Surviving Masquerade Pre-Judging

Photography by Angelwing | fallingfeathers.netI love competing because it’s a chance to perform, show off, talk about my work, and a chance to meet others who are equally as passionate.

Recently, I had the chance to sit on the other side of the table as a Cosplay Judge and it really helped me realize how being able to speak about your work and present your costume in a positive light can affect the chance of receiving an award. The process can be nerve wracking for both veterans as well as new cosplayers so in this post, I’m going to talk you through pre-judging for Cosplay Contests/Masquerades.


Before we go any further, lets talk about your Judges. Depending on the contest, This can range from cosplayers and skilled craftsman to sometimes even celebrities. There are multiple judges, with usually varying skillsets and expertise. These individuals are there to do the thankless and stressful job of judging tons of awesome costumes and performances. There are only so many awards to go around.. and it’s inevitable that some great costumes and/or performances won’t place. Another thing to remember is that cosplay contests are, in large part, subjective. What the judges look for or are impressed by varies depending on the judge


When I say pre-judging, I basically mean the time set aside for you to speak with the cosplay judges about your costume. Most masquerades will have this in some capacity.. be it during a pre-meeting before the contest or as an assigned appointment. Typically you only get a few minutes to talk about your work. Yes, I actually mean a few minutes.. 3-5 minutes max. How can you possibly explain 6 months of work in 3 minutes?! Well. The short answer is to prioritize. The long answer? Keep reading.


The judges see somewhere between 30-100 cosplayers throughout the day. While most judges can pick out techniques and will notice nice seams and good work, it’s unreasonable to expect them to pick up on every tiny detail in your costume. Even more unreasonable to expect that your fellow competitors won’t also have nice seams and good work.

It’s the cosplayers job to present their work. Make it easy on your judges to differentiate you from the rest. Tell them flat out what is most impressive about your costume and why.

You want to talk about positive points. If you must mention a mistake, talk about how you overcame that mistake. This is about confidence.. confidence in your costume and your skills. The judges don’t want to hear you put yourself down. This stuff isn’t easy, and none of us are perfect.. you are allowed to be proud of your work, even if it didn’t come out to your expectations. Be positive. Be proud. They will notice.

Before every pre-judging my partner and I talk about what we are going to say to the judges.
We pick out what is most impressive about our costumes as well as things that we think the judges will look for (finishing techniques, materials, hidden details etc.) When we speak with the judges, we start from the top (wig) and work our way down, briefly describing each item and putting emphasis on the impressive parts of the costume. Prioritize what you tell the judges because many times you’ll have under 5 minutes of their time. Think of it like preparing a mini speech.  Numbers are nice when you have them; saying “Over 40 yards of ruffles were used on the entire costume” is much more impressive than saying “There’s alot of ruffles on my costume.”

1185853_904532692275_755196612_nWhen you are competing in a group, its even more important to talk about what you each will say during pre-judging. This is especially helpful when you used similar techniques. Saying “We are all fully lined using custom patterns” saves some time, rather than you all having to explain it separately. This also keeps each of you from tripping on each others words or overwhelming the judge with too much unorganized information.

Sometimes you’ll have a judge who wants to ask you questions rather than hear you talk.. that’s good.. but you still need to be able to talk about your work to answer their questions! Thinking about what you’ll say in this context isn’t a bad idea either!


Many Contests/Masquerades will request you bring a reference image. Even if they don’t, it’s still a good idea to do so. No judge has seen every anime or played every video game. They can’t judge the accuracy of your costume without clear images of the source materials. Having multiple reference images will be to your advantage.

In addition to reference images, some contests/masquerades will suggest (sometimes request) that you bring progress images and/or a progress book. Not only does it document all the work that went into the costume, but also helps the judges remember your costumes during deliberation.


You want the book to include images narrating how you made your costume. Descriptions are ok, but keep them brief.. It takes longer to read a lengthy description than it does to understand a series of pictures. Similarly, don’t feel like you need to include every picture you took. Unless it is necessary to your explanation or process, avoid having too many images of the same thing (ex. 5 images of sewing wefts into your wig.)

Think of the book as part of your pre-judging. You’ll be explaining your costume details in person, but the book is there so the judges have visuals and materials to refer back to before they make their decision. Personally, we like to keep the book between 10-20 (sometimes more for complicated costumes) for the both of us.. having one page per item and multiple images per page with a short description. I’ve seen others with a photo album or binder of pictures. There is no wrong way to go about it.


Pre-judging is almost like a job interview. Make the best impression by going in with a positive and humble attitude. If you go in with a defensive attitude or if you are dismissive of questions asked to you by the judges, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice. The judges want to know about your costume so they can make an informed decision during deliberation.


The judges are there because they love cosplay just as much as you do, and they want to see the cosplay community grow. Friendly competition is a great way to network with other cosplayers (judges included), challenge yourself and your costuming skills, and have fun in the process. It isn’t about winning as much as it is about the experience.

PHOTOCREDIT: Angelwing | | Facebook