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The secrets behind Otakon’s best costumes

August 12, 2013

Otakonagain-2-660x439NOTE: See City Paper’s full Otakon photo gallery here

For now at least, Baltimore is host to Otakon, one of the most extensive cosplay fests in the world. I hit the Baltimore Convention Center this weekend to scour the scene for secrets of Otakon costume making. Clad in a yellow spandex two peice bodysuit, styrofoam hat, and fingers dawned with hot glue gun burns (see pics of me and LOTS others in City Paper‘s Otakon photo gallery), I didn’t have to do too much coaxing to get people to spill the beans on their inventive techniques for creating their personalized hommage to East Asian pop culture. From strict die hard character replications to the “‘I’m hangin’ out in my wildest duds enjoying myself” ensembles, I was able to small talk with enough peeps to cultivate a new bag of tricks of my own.

At Otakon, the scope was endless, but there were some consistencies. Gender was of little concern. The gender challengers ranged roughly from dudes in loud tutus to girls in stern military fashion ready to stealthily kick your ass without you even knowing it. I admit, when it comes to knowing who these seemingly hundreds of characters are, I’ve got some homework to do.

An observant novice like me would surely notice a reoccurring industrial-style ninja theme. One kind warrior shared his technique in constructing a breast plate with sculpted styrofoam (my fave). I was getting the feeling that few protective gear would be complete without silver bolts, and this gentleman simply embellished his black armor with silver thumbtacks. Simple and reality defying, for I would have never known without asking.

Another graceful ninja star, garnished her armor with bolts as well – but this time with variation of size. When asked how these bolts were fabricated, her answer was impressive: googly eyes painted silver. Genius?

I ascended the packed escalator to find a mind blowing costume by Abisola Fatodu perched at the top. Not more than 15, in my eyes Abisola is a hard working couture savant. Her version of Toothiana, Queen of the Tooth Fairies from Rise of the Guardians, took neon feathers in a direction my eyes have not seen in real life. She described her feather embellishment technique as “all hand hot-glued.” Gotta love it. But ouch, my wounded fingers throb at the thought. She’s got some serious dilligence to make this head to toe blue, green and yellow standout. The masterful headpeice blended seamlessly towards a face of thoughtfully executed make-up. Kudos to Abisola!

Right around the corner was a smashingly fabu example of peeps bringing their own flair to the party. Baltimore’s own Ms. Grey. We locked eyes and that was it. Instant friends. Totally not mimicking any specific character, but holding her own veracious grip in a neon tripped out 80′s print spandex celebration of life! She took this stretch phenomenon to a whole new level by topping it off with a hand made wig fashioned of randomly colored nylon tubing. Graciously sharing her technique of sewing the tubing onto a wig cap made Ms. Grey that much cooler. She added beads to the end of each tube, creating a look that was tight! After a good chunk of my morning scouring Etsy and Ebay to find a wig of these materials remotely as chic- my efforts were to no avail.

From there, I mingled with Otakon participants and (lightly) shook my thing on the dancefloor at the rave party. Eventually we found ourselves drifting towards the outdoor delight of a mild August evening. As the harbor beckoned us closer, we came to understand that one of the coolest things about Otakon is that it takes place in Baltimore.

Upon our exit, it was hard to deter the proposal of “Free Hugs and Kisses” given by John and Zoey of Richmond Virginia. Their costume-making technique required nothing more than black signs with bright white lettering- but sincerity of the delivery shined as brightly as a thousand neon glowsticks. They were happy to come to Baltimore and share their dreams, ideas, and affection, as so many observers of the Otakon tradition are. And for that, I thank you all.