I decided to write this after an email conversation with a friend of mine, who was curious about the goings-on at cons and in particular, convention costume contests. This isn't your typical tutorial, about how to craft a certain costume piece or how to do your makeup a certain way. Rather, this is a tutorial all about one way to show off all that hard work.
So You Want To Enter A Costume Contest:
So you've spent the past several weeks, months, or even longer sweating, stressing, swearing over, and perfecting your latest costume, and now you want to show it off for a chance at glory and bragging rights, and a convention costume contest seems like just the place to do that. But before you take your first crack at competing, here's some do's, don'ts, and things You Should Know:
Read the rules for your con's costume contest:
These are generally posted on your con's website ahead of time, and may also be reprinted in your con program book. These should tell you everything you need to know about how to enter, which category your costume most likely belongs in, what you can do while up on stage, restrictions on costumes or props, and a host of other useful info. If you have any questions or concerns, such as being unsure whether your costume belongs in a certain category, if your costume is allowed into the contest, or anything else, even if you're worried it's a silly question- NOW is the time to ask, generally by emailing the costume contest/masquerade director. Trust me, it's better to find things out well in advance than to risk problems on the day of the contest. You know, little problems like not being able to perform the skit you and your friends worked for weeks to perfect, or your costume not being allowed on stage for some reason. Or being allowed to go onstage, but ending up disqualified for violating some rule or other that you weren't aware of.
Different cons have different ways of handling this- at some cons, all you do is show up, put your name on the list, and fill out an entry form, first come first served. Other cons may want you to pre-register online, well before the con itself. (Now, aren't you glad you looked up those rules way in advance?) Pre-registration is either first come first served, or the contest organizers may use it as a pre-screening of sorts, asking you to submit photos of your costume, and selecting the best entrants. (This last method of entry is less common, and is more likely to be found at large cons)
In any case, entering is when you let the masquerade staff know what you plan to do on stage (walk on or skit), and what special accommodations you may need, such as your own music track (You need to have this ready to give to them), stage ninjas, or such. This is also where you choose which category or skill division you enter as.
Categories and Skill Divisions:
Now, some masquerades dispense with categories entirely, and just choose a first, second, and third out of all the entries. But most opt for a skill division system of some sort. I prefer this- more prizes to give out, and it prevents new costumers from being forced to compete against seasoned veterans and professionals. There's some variations (Such as my local con splitting the Intermediate category into Journeyman and Artisan), but generally skill divisions will follow a pattern similar to this:
Beginner or Novice
Intermediate or Journeyman
Junior (for contestants below a certain age)
Presentation- (you're not judged on craftsmanship, just on how you present the costume)
Your masquerade rules should provide guidance on which category you belong in, when in doubt, ask! Another rule to consider is that while you may choose to enter a higher skill level (This may be your first major costume, but instead of beginner you can choose to enter as an intermediate or even master), you can't enter a lower level. If you have been sewing and crafting for years, or have won awards at previous cons, don't try to enter as a novice. And most cons reserve the right to have the final say on which category you're placed into- I entered Intermediate one year, and was bumped up to Master, winning an honorable mention at that level.
About presentation- This is the category typically reserved for costumes that you didn't make yourself- commissioned work, or costumes made from found clothing items would go here. Again, different cons have different rules for how much of your costume you have to have made yourself, and when in doubt-ask and find out.
For craftsmanship judging, one of two things will usually happen. Either you and the other contestants will be judged in the "green room", where everyone assembles prior to having their turn on stage, or you will have a timeslot (Either chosen by you or assigned to you) sometime during the convention, where you report to the judges for a one-on-one meeting. In either case, during a craftsmanship judging, expect the judges to get up close and personal with your work- inspecting things up close, checking your seams, hems, and finishes, and asking questions. Don't be nervous- the vast majority of craftsmanship judges are friendly and supportive, this isn't American Idol, and the judges aren't trying to be the next Simon Cowell, or at least they shouldn't be!
Having the judges get that close to your work may sound scary, but I welcome it, and here's why you should too- This is the chance to show off the details of your costume- little personal touches you added to make it your own- the neat finishing techniques you've learned, intricate details that an audience 20 feet away might not see or appreciate. This is also your chance to tell the judges why you made the design and fabrication choices you did, such as personalizing a costume's design, building part of the outfit one way as opposed to another, why you chose certain materials to make your costume, and so on. Also, bear in mind that if you're a beginner, you will be judged much less strictly than a master, and the judges tend to be more forgiving of mistakes at the lower levels. This isn't the time to beat yourself up over the parts of your costume that you aren't 100% happy with, this is the time to draw attention to your favorite parts, and talk about all the cool new things you learned while building it.
A word on sportsmanship- While you're in the green room prior to the contest, be on your best behavior. Keep rude comments about other people's costumes (or worse, the people in them!) to yourself. Refrain from trash talk of any sort- sadly I have heard of people doing this, such as entering the green room and yelling garbage like "Everyone else can just give it up, the REAL winner is HERE!". Costume contest judges HAVE been known to knock points off of contestants for unsportsmanlike behavior. Yes, you want the judges to remember you. But not for all the wrong reasons.
On Stage: This is the time to impress the audience, and the judges will also be observing how well you present yourself on stage. Nervously shuffling out, standing still for a moment, then running right off isn't going to impress anyone. Yes, I know stage fright sucks, but planning and practice are a huge help here. If you have planned a skit, You should have gotten in plenty of practice prior to the event. And if you're just doing a walk-on, you can practice for that too- Be In Character- walk on stage as your character would, showing off the same posture and body language. Strike a few poses just like your character- posing with a weapon or prop, doing your character's "victory pose", or whichever other poses you think will best convey your character's personality to your audience. Again, lots of practice in advance will help. If you're given 30-45 seconds of walk-on time, take advantage of it!
Sometimes winners will be announced right after the contest, other times you may have to wait until near the end of the con to find out who won. This gives the judges more time to deliberate, especially if they looked at everyone shortly before the contest.
To anyone thinking of entering their first costume contest, I hope this has been helpful, and I hope I've demystified what actually goes on at these events, from a contestant's point of view.
Good luck, and "May the odds be ever in your favor!"