As a community, cosplay in Orlando is thriving. It’s built upon the unique trials and triumphs of cosplay. However by the general public, cosplayers tend to be labeled as socially awkward and just overall “weird.” We can’t seem to fathom why they would spend hours upon hours making these elaborate costumes. The Sentinel went behind the scenes at Anime Festival Orlando’s annual cosplay contest to find the true motivations behind cosplay.
According to Danielle Umstead, “I can’t think of how many of us were the outcasts or the ‘nerds’ in school and we did deal with the persecution.” Umstead has 14 years of cosplaying experience under her belt and was chosen to be 1 of 3 judges for the AFO contest. Despite being outcasts at some point in their lives, AFO convention goers were anything but shy. Cosplayers walked down hallways giving shout outs to fellow cosplayers like a popular kid in high school. Some cosplayers even carried around portable speakers and would break out in random bouts of dance. “When we’re around people that share the same loves and hobbies that we do,” Umstead says, “it really makes us open up.”
Cosplayers develop camaraderie through the unique challenges of cosplay. Making these costumes is no simple task. Contestants took anywhere from 10 days to 4 months to complete their costumes. They’ve spent months scouring thrift and hobby shops for the perfect material to modify and dye. It’s likely that they’ve pulled all-nighters sewing, embroidering, or hand-beading. All of which was done in-between their regular 9 to 5 jobs and/or school. “Sometimes we’re looking at 80-hour work weeks compromised to our real lives,” Umstead says. The real magic happens when a fellow cosplayer takes a moment to stop and admire all the detail work put into a costume.
Cosplayers, like Umstead, often share in these trials and triumphs through social media. Umstead’s Facebook page has 4,018 followers. It serves as a place to connect with other cosplayers by sharing progress on current costumes, as well as tips and tricks on craftsmanship. This is especially true as the countdown begins leading up to a major anime/video game convention. It’s an ongoing conversation of encouragement as cosplayers prepare for the big day. First time cosplayers put themselves on the chopping block for critique. Others followed workout or diet plans to feel more comfortable in their costumes.
So why go through all of that effort? “There’s usually a connection to the character or the series, it may be something that got them through a hard time,” Umstead says, “I had a friend, when her mother died it was the anime she was watching. It was something she could connect with her two brothers while watching, and it’s one that she has cosplayed from.” The competition prize money isn’t always the biggest motivation. Umstead says “it’s so other people who share the same love of that character can connect and make that character come alive for them too.”
There’s usually a connection to the character or the series, it may be something that got them through a hard time
When Dominique Troiano was awarded “Best in Show” in the Master’s category she wasn’t the only one who was ecstatic. Her competitors knew all too well about the 80-hour work weeks and the all-nighters of cosplay. They know what it’s like to wait in line for hours at a time to stand in front of a panel of judges. “We’ve been stuck in the long lines together and we bond over misery,” Troiano joked. “We’ve become really great friends because a lot of us have competed against each other.”