I'm still not quite sure why I was volunteered to judge a costume contest at the Carolina Game Summit, given that the closest I'd come to such a thing was applauding for my Halloween Hottie of choice at the local pub, but I was willing to take a crack at it anyway. I've seen plenty of Project Runway, read People Magazine's Best and Worst Dressed issue every year and know the difference between a bias cut and Badgley Mischka, so I figured I was pretty well-prepared.
Yeah, well, I know now, don't I?
It turns out that the costume itself is but one factor in deciding who takes home the prize in a costume contest. My fellow judges, the lovely Matt Silva and Erin Bushko of Penny Dreadful Productions, were kind enough to give me their version of Judging for Dummies as we made our way into the auditorium to consider the three finalists (who, as it turned out, were also the only three entrants). Unfortunately, a communication snafu meant that I had missed the preliminary round of judging, during which the three entrants explained their characters, talked about their inspiration and the construction of the costume itself. Matt and Erin brought me up to speed as we took our seats. Their instruction would turn out to be invaluable, because without it, I would've likely said something along the lines of "Wow, seriously, that's it?" when the first contestant took the stage.
He was cosplaying as a version of Dr. Jekyll from some anime I'd never heard of, dressed in a black trenchcoat, dark hat and suspicious demeanor. I couldn't vouch for how closely his getup resembled the source of his inspiration, but it did occur to me that if it was accurate, Yahtzee cosplays as Dr. Jekyll pretty much every time he leaves the house. Which, you know, would explain an awful lot.
I was ready to dismiss the guy as a lightweight - woo, you bought a hat and coat, go you! - but Matt and Erin explained that his knowledge of the character and his performance were important factors that needed to be considered. Someone with lackluster sewing skills who truly embraces their character is sometimes preferable to someone in a perfect costume who picked it simply because it looks nifty.
The second contestant was a young boy who was dressed as Roxas from Kingdom Hearts, complete with giant metal Keyblade. I was happy to see someone dressed as a videogame character - it was the Carolina Game Summit, after all - though if he was going to cosplay something from Kingdom Hearts, I kind of wish it had been Donald Duck. I love Donald. Matt and Erin told me that he earned marks not only for knowing everything there was to know about the game, but also for innovation when it came to creating his costume: The silver tassles at the neck line had been repurposed from Christmas ornaments. He hadn't made his Keyblade himself - "I don't know how to cut metal," he explained - but he'd made his previous wooden one, did that count? Why yes, as it turns out, it did.
The last guy to grace the stage came dressed as Luigi, and I groaned a little. I just plain can't stand it when people dress up as Mario, Luigi, or Princess Peach. It's just too damn obvious. So many great characters out there, and yet we keep seeing these three over and over again. If you really must show Nintendo some love (plenty of other game developers out there, gang, seriously), how about coming as, I don't know, Bowser? Or Olimar? Hell, if you really want to impress me, show up as Birdo. Fortunately, Matt and Erin helped me see past my own annoyance to notice the amount of effort the contestant had put into his costume, like dying his hair black and making his moustache out of cotton balls. Perhaps I had been too hasty in my dismissal. I blame John Leguizamo.
I'm not sure if other costume contests are a bit more mathematical or precise in their deliberations to choose a winner, but Matt, Erin and I just huddled up and agreed that Luigi should take home first place. The effort and energy he put into his costume, not to mention his enthusiasm, made a very favorable impression on all of us, and so he came out victorious. (Matt pulled the contest organizer aside to see if prizes couldn't be arranged for the other two entrants, as well.)
Winners decided, my role as Costume Contest Judge came to an end. I was actually rather sorry there wasn't more to do, now that I knew there was more to this than just showing up and admiring pretty clothes. Maybe I'll put an ad out on Craigslist: Freelance Costume Judge for Hire!
Ok, maybe not.
Susan Arendt is tempted to make a Cate Archer costume.