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Friday Night Costume Contest Tips

And General Best Practices for Pre-Judged Costume Contests

For the Friday Night Costume Contest at Dragon*con you are required to submit thorough Documentation of your process.  For two years in a row (2017 & 2018) the judges have remarked how detailed, organized and thorough my documentation was.  That was a prize in itself!

Before reading these tips please note:

  • I won "Best Prop" in the 2017 FNCC for Lone Wolf Hanzo's bow.

  • I did not place in the 2018 FNCC, but I felt much more at ease and comfortable competing.

  • I have competed in 12 different costume contests with pre-judging.

  • I placed or was awarded with an honor in 8 of those 12, and placed First in 4 of those 8.


Look for this symbol for my TOP TIPS.

Now, here are my tips if you're new to competing in the FNCC!

  • Take photos of every step of your process.
    EVERYTHING. You can weed out unnecessary photos later. Even if you don't have documentation you can save these for future reference in case you do want to document your process.

  • Begin your documentation early and update it as you work.
    Update your documentation at least every few days/once a week. This will save you a lot of stressful work later on and allow you to unload your creative process as you're doing it. You run the risk of forgetting little details later on.

  • Be as detailed as possible.
    You are required to submit your documentation online weeks ahead of time so that the judges have time to review everyone's entries (in 2018 there were over 70 entries!). Make sure that they can see how much work you've put into your costume. Include things like the time it took to work on different things, the tools you used, your learning process, how you corrected things or re-made them, and reference images of your design.

  • Don't cut corners in your crafting.
    This contest is all about craftsmanship and is judged by seasoned professionals. They are looking for evidence of understanding and knowledge of the craft(s) exhibited, the design and inspiration behind your costume.

  • Plan to spend the entire contest day prepping physically and mentally for it.
    Personally, contests stress me out. Staying ahead of things allows for extra time on contest day in case of emergency or the inevitable stops people will ask you to make for a photo en route to the pre-judging. Make sure that the night before you have everything laid out and checked for any last minute details. Iron ahead of time so you're not stressed, touch up any paint, and do at least one practice try-on and move around in it ahead of time if you can.

  • Don't get drunk the night before. Models...that includes you too.
    Limit your drinking, and increase your water intake.  This will help hydrate you. Eat a good dinner and get a good night's sleep. While this isn't the Olympics, it's still going to be a full day of your focus and energy, so take it seriously.

  • If you have a morning/afternoon routine, stick with it.
    Breaking routine can add to stress, and it can also cause some unexpected speed bumps in your competition day. You need to eat before the competition, but make sure that you schedule a bathroom break and plan for that if necessary. You or your model may be in costume for hours waiting during pre-judging and the contest without opportunity to fully undress. If you have a costume that can't easily be taken off for a bathroom break make sure to eat and drink plenty of water that morning and monitor your water intake to compensate for how hot your costume may be. If it's very hot you can continue to hydrate and your body will sweat most of it out, but if you drink a lot and your costume isn't that hot or has fans, it may go right to your bladder!

  • Have directions and a route to the ballroom.
    If you're staying off campus, make sure you leave in plenty of time to account for bad traffic. If you're inside one of the host hotels have your sky-bridge route through the mall and/or other hotels to stay out of the sun and streets. If you aren't a seasoned veteran of your convention, do a trial run or two the night before so that you can get to your destination easily and not have to look at a map while in costume. Getting lost can add to the stress of competition day so plan ahead and you'll be fine.

    Again, maybe it's just me, but I get so stressed the day of a competition! Start your getting-ready process early, and allot about an extra hour of time so you can leisurely get to pre-judging and still be early. While they may not let you in the room too early you can be one of the first in line, meaning an earlier pre-judging slot and more time to relax before the contest. Nerves run high on competition day, so give yourself some room to breathe.

  • If you are differently-abled or wearing a costume that limits your movement or sight, try to show up early and they will accommodate you. 
    They are great about accommodating those in need regardless, just be aware that you will need to let them know when you arrive; there is also space on your registration form for this. They may move some slots around and will plan ahead for the stage walk to ensure you have a safe route on and off the stage (or in front of the stage).

  • Come to pre-judging with a checklist (mental or physical) of things to talk about.
    Have a plan and execute it verbally. You are given only a few minutes (which seem to go by at light speed) to speak about your costume in a private room with the judges. They want to hear why you think you're worthy of an award.  Show and tell them eloquently. Be passionate in your speech, you've worked hard to create this costume so be confident and proud of your work.

  • This is a high-level competition. Be humble, friendly and approachable.
    Yes, it's a competition, but everyone there has worked hard to compete and deserves recognition for their work.  Make sure to talk to people in between judging about how they made their costumes!  You won't be able to see or hear clearly backstage and you'll have plenty of time to interact and ask questions.  Get to know your fellow competitors; share information and techniques; make some new friends. If you're shy this is a great place to branch out and learn to initiate conversations with people.

  • Recruit a handler / be a prepared handler.
    If you've been in a complicated costume before you know how difficult it can be, especially having to navigate the streets, crowds and hotels alone. I strongly urge you to have a handler for the duration of the contest if you can recruit a friend or family member you trust. Having someone who understands the important role a handler plays in a costume's success can be key to a more enjoyable experience altogether. A handler should be able to help you dress/undress if necessary, get water for you, help touch up makeup or even something as simple as holding things for you and making sure that you look presentation-ready. Just being there is a huge help!

