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Cream of the Prop

While you can buy a pre-made outfit this Halloween, creating a costume yourself is a satisfying adventure into art that most people find addicting.

Michele Chiappetta
September 29, 2017

From attending Halloween parties and themed charity fundraisers to channeling your inner Harry Potter at bookstore events or attending a comic convention dressed as your favorite superhero, there are a plethora of reasons these days to get decked out in a costume you love. And with the growing popularity of cosplay and other costumed events on the rise, you can go the extra mile and make your own costume.

Those who invest their time, money, creativity and fandom into making costumes are an interesting and varied group. Many start at a young age, wanting to share their love for cartoons, comic books or Japanese manga. Just visit the Tulsa Pop Culture Expo this month (Oct. 14–15) or Tokyo in Tulsa next July, and you’ll see that both children and adults love to get dressed up and perform as their favorite characters.

While you can certainly buy a pre-made outfit in your favorite local box store, creating a costume yourself is a satisfying adventure into art that most people find addicting.

For Kathleen McDonald and Yulia Garland, two members of the local charity cosplaying organization known as the DC Marvel League, creating costumes and performing characters is a passion, a much-needed artistic outlet, and a way to share compassion with those in need.

McDonald says she has always been surrounded by creativity, which fueled many artistic endeavors before she settled into cosplaying as a committed hobby and volunteer opportunity. “Since I was in elementary school, I was always sewing or tearing apart clothes and making them into something else,” she says. “I’ve always had an interest in creating things.”

Though she worked with needle and thread, as well as crafting woodworking projects with her grandfather, it wasn’t until 2014 that McDonald made her first costume for a comic convention. “After I made my first costume, I was hooked,” she says.

Like many in the cosplaying world, McDonald mixes pieces that she buys with pieces she makes herself to create a costume that is uniquely hers. “Most of it I try to create on my own,” she says. “There are certain things that you just can’t do. I’ve had to buy a morphsuit [a spandex bodysuit] because I couldn’t make one myself.”

Yulia Garland as the Ancient One with Marvel's Stan Lee.
Yulia Garland as the Ancient One with Marvel's Stan Lee.

Garland has been making her own costumes for the past few years as well, though she came to the vocation a different way than many others do. “When I lived in Russia, I used to act professionally onstage for well over 10 years,” she says. “I’ve always been into costumes and pretending to be somebody else. I just love acting and impersonating somebody and then seeing the reactions of people.”

When Garland moved to the U.S., she didn’t have a social support system, and she didn’t feel comfortable speaking English onstage. That meant acting was out, and she needed another way to express her creativity. When WizardWorld came to Tulsa in 2014, Garland decided to go because she wanted to meet Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead.

Inspired to create a costume that expressed her love for the zombie-laden TV show, she put together a cosplay outfit — a few items from her closet and some fake blood — and went to the convention. People loved her outfit, she says, including Reedus. The affirmation made her day. “I thought, I’ve got to do this again,” she says. “It just gave me this whole feeling like being onstage again. Ever since then, I’ve been making costumes.”

The process of creating your own costume can be daunting, yet satisfying once you’ve successfully completed the outfit of your dreams — or at least completed something that stretches you beyond what you thought you could do. For Garland, that is her Ancient One outfit. Based on a character from Doctor Strange, the costume required Garland to do something she didn’t have experience with — sewing. But she took on the challenge to help her charity group, the DC Marvel League, perform at the premiere of Doctor Strange at the Warren Theater in Broken Arrow.

“It was just one of those spontaneous things,” she says of her decision to cosplay the Ancient One. Garland thought the costume would be easy to make — until she actually started to work on it. That’s when things got a bit hairy. Studying the outfit of the character online, she realized there were four layers of clothing to recreate. But having committed to doing it, Garland went for it with gusto.

Courtney Paige Allen as Silk. (Photo: BeardedOkie Photography)
Courtney Paige Allen as Silk. (Photo: BeardedOkie Photography)

“I was laying on the floor, tracing myself out and doing patterns,” she says. “And I put it together. I don’t care what people think, if they like it or not. I made this and I’m very, very proud of it.”

McDonald’s most satisfying costume to date is her Wonder Woman outfit, which challenged her creative skills. She built a corset from E.V.A. foam, something she had never done before. And when she wasn’t wholly satisfied with the results, she built a second, more polished corset soon after. “I learned so much in just a month or so,” she says. Her Wonder Woman costume won an award for Best in Show at Tahlecon earlier this year, which only adds to her personal delight in the work she did on the costume.

Some costumes can take months to create. Garland spent seven months creating a Rocket Raccoon costume from Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a hot, sweaty costume — taxing to wear. The Wonder Woman heels for McDonald’s costume are just as taxing. But both women love the whole experience nonetheless, and have no plans to slow down their participation in the cosplay scene.

If you want to venture into creating your own costume, McDonald and Garland say there are a number of routes you can take.

“There are certain cosplay websites you can go to,” says McDonald, where you can buy items or look for inspiration as you create your own build. YouTube may have tutorials you’ll find helpful as you learn to craft parts of costumes for yourself.

For the cloth, faux leather, fur and other items you may need, crafting and fabric stores are great resources, especially during sales or closeouts. McDonald says she scored quite a supply of clothing materials when JoAnn Fabrics went out of business. If you don’t like to sew but want a specific piece of clothing to build out an outfit, vintage shops like Tulsa’s Cheap Thrills or costume shops like Ehrles and SpotLite Magic & Costumes are good places to go scouting.

Even if it seems scary or you’re worried you won’t have time to do the costume perfectly, Garland recommends going for it anyway. “If you love the character, you’ve got to do it,” she says. You won’t regret the experience.