap out on your own if you just let yourself.”
CATCH TEGAN AT ANIME BOSTON THIS WEEKEND, MAY 24-26