A wealth of talent to rival any fashion designer lives in the world of cosplay—a portmanteau of “costume” and “play,” used to describe the people who don costumes and play-act like their favorite characters at comic conventions. In the case of the Utah cosplayers here, to call their works of art mere costumes seems, at best, an understatement and, at worst, an insult. These handmade garments, accessories and props are the culmination of intense planning, endless trial and error and hundreds of hours of labor. They’re not for sale and their creators likely won’t see any returns on their investment. For cosplayers, it’s about the love for each character and showing the world the physical embodiment of that love.
Missy Moody has competed on the stage at comic conventions from Salt Lake City to New York in Giselle’s massive wedding gown from Disney’s Enchanted. The self-taught seamstress has remade the dress five times over the course of four years, eventually wearing it to her very own nuptials.
The diameter of the gown’s skirt started at 200 inches. “It wasn’t quite big enough,” says Moody. Now, it’s 210 inches. “I have to tip the dress sideways to get through doors, but it’s totally worth it. You can’t put yourself in a box with cosplay.” Those 210 inches are supported by a hoop skirt and a ruffle skirt, which is made from 200 yards of gathered organza. The overdress is satin, embellished with 15,000 sequins and jewels and 200 rhinestones, which demanded the majority of the estimated 400 hours of total labor. Moody used iridescent glitter glue (which had to cure for two weeks) to apply the finishing touches: more jewels, organza butterflies and fabric flowers.
While Moody says her inspiration comes from the obscure and surreal, she also loves extravagance and glamour. “And I didn’t want to have to wear a wig,” she adds, which guided her to the red-headed Disney princess, Giselle. “The Art of Disney book was also a big help,” she says.
Missy Moody is on Instagram @madamemoodycosplay.
Queen Elizabeth I of England
Gayle Dowdle is the queen of renaissance fairs and comic conventions. Dowdle began cosplaying six years ago and has been planning to recreate Queen Elizabeth I ever since. She spent as many as 700 hours constructing the ensemble. She entered her cosplay into the FanX 2019 cosplay contest, winning first prize. Since, she has continued to make upgrades to the royal cosplay she has created. “My dress will never be finished,” she says.
Many of the gown’s details go unseen but provide the shape and structure of the dress. It begins with a simple shift, a pair-of-bodies (a steel-boned corset), farthingale (a wheel that supports the skirt’s wide hips) and a bum roll. The skirt and overdress are made of brocade fabric, embellished with sari trim, 300 yards of ribbon and 40,000 hand-beaded jewels, pearls, crystals and gems. She completes Elizabeth’s signature look with strings of pearls (a reference to pearl necklaces gifted to Queen Elizabeth by Robert Dudley), ruff, veils and crown. The wig is actually made of Dowdle’s own hair, which she cut off before beginning chemotherapy treatments last year. She says, “When I wear this wig, I don’t feel like Gayle with cancer, I just feel like Gayle again.”
“I fell in love with her making this dress,” Dowdle says of Queen Elizabeth. She pulls her inspiration for her Elizabeth I gown from the Ditchley Portrait—a 1592 portrait of the queen by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger. She also listens to Elizabeth biographies while she sews, bringing historical accuracy and authenticity to her pitch-perfect portrayal.
Gayle Dowdle is on Instagram @dowdledesign.
Brienne of Tarth, Game of Thrones
Kimber Gabryszak sets a high bar for herself. “I love to be as screen-accurate as possible,” she says. Gabryszak has always loved costuming, “I was cosplaying before I realized what cosplaying was.” But she did not attend her first comic convention until 2015. She says, “Brienne is the most ambitious character I have ever cosplayed.” Gabryszak had to learn leatherworking, for example, but by far the most difficult undertaking was constructing the chainmail.
For Brienne’s chainmail shirt, Gabryszak wound metal wire into springs and cut thousands of individual rings, which she then had to link together by hand. “It’s like crocheting with metal rings instead of yarn,” she says. Gabryszak estimates she used 20,000 rings total in the chainmail. The armor is made from EVA foam. The skirt is comprised of 200 individually cut leather squares, each embellished with a custom stamp. Gabryszak sculpted the hilt of the sword based on a toy replica of the on-screen sword. She then made a mold, casted it in resin and coated the resin in gold powder. “Brienne’s sword is my pride and joy,” she says.
Gabryszak is drawn to offbeat, complex characters. “Not necessarily the most popular character. I like doing villains or people with a unique appearance who might not be as conventionally pretty,” she says. “Brienne is this tough, badass, giant, imposing woman.”
Kimber Gabryszak cosplays with her friend Connie Misket on Instagram @kimber.and.connie.cosplay.
Caleb Widogast, Critical Role
“It was a demanding mistress,” Ryan Bielik says of his Caleb cosplay, his take on a character from the Dungeons & Dragons live-streaming sensation turned multimedia empire Critical Role. Bielik started cosplaying in 2013 and typically attends three conventions per year. After the pandemic, his Caleb cosplay represents a return to form: an obsessive attention to detail. Bielik plans to publicly debut his Caleb cosplay this year at FanX, where he will also enter the cosplay contest.
At first glance, the colorful purple robes distract from the devilish details of Bielik’s cosplay. The lion’s share of the 270-plus hours of labor were for the props and accessories. Bielik crafted all of the leather items from scratch: two belts, spell book, harness, leather bookcase, spell component pouch and purse. He hand carved runes and symbols into the leather pieces. “The spell book is the thing I am most proud of,” he says, drawing attention to the pages. He transcribed all of the character’s spells with ink and quill, totalling 60 pages. Bielik also sculpted, molded, cast and painted gold 100 resin coins. He achieved a clever fireball spell effect by sculpting the base shape in hot glue and placing an LED light inside. The component pouch is also filled with actual spell components (or, at least, the closest real world approximation).
“I wanted something elegant to do—flashy, colorful. Something with a lot of grace in the costume,” says Bielik. “That drove me to fantasy, and I’m a huge Critical Role fan.” Bielik, also a Dungeons & Dragons fan, chose to cosplay the adventuring party’s wizard.
Ryan Bielik is on Instagram @moody_kittens.