    You are allowed to have someone else wear your creation. Most contests will let handlers enter with the contestants. If you are entering a costume that you are having someone else model for you, make sure that as the presenting contestant you bring any supplies you need to have your costume presentation-ready on your model.

  • Bring emergency supplies.
    It never hurts to be over-prepared! There will be water and cups in the room where you wait for pre-judging so they've got you covered there.

    If you bring extra supplies and another contestant asks the room if anyone has an item to help them patch up a problem, PLEASE HELP THEM. In the first major contest I entered my leg pieces decided to break after an entire day of walking around. I didn't ask anyone for help, a good samaritan saw that I needed help and immediately asked if I needed some duct tape which was absolutely better than my armor not being on at all. They took action and I haven't forgotten them to this day. We weren't anywhere near ready for that level of competition but by his example I felt welcome and now know the importance of helping fellow competitors. I pack like a typical "mom" for contests now and I love being able to help people out last minute at a contest.

    I suggest having things on hand like:

    • Pain-Reliever (in case a headache pops up)

    • Extra makeup and SFX supplies if applicable

    • Extra water if your costume is particularly hot

    • A cloth, blotting paper or napkins/paper towel for sweat

    • A comb/brush and hairspray if you're wearing a wig that needs touch ups

    • Band-aids

    • Duct tape (hopefully your costume doesn't need it, but this is great to cover/prevent blisters from bad shoes!)

    • Superglue, needle, thread and small scissors just in case

    • A small snack like a protein bar, jerky, or dried fruit

    • Backup batteries/charger if you have electronics in your costume

    • Phone charger if you use your phone a lot (there are outlets in the waiting room)

  • Stay calm and have grace and patience for others.
    Being stressed in costume can make tensions run high. If someone bumps into you, don't take it personally. It happens! Be cautious with your costume. Don't be afraid to let someone know you're trying to get through a space so that they can move out of the way. If a piece of your costume breaks because of a run-in, don't take that personally either. Keep a wide birth around you as often as possible and give others space when they need it as well.

    If you have a handler, go easy on them. If you tend to get a little snippy when you're stressed in a costume like I do, let them know ahead of time that you don't mean to be and try your best to be better. Notice if you're lashing out at them when something isn't their fault and apologize.  They're taking their time to help you, so make sure they know how appreciative you are. You also want to keep calm so that they have a fun experience as well.

    If you're handling for your model, make sure that they're aware of any delicate parts of the costume.  Let them know ahead of time if they will be able to sit or if they have to stand for the duration to protect the costume. Make sure to give them plenty of time that day to relax beforehand so that they're not exhausted come time to get ready. If your model damages the costume accidentally don't take that personally. It happens! Accept that you can't change what happened and try to fix it as best as you can.  Prepare your model with any notes about the costume they need to know, play it safe when in crowds of people and you'll be fine!

  • It may be cliche, but have fun!
    You are allowed to take a costume contest seriously and have fun at the same time. Remember that everyone there cares about the contest and has had their own journey. If you don't win, it's okay! The judges are very thorough in their explanation of why they chose the winners that they did. Don't let the absence of a win detract from what you accomplished having entered something you made by hand. Having the guts to stand in front of a panel of successful artists in the industry and talk about your work is a great accomplishment. If they give any critique, take it positively. The judges are very friendly and positive during judging and are genuinely curious and interested in your process and how you made the costume.

    If you don't place, don't be sour about it. Give yourself credit and move on!  The Geralt that I made for the 2018 costume contest was leaps and bounds more involved and better crafted than my 2017 entry of Lone Wolf Hanzo, but there were two other Geralts (one from the same armor class) and 70 entries to compete with, and each one had their own qualities that made them unique. Remember that the judges have a very difficult job, and being upset that you didn't place won't make things better.  Accept their decision knowing you did your best and congratulate those who did win! Which brings me to the most important part of this list...


    I cannot stress this enough. I know you'll be exhausted the next morning, if you didn't place you may feel a little bummed or jealous and you'll probably have partied pretty hard that night before. Try to make time to attend the Winners panel the next morning.

    The winners are asked to attend in order to speak about their process. The judges will interject with their reasoning for choosing that contestant as a winner and why they were worthy of an award for craftsmanship.  You may judge a costume yourself and think "Why did that deserve to win over my or another contestant's costume?" This panel was created to eliminate the uncertainty of the winners' credibility and merit and to explain to anyone who wants to attend why that costume stood out among the other contestants.

    In all honesty I once questioned the choice for Best in Show and wondered why that costume was chosen over others who didn't place. I really didn't feel like attending the panel. I was a bit salty about it but knew that going would clear the air about the contest and help me understand that contestant's process and worthiness. When I sat in on the panel I listened to this creator passionately explain her painstaking process of making the fabric from scratch, perfecting the pattern and detail on it; the unusual process they had to go through in order to achieve an effect on it; the hours of pattern making, their successes and failures until they achieved perfection. The costume itself wasn't large or eye-catching, but that isn't the point. The fabric featured in the majority of the costume was made from scratch and the details within the garment were pristine, and overall it fit like a glove as well. You could only understand why this was chosen if you spent time with that contestant and asked them personally how they created it, or you can attend this panel where all winners are given a platform to speak about their creation, and the judges are allowed to explain and validate their choices.  Attend the panel.

Thank you for reading through my tips, I know that was long-winded but I want to divulge as much from my experience as possible to help ease your mind.



Be prepared. Take care of yourself. Reserve Friday for the contest. Don't stress. Have patience and grace.


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