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Letting the Cats out of the bag: Cats cosplays

You may have seen a few cosplayers dressed like the characters from the musical Cats running about at conventions in the past.  But just what is it all about and how do you go about a Cats cosplay?

Based the book ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T.S. Elliot, and with music composed by the legendary Andrew Lloyd Webber, the musical Cats first premiered in the New London Theatre on 11th May 1981.  It has since gone on to become one of the most popular musicals of all time, and one of the longest running musicals both in London’s West End, as well as on America’s Broadway.  The story of the musical is based around a tribe of cats, called the Jellicle Cats, and introduces the main characters – along with an actual plot – by means of some very catchy songs (with ‘Memory’ arguably being the most famous song from the show).  Aside from the main characters who each have their own introductory songs in the musical, there are also many other feline characters that make up the Jellicle Cats clan.  Every cat in the performance also has their own individual personality and look.  It can be argued that it is this aspect – along with a very helpful and close-knit community of existing Cats cosplayers – which has made Cats an increasingly popular theme of cosplay at conventions and similar events.

 

A group photo of many Cats cosplayers / crossplayers
A group photo of some Cats cosplayers at a convention

I actually first started off cosplaying from Cats at a London convention in May 2013.  I had seen quite a few Cats cosplayers at previous events and was quickly inspired to join in as Cats is still one of my favourite musicals that I have seen to date.  With Rum Tum Tugger being my favourite character since I was a child, he was immediately the first choice of character for me to cosplay.  Having a friend who I discovered was a Cats cosplayer, I found it easy to make enquiries and receive recommendations towards commissioners.  My Rum Tum Tugger cosplay was made for me by two of my now good friends, who also helped introduce me to their other Cats friends when I first wore the completed cosplay at a convention.  Although, due to my confidence issues, I was somewhat shy at first, the kindness and activeness of the group soon brought me out of my shell and I was joining in with the fun and frolics.  To this day, I have always found Cats cosplayers as very welcoming people towards newcomers and keen on integrating them into the group.

 

Four cosplayers / crossplayers dressed as various Cats characters
This was one of the first photos I had taken of my Cats cosplay after I bumped into some friendly Cats cosplayers

So where exactly does one start when considering a Cats cosplay?

First of all, it is probably best to start by picking a character.  For me, Rum Tum Tugger had always been my favourite character – his rebellious, slightly crazy style and the ability to be a highly popular cat with the other characters was probably what did it for me.  That and he sports a fabulous mane which I absolutely adore.

There are many different characters that make up the Cats cast – and, as mentioned earlier in this article, each of them has their own individual personalities and flairs.  So, theoretically speaking, it should not be too hard to pick out one that you particularly like.  Most, if not all, Cats cosplayers like to try and stay as in character as possible.  For me, that meant a great deal of hip thrusting, mane shaking and lots of ‘derp’ faces whenever the chance came about.  However, do not let this put you off.  There are also some very timid characters from the musical as well.  Arguably, the best thing to do when picking out a character is to watch the musical – either on DVD or stream a video of the performance.  This way, you can also gain the gist of any poses and specific movements that your preferred character makes so that you can mimic them for photos or videos at conventions and events.

 

Faun as Jemima from Cats
Jellicle Cats are spritely characters!

The next step would be making, buying or commissioning the costume.  With the wonders of technology, there are now many forums and communities on the internet with tutorials on how to make certain parts of the costumes; from leotards to the elaborate, cat-like wigs.  So, if you are feeling creatively up to the challenge, you should be able to dive straight into things.  And if you are ever in doubt over the progress of your costume, it never hurts to ask said online community as they seem always willing to give both advice and tips.

If you have intentions of buying a pre-made costume, I personally, have not seen too many of these around the internet.  Sites such as EBay and Etsy have been known to list pieces separately (e.g: a wig on its own, or just the arm warmers), but very rarely have entire sets been on sale.  Do have a look though as you never know when you may get lucky!

If buying does not yield much hope, the next step is to look for a commissioner to make your costume.  The Cats community is so close knit that it should not post much of a problem to find a good commissioner that will be willing to make most – if not all – of your costume.  Do remember that making costumes from scratch can be quite time consuming, so make your enquiries with plenty of time to spare before you decide to debut it at a convention or event.  [If you are commissioning a costume for the first time, you may find it beneficial to read a previous Renegade Revolution article with tips on buying and commissioning cosplays here: www.Renegade-Revolution.com/buying-and-commissioning-cosplays-tips/ ]  Sometimes, if a commissioner may not be able to make the entire cosplay themselves, they may offer to make whatever parts of it that they are can and recommend you somebody else to make the remaining part – or parts – for you.  My Tugger cosplay was actually made by two separate commissioners (I’m looking at you two; Nanayena and Belle!).  Again, stressing on the fact that generally, Cats cosplayers are quite closely knit, I received the entire cosplay from both Belle and Nanayena in good time and everything came together perfectly.

Whichever method you decide to choose to make or obtain your costume, I cannot stress enough how important it is to give yourself – and others, if they are making your costume – as much time as possible before the convention or event that you plan to wear your new cosplay to.  As with pretty much any and all cosplays, the last thing you want to do is to stress yourself out and panic because things are not ready!

 

A cheeky looking Cats cosplayer
Some characters can be rather mischievous…

Staying on topic with the theme of the costume, the next thing to discuss would be the makeup.  Why did I mention this after talking about the actual costume?  The answer is simply because you may quite possibly need to colour match your makeup to your wig / costume leotard.  If possible, bring either a scrap of your costume or your actual costume with you when you go shopping for makeup for colour-matching purposes.  There are different types of facial paints that can be used for your makeup however do consider that if you have sensitive skin, some oil-based paints may not be best for you.  Personally, I tend to purchase my theatrical paints from Charles Fox’s in Covent Garden – mainly because they tend to stock a wide variety of products and the staff are always happy to help with any queries and even give tips for choosing which items are the best for your needs, as well as application tips.  Obviously, this may not be an option for people that live outside of London / the UK, but I am sure that there are similar shops around, as well as the online possibility if you already know which brand and kind of paints you require.

Definitely consider purchasing a variety of application sponges and brushes.  Also think about a finishing product to help set the makeup, as well as stopping it from smudging or running (especially during the warmer times of the year).  Give yourself lots of times to practice applying your character’s makeup.  Remember that there will always be variations regarding the details so if you see one particular character portrayed differently, it may just be that they have decided to follow a certain version of the character – or even given their Cat a certain personal twist.  For me, it took several tries of Tugger before I was even remotely happy with the result – and even more attempts when I decided to do a Cats-esque take on Scar from Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ movie.  Do not be afraid to ask a friend to help you out if you get stuck putting certain parts of your makeup on:  The makeup for some of the characters can be complicated and daunting if you have not had much experience with this sort of theatrical makeup before.  Hopefully, in the not so far future, I will be bringing Cats-style make up tutorials to Renegade Revolution with the special guest help help of Nanayena from SBOC Entertainment so stay tuned!

 

Jojo crossplaying as a Cats version of Scar from the movie The Lion King
Jojo’s take on a Cats version of Scar from the Lion King

As mentioned before, some Cats cosplayers have even gone as far as to transform some non-Cats characters into Cats-esque costumes.  Thus far, I have only ever seen this done with Ena’s take on Harley-Quinn from DC’s Batman series and my own take on Scar from The Lion King.  Personally, I really enjoy seeing the creativity spread beyond just the Cats characters – plus, I think it’s always nice to see unique versions of characters portrayed.  So, if you ever have any ideas of doing something similar, I would definitely encourage it!

 

Nanayena as Harley-Quinn Cat and Jojo as the Rum Tum Tugger
Nanayena’s own take on Harley-Quinn as a Cat

As with any kind of cosplay, the most important aspect is having fun – and cosplaying as a curious, playful and mischievous character, like most of the Cats characters are, is no exception.  If you are thinking of – or have ever cosplayed as a Cat – drop a comment and a link to a picture at the bottom of this article to share the love!

Photos © Jojo Yap and Scott Sanderson

Comments

  1. This is a great article, and I’m proud to be featured in a few of the photos! Cats costuming is a huge part of my life. I’ve never been able to coherently describe what it is I love about Cats, but a lot of it comes down to how immersive it is. There’s kind of that same element in Cats cosplay too, I don’t know any other costume where I could have as much fun getting so much into character. We’re lucky that we always get a mostly lovely reaction at cons or sometimes, just out and about in public, and I think that makes it more worthwhile. I’m no dancer and will never be in Cats, but it’s lovely to get that little bit of a chance to ‘perform’ when in costume. Though the only dance you’ll ever see me doing is the macarena!

    Also, with regards to make up resources, Charles Fox in Covent Garden are indeed fantastic. Before I lived in London though, or occasionally when I want something I can’t find in Charles Fox (usually thicker wig tape), I order my supplies from http://www.dauphines.co.uk/. They’re a Bristol-based company (so probably also good for a visit in person if you live in the South West). Not cheap, but neither are Charles Fox (you just don’t get professional products at low prices) they stock a lot of the same brands, such as Kryolan, and ship nice and quickly. I’ve never had any issues with them.

    I’m pretty much exclusively a Cats cosplayer, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I’ve learned such a lot from making the costumes and made so, so many friends within the community. If you love the show and always secretly (or not so secretly) wanted to be a Cats cat, it’s so, so rewarding!

    • Thank you so much for your reply!
      I’m glad you liked the article – and thank you for being one of the first few Cats cosplayers I met when I first donned my own cosplay 🙂
      Your reply definitely accents on the fact that Cats cosplayers are friendly and rather spritely people. I’m sure one day you may yet do the Macarena!

      Many thanks for the link to another website for supplies, and also for the mention about wig tape (a method I have yet to use myself as I have only been using spirit glue). Would it be possible for you to elaborate upon the pros and cons of wig tape versus spirit glue, please? :3

      Keep on Catting! <3

      • You’re very welcome my dear!

        I admit I’m a total wig tape convert and I was very skeptical at first. For years I used Mastix (which is essentially extra strong spirit gum) for keeping my Cats wigs on. As far as I understoood it, spirit gum was also what was used in the majority of professional productions. Mastix always worked very well for me, and I never had any issues with it coming off. However, it’s messy and takes a bit of practice to apply, and I always ended up with it everywhere else, like dripping in my make up kit and all over my fingers! With spirit gum, it also leaves a lot of residue (mixed with make up) both on your face, and on the wig, when you remove it. Spirit gum remover is the best aid in this case, but it’s high alcohol content can leave your skin feeling quite abused, especially when you’ve been scrubbing off make up as well. Cleaning it off ear flaps on wigs was a bit of a labour of love – time consuming and messy.

        That said, I was very used to Mastix and never thought tape would stick as well. Probably it doesn’t have *quite* the same staying power if you sweat a lot (which I think is why they use spirit gum in pro productions because it’s a very physical show), but then I’ve also known some people who sweat out of both gum and tape. Tape is definitely quicker and easier. It’s just like double sided sticky tape and comes in strips or on a roll (though I’d reccommend buying actual wig tape, also called ‘toupee tape’) rather than attempting to use actual double sided sticky tape like you’d buy for crafting.

        I prefer my wig tape on a roll than in strips, because then you can cut it to the desired length, I also prefer the wider stuff, since it just gives a wider surface area of adhesive and allows more of the actual ear flap (on a cats wig) to stick to your face, meaning it’ll be more flush to your skin and not have as many edges flapping. When you buy tape, it should somewhere give two measurements, the longer one (usually in meters, unless you’re using strips) will be the length of the roll, and the shorter one (probably cm or inches) will be the width of the tape.

        I cut my tape to the length of the ear flap on the wig, and just a little higher into the inside of the wig cap, so essentially, it runs from my temple to my jaw. (Depending on where your natural hairline is, you may need to adjust this, hair in tape is not fun). I cut my strips of tape and stick them to the ear flaps of the wig, before putting the wig on my head. Then I put the wig on, get the fit around my head comfortable, and then carefully remove the backing on the tape, and stick the ear flaps down, one side at a time. Again there’s a bit of a technique to it, some of which applies to sprit gum as well, you get used to what works for you. But I tend to hold either side of the hair on the ear flap and press it to my face, clenching my jaw makes it easier.

        I always do make up before wig (though I’ll sort my hair first to how I like to keep it flat under a wig, and pop on a stocking cap) though once my wig is stuck down, I may add a little detail to my make up to make it connect where wig meets face.

        Wig tape, for me at least, stays on just as well as spirit gum (though this probably differs depending on how much you sweat and how long you wear it) and whilst it still gets a little tricky in places, is generally easier and a lot less messy to apply. Removing it is potentially less fun than spirit gum. I’ve always done both the same way, pretty much pull the skin on the side of my face downwards, so it won’t catch, and pull the ear flap upwards in one quick movement. It does hurt! Not gonna lie, but it’s like ripping off a plaster, you just have to do it! With spirit gum, you do have the option of soaking a q tip or cotton wool ball in spirit gum remover and rubbing it over the skin by the earflap or rolling it underneath, but this is too much hassle for me, and you still have to clean the gum residue off your face and wig afterwards. I suppose you *could* try soaking off the tape, but honestly, it’s quicker and easier just to grin and bear it for the second it takes to pull off. Then you’ve just got to pull it off the inside of the ear flap and bin it, no mess, no fuss and you’re ready to go for next time. Do be careful with any kind of ahesive and hair/facial hair and skin though. It’s always best to test first, and if you do a lot of the ripping off, your skin will start to feel it. Do what’s right for you there!

        But yeah, generally, I find tape the faster, cleaner option over gum. Though I suspect, if I were actually performing in a production of cats, the gum would offer more longevity. I found out recently from a backstage video that the last American tour of Cats used both tape and gum together! For a day at a con though, you’re probably good with just one. 😉

        Hope this is helpful! Sorry it’s long, I have trouble being concise!

        • Thanks for this, I guess from a male perspective I would say it pays to shave first before applying makeup and I guess wig tape too. Having used spirit gum for theatrical beards I find it kinda messy and a bit awkward at times so will definitely give wig tape a go for my Cats wig,

  2. Thanks for a great article and its a really good introduction to Cats cosplay. The good thing with Cats in generall is that so many kind of characters fits within the show and its really easy to do both youre own characters (like my Rhasp) and characters more or less based on other fictionall characters (Like my Lime who is more or less based on Elphaba from Wicked) and thus its really easy to find characters you like and can be.

    I would strongly recomend anyone whos interested in cats costuming to start with the make up. Its one of the most easily recognized features of a Cats cat and I have had only make up or a partial (Wig and make up) on numerous events and I am always recognized as a Cats cat. Its also way cheaper and easier than making or commission a full costume and is thus a great starting point in youre Cats experience.

    As for other fictional chacters turned into Jellicles I have spotted a few ideas in the intermet community (bot not meet any personally) and thoose includes a lioness and the Cheschire cat. Another neat idea would be to do the opposite and turn Cats characters into other form of cos play characters like doing a fursuit version of a Jellilce.

    Great article and fun read! Profetikus.

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  5. Jojo…. is there any chance you can give me some details of those who may help commission Rumpleteazer at all? I was going to the Birmingham comic con this November 2016 as another character but after seeing the show again, I really want to do this.
    I did the main Jellicle Ball routine when I went to a dance school and loved every minute.
    Great article and very helpful.

    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa,
      Thank you so much for your compliments on this article.
      I can recommend you a commissioner for your Rumpleteazer cosplay (I have checked with her personally and she is available to take your commission with the November 2016 deadline as well) – if you could email Daniela Schubert on blackcat@guru.de (mention that Jojo sent you so she will know who you are) with your commission request, she should be able to get back to you soon with a quote, etc.
      Who knows, maybe even one of our photographers will snap you up at Birmingham MCM this November 😀
      Regards,
      Jojo

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