Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mommy & Me Mulan Cosplay

When I was a very little girl, I loved Disney princesses. When I (jokingly) complain about rereading Spooky Pookie to my kids for the bazillionth time, my dad likes to remind me that when I was two or three years old, Cinderella was my favorite and I requested that he read the storybook basically every night for the longest time. The Little Mermaid was the first movie I saw in theaters, and I still remember singing "Part of Your World" in the shower for an embarrassingly long time afterwards. When Beauty and the Beast came out when I was eight, I instantly identified and fell in love with bookworm Belle. Feisty, spirited Jasmine the year after was everything I wished I could be, and who doesn't want a pet tiger? I proudly wore my Belle and Jasmine sweatshirts in fourth grade but was teased for it, and after that I eschewed all Disney princesses. They were too dependent on men, I told myself, and fairytale romances weren't real and besides, other than Jasmine, they were all so...white.

It wasn't until high school, when Mulan came out, that Disney wooed me back. My mom had told me stories of Fa Mulan the warrior heroine, but I never expected to see a Chinese story told on the big screen. Even though her story was set in ancient China, Mulan disappointing her father and wiping half her matchmaker make-up off while singing "Reflection" was *me* as a Chinese-American girl failing math, dropping out of AP Physics and piano, and taking Creative Writing and art classes instead. Every time I hear the Lea Salonga version of that song (never the Christina Aguilera one!), I'm instantly transported back to wrestling with what it means to be Chinese and American, wondering if I can honor my parents while still carving my own path. All that to say, Mulan has always meant a lot to me. #representationmatters, y'all.

Once I discovered cosplaying, I knew there were certain costumes I definitely wanted to make: Belle, Jasmine, and Maleficent, but the dream was always Mulan's outfit from when she saves the emperor from Shan Yu. I'm grateful for Disney putting a heroine who looks like me in their princess line-up, but I've always been scornful of their choice to highlight her matchmaker outfit, which is the most patently unemblematic of the character! Also, I look terrible in pink and light green (her ending outfit, which is also featured heavily), so blues and maroons near my face it is! I decided to try to make this outfit in time for my fourth Silicon Valley Comic Con, since I've always wanted to do a Disney princess cosplay at a con and I'm not comfortable wearing my Slave Jasmine at such a venue. Conveniently, I had all the necessary colors of fabric in my stash: light and dark blue sweatshirt knit remnants from my raglan sleeve sweatshirts, maroon poly-cotton leftover from Ballister Blackheart's cape, pink rayon challis stockpiled as underlining for sheers and laces, and of course I have a whole bunch of thrifted white sheets. Now obviously none of these are historically accurate for ancient China, but then Mulan's outfits in the movie are kind of all over the place too...I'd rather be economical and green instead of running out to buy more new fabric. Bonus: knit fabric on top means that this costume is super comfortable and not restrictive at all, which was very important as I ended up taking my two year old daughter with me to SVCC by myself, and wrestling toddlers requires all the mobility I can get!

This is the only full-length photo I have of the outfit, taken after I got home, and I'm sweaty and tired and didn't realize the sash got flipped to the side :(

In deciding to depart from historical and/or screen-accuracy, I felt freed to go with very costume-y construction and design choices. The base bodice was just my knit t-shirt sloper with slashed and spread sleeves to make them appropriately blouse-y and rectangular cuffs at the end. To make it look more "princess-y," and flattering, I opted to make a full-length 3/4-circle skirt out of an old sheet, which has a bonus of being very washable! Very important for a white skirt at a dirty convention center.  The waistband of the skirt is a wide piece of elastic and that closes with flat hooks and bars, and I didn't even bother with a zipper or any kind of placket on the skirt since it'll be hidden under the top. Instead of going for a tabard over the top, I decided to make things easier for myself and just a make a wrap top, rather than futzing with how far to the side it should extend and how to make things stay in place. The bottom portion of the wrap top ended up being more of a peplum than a skirt since I was running out of fabric. This ended up working out since the shorter length better accommodates the fullness of the wrap skirt.

