Costume Design: Adapting a Male Design to a Female Body

One of the things costumers and designers have wrestled with for a long time is the adaptation of a specific look to either a specifically male or specifically female context.  This isn’t difficult when you have a general idea of what you want and the resultant male and female versions reflect that general idea, but things get a little trickier when you’re trying to take a specific male character and turn it into a female costume, or vice versa.

I want to show off a project that I’ve been working on so far in defense of my extremely vocal presecution of the “make-it-a-mini-skirt-and-voila” process of “female-izing” costumes.

I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with this fellow:

Original VincentDirge Vincent

Vincent Valentine, of Final Fantasy VII fame (owned by Square-Enix, not me!).  His is a costume which has been replicated over and over and over by (giant dorky) fans like me!  As you can see, his design has already undergone a little original tweaking from the original 1997 official game-art (by Nomura Tetsuya) to the 2006 game Dirge of Cerberus which features Vincent as the main character (Official game graphic version).

As a general rule, guys have no problem imitating this costume.  It’s built for a guy, and even if he’s not RIDICULOUSLY thin, it can still look really good.  Girls, though soooo many of us adore Vincent, find ourselves quailing a little at the thought–though some are still brave enough to try it.  In a moment of insanity last year I ordered this costume from a seamstress on Ebay, thinking that I could make it work.  What I got in the mail a few weeks later was a pair of skin tight pleather pants that fit me smack at the natural waist, a costume shirt, glove and cape.  The real problem was (as my female readers already know) the pants.

I finally figured it out!  HIPS.  The problem is HIPS!!  No woman, no matter how small, can look like the above picture if she has any kinds of curves at all (Sweeping statement?  Oh yeah, you bet).  I set out, then, to make a version of this costume that would not only capture the essence of what is our much-loved Vincent Valentine, but would also not make my pants look like I had forced two pigs into leather sacks and strapped them to my waist.

This was the resultant concept sketch:

Girl Vincent

I admit I got a little crazy with the buckles.  I love buckles.

Now–what we have here really isn’t that different from the original, and that’s what I was looking for.  I’ve borrowed liberally from both versions of the character design and included a few of my own touches, but the costume is still essentially Vincent.  The main difference lies in the trouser style and the width and positioning of belts.  I dropped the waist-band of the trousers to fit at the hip (a very modern fit–I’m sure we’ll all want something different in ten years) and widened the two belts to really chunky things, rather than the thin sleek belts Vincent sports.  Also, instead of a pleather or leather fabric for the trousers, I’ve opted for a low-sheen black denim. 

Why do all these things?   The drop in waistline is not only more comfortable for those who are used to modern, hip-riding trousers, it also allows the torso to appear lengthened, creating the illusion of fewer curves (some of the younger cosplay crowd get around curves by binding their chests, but I frankly find this to be totally barbaric and I refuse to participate).  The problem with low-waisted pants is that they usually hit at the widest part of the hip, which can make the hips look even wider, if you’re not careful.  To help counteract this, chunky belts are added–this draws the eye away from the line of the trousers over the hip and gives the observer the idea that the width is the result of the belts themselves.

Lastly, the change in fabric from a high-gloss to a low sheen eliminates awkward highlights.  Pleather is really a very reflective material, and nothing can make something look curvier than a dramatic set of highlights showing up in a picture from the flash.  Black denim absorbs light, and as everyone knows, black makes anybody look thinner!

This costume is currently about half done, so I’ll leave off here with the promise that I’ll post the rest of it as I get finished, including the golden glove/claw that I’m working on.  What I really wanted to do with this post was prove that you can take a male costume and make it not only feminine, but attractive as well WITHOUT resorting to the tired, old and totally uncreative minidress or miniskirt designs.


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5 Responses to Costume Design: Adapting a Male Design to a Female Body

  1. manny says:

    INSANELY awesome post! Hips and curves = GOOD. 🙂 Can’t wait to see your photos of the final costume, great work!

  2. Sykomonkey says:

    This type of article (although I’m not a female) is really awesome to see here! Good job.

  3. Allison says:

    But sometimes the “make-it-a-mini-skirt-and-voila” process works so well!

    Case in point: http://www.flickr.com/photos/futuregirl/1318753714/in/set-72157601859561220/

  4. Michelle says:

    AWESOME! I’m so happy to see a “real” woman’s costume, and not just another miniskirt. Great job! I LOVE IT!

  5. Hell3n says:

    Now we’re talking, you go girl! The Hellgirl costume that Allison posted is cute, but the miniskirt is usually just an easy way out.

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