Not the greatest picture, but it gives you an idea of the general shapes of the different pieces. The maroon waist wrap was just a 34"x6" rectangle. 
For the sash, I didn't want a big lump know where it was tied together, so I interfaced a 3" tube that was long enough to go around my waist, then attached another 50"x3" tube (un-interfeaced, to keep the flowiness) perpendicularly at the end. The whole thing was secured with hooks and bars, then the top layer of the sash could just flip down to cover up the closures. You can get a better feel for how it was put on in my first photo where my sash got accidentally flipped to the side. 

Now that I have a daughter, I've had to go back and think a lot about what I want to expose her to in terms of princess media. I read this rather concerning article from NPR about how girls around the world have been raised on such a diet of Disney princesses that they default to drawing the early white princesses. I was fortunate to grow up in a predominantly ethnically Chinese area of San Francisco, so I didn't actually feel "othered" much growing up, and somehow I managed to really notice until much later how few princesses of color there are in the Disney pantheon, but I think I'm an anomaly in the general Asian-American experience. I don't want to leave SHB#2's experience to chance, to so for now I'm opting to not show her any princess media at all. That said, I couldn't resist making her a matching outfit since I still had fabric left and toddler clothes are such a good way to use up remnants. Instead of making her two separate pieces for the top, I opted to just make her a wrap top but use the light blue knit to make long sleeves in order to give a layered look without the bulk. Her gathered rectangular skirt is just an old undershirt from Mr. Cation that's had the top half cut off, and I even used the elastic from a pair of his old boxers: how's that for the ultimate green costume?

The first thing she did upon getting to the con was bite into a cherry tomato and spray seeds and juice all over herself. And here I thought I was being such a good mama in packing healthy least her top was dark enough that the stain weren't obvious. 

If you think finding appropriate shoes for cosplay is hard for adults, it's even more ridiculous for toddlers. They have OPINIONS about how sparkly their shoes need to be and their feet grow so fast! Hence the pink glitter jellies.

Fabric: lots of poly-cotton, in both knit (light blue and navy blue) and sheet (maroon trim and waist wrap, white circle skirt) form, some dusty rose rayon challis for the sash.
Notions: 3" white elastic for the skirt waistband, lots of hooks and bars for the skirt and sash closures. I used some pale pink piping from my stash between the maroon trip and the navy blue body; light blue would've been more screen accurate but I couldn't be bothered to make new piping when I already had yards of this other stuff. The wrap top and the waist wrap piece are both held in place with hidden safety pins. The part of the sash that goes around my waist is interfaced, and the neckline of the undershirt and the armholes of the wrap top are finished with bias tape.
Props: For the crest of the emperor, I got mine 3D-printed with this free file, and then I sanded and painted it with acrylic paints and sealed it with a matte polyurethane varnish. For SHB#2's crest, I woodburned a little wooden gift tag that I had in the stash and then painted and sealed it in the same way. The color is slightly different on hers because of the light beige of the wood versus the dark gray of the 3D-print plastic. For the hair clip, I made mine out of Crayola Model Magic (petals), cardboard (leaves), and gold head pins, all hot-glued to a plastic hair comb and judicious colored with markers. SHB#2's hair clip was a standard child's white flower hair clip that I added rhinestones and a green fabric leaf to, and again colored with markers. 

The 3D print was generously done for free for me by one of the members of the SheProp! FB community. If you're a female-identifying or nonbinary person who wants a safe, welcoming space to ask prop-making questions, this is an amazing, knowledgeable group that is such a far cry from the toxic masculinity of the RPF. 

And here are SHB#2's accessories! The sword is made from a paint stir stick and chopsticks and tape, but we ended up not bringing it with us because of the con's prop weapons policy. 

Hours: I didn't really keep track, but this was an easy costume to make, fitting wise, so both pieces took maybe a few weeks of naptimes. Knits are forgiving and the skirts are so voluminous that it's easy to just sew without having to stop for a lot of fittings. The most tedious part was all the circle skirt hemming. The knits I didn't bother to hem at all.
How accurate is it? I think it's very recognizably Mulan's outfit, even if the light blue could've been more teal and less periwinkle, plus the design differences described above.
Total cost: Literally everything was from my stash, so essentially free (in the present day)! In the past, the knits were inherited from a friend's destash and the the sheets couldn't have been more than a few dollars each, so even counting past costs, the whole thing was definitely less than $10. Pretty sure that's the most Chinese thing about this, is how cheap it was...j/k.

She's blurry because she was bouncing up and down in excitement. 

We had a good time at SVCC together, after the initial awfulness of standing in lines for over an hour. It was so fun to have people see me and be like, "Oh cool, Mulan!" and then see SHB#2 in the stroller and start squealing "AND THERE'S A BABY MULAN TOO!!!" Once she got used to the con atmosphere, SHB#2 was totally eating up all the attention and by the end of the day was proclaiming herself to be cute. She didn't want to leave, but as soon as we got into the car and onto the freeway, she totally conked out after the excitement of the morning (and early afternoon, since we didn't leave until 2:30 pm, well after her usual naptime). I still want to get some more pictures of the both of us in our costumes; one of the downsides to going without another adult was that I didn't get any full-length shots of just the two of us. I am grateful, however, for the generosity of Gloria and Mike of In the Long Run Designs for squeezing in a few photos of us in their shooting schedule!

I decided that the slightly frazzled, hair-flyaways-galore look is appropriate for having theoretically just climbed onto a roof and battled Shan Yu. 

I adore my (both literally and figuratively) cheeky little girl.

I'm so happy to have these photos to commemorate our little date, even if she doesn't look quite as thrilled! 


  1. Little girl all dressed up to save China is just too adorable! And both costumes are very recognizable to me, which is very impressive for being entirely free stash. I'm glad you had the opportunity to finally get to cosplay her, remembering what a dream it was for me to get to dress up as Belle for my one and only con. (I hope this doesn't come off wrong, being white myself, but it was very exciting for me that the bookworm princess was a brown-eyed brunette, since Cinderella and Ariel and the others I'd grown up with were all blue eyed girls.)

    1. Representation matters for everyone, even brunette bookworms! It's so interesting hearing which princesses speak to us; it's different for everyone but so important. I'm not sure if I should be glad or embarrassed that I have a deep enough stash to pull from that I can make whatever random costume...

  2. Wow! I missed SVCC and now I am so sad because I would have loved to see you in action. What a fantastic job for both you and your daughter! <3

    1. Aww, thanks! It was a blast and there's always next year!

  3. This is fantastic!!!

    IndoorKitten's Grandma (my mom) made her a Cinderella, Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty out of upcycled T-shirts so that she would be properly attired to meet the Princesses when we went to Disney World. It was the best idea ever. The store bought dresses are sweaty and scratchy and shed glitter everywhere. These were breathable and easy to play in. I predict that SHB 2.0's Mulan costume is going to get a lot of use.

    And I hear you with the Princess culture. IndoorKitten is five, and we have only recently started with Princess movies, although we've had the Duplo princess characters and a few story books so she would know who she was meeting at Disney. Her preferred fandom was Daniel Tiger until very recently. Grammy (husband's mom) introduced My Little Ponies much sooner than I would have liked. We haven't started the show yet. I shouldn't complain, though. We seem to have dodged the Paw Patrol bullet.

    It was so good to see a new post email. I always love the stuff you make.

    1. You are so sweet! I have no idea how many people even read blogs anymore, but I wanted a record for myself; it's nice to hear that I still have some readers!

      So far SHB2's clothing preferences tend toward more utilitarian pants, but who knows? At any rate, I totally agree that t-shirt material is soooo much more comfortable (and greener) than the glitter-shedding store-bought costumes.

      I do like the new MLP, so I'm biased, but I know some parents aren't fans of the whininess exhibited in the show. As for princesses, I'm so torn because I know what it's like to feel out of the loop in elementary school for not knowing pop culture figures, but gahhh some of the older princesses (which apparently have a huge draw because of their huge ballgowns) make me want to tear my hair out with their passivity, focus on beauty and romance, etc.

  4. I didn't want my little girls watching disney movies for the same reasons as you, but also because they're scary! We stuck to Studio Ghibli movies (Ponyo, Totorow, Arietty, Spirited Away, Whisper of the Heart) and I didn't even mind watching them again and again because they're so beautiful.

    1. Oh, that's a good idea! I should try my kids on Totoro.

  5. Amazing outfits -- and the matching is on point! So wonderful, and a great story behind them.

  6. My heart just literally squeezed with the and shb#2 in your outfits...its the most precious thing I've seen on a long time